Richard Clarke, Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath and Kildare, was last month elected President of the Irish Council of Churches. His term will last until 2012.
The April 9 edition of the Church of Ireland Gazette features Clarke’s election on its front page. It reports that Clarke says there are ‘three major tasks facing Irish ecumenism today’:
- increasing and forwarding cooperation among the different Christian traditions, and in particular ‘making connections’ between the long-established traditions and those which have come to Ireland more recently
- advancing the cause of the ecumenical movement towards the fuller and more visible unity of the Church, warning that any concept of ‘unity in diversity’ should not let the Churches ‘relax their efforts’ towards such unity
- reaching out to the world beyond the borders of the different denominations with a ‘vision’ of the whole Church as the body of Christ, calling the churches to turn from any ‘tendency to divisiveness.’
Clarke replaces Rev. Tony Davidson, a Presbyterian minister from Armagh. The newly elected Vice President is Fr Godfrey O’Donnell of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Davidson will stay on as a Vice President and another Vice President will be elected, with preference for a female candidate.
An accompanying editorial in the Gazette notes with approval a recent meeting of the two Archbishops of Armagh, the Methodist President, the Presbyterian Moderator, the ICC President and the National Director of the Evangelical Alliance (NI) with the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland, saying that,
‘One hopes that this more inclusive model of ecumenical leadership will replace the rather restricted ‘Four Church Leaders (Ireland)’ group, also allowing the Church leaders to relate more directly to the formally appointed, and accountable, ecumenical bodies.’
This meeting, as well as a representative from the Romanian Orthodox Church serving as Vice President, seem to be evidence of progress towards Clarke’s third point.
Further, the ICC has recently posted a document on its website: ‘Ecumenical affirmations on Migration, Diversity and Interculturalism,’ and invited responses to this from their member churches in 2010. This follows on from the resource published by the ICC, ‘Unity in Diversity in Our Churches: A Resource to Assist Local Congregations with the Integration of New Residents in their Faith Communities on this Island.’ These initiatives reflect a focus on Clarke’s first and second points.
It’s important that the ICC is raising these issues. These issues are also of central concern to my School’s ‘Visioning 21st Century Ecumenism’ research project, which is exploring how faith communities on the island are approaching diversity, reconciliation and ecumenism.
As the surveys we have conducted have shown, there hasn’t been an overwhelming uptake of resources such as those published by the ICC.
Nevertheless, the Gazette notes a stirring within Irish ecumenism. The editorial says it is especially important that the ICC is reaching out beyond the ‘Big Four.’
Can the numerically smaller churches and yes, even communities of other faiths, help revitalise Irish ecumenism? The editorial concludes,
‘Sometimes it is said that ecumenical life is in the doldrums, blighted by stagnation. However, the mood and witness provided by the ICC and IICM together is surely not only hopeful for the ecumenical future but also inspiring for the younger generation.’
(Image from flickr photo sharing, by mortommy)