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Celebrating our Reconciling Vision of Hope

A joint service of worship to celebrate the centenary of the Irish Council of Churches and the 50th anniversary of the Ballymascanlon Talks, which led to the establishment of the Irish Inter–Church Meeting.

This Sunday, the Irish Council of Churches (ICC) – one of the world’s oldest national representative church bodies – will mark its centenary with a joint service of worship in Belfast Cathedral.With the theme of Celebrating our Reconciling Vision of Hope, the service will take place at 3.30pm and members of the public are welcome to attend. The purpose is to celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Irish Council of Churches whose first meeting took place on 23rd January 1923, during the height of the Irish Civil War.The special service will also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Ballymascanlon Talks, which led to the establishment of the Irish Inter–Church Meeting.

In 1973, in the midst of The Troubles, the Council began ground–breaking historic talks in Ballymascanlon Hotel in County Louth with senior members of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. Over the course of time, these became formalised as the Irish Inter–Church Meeting (IICM), the means by which the ICC continues to engage and collaborate with the Catholic Church. The IICM is co–chaired by the President of the ICC and a representative of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

During the livestreamed service the congregation will hear from the Most Rev Eamon Martin, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, and the Rev Dr Harold Good, former President of the Methodist Church, who will each deliver an address. The service will be led by the Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Stephen Forde.

Bishop Andrew Forster.
Bishop Andrew Forster.

Looking forward to the service, Church of Ireland Bishop Andrew Forster, President of the ICC and Co–Chair of the Irish Inter–Church Meeting, remarked: ‘The Irish Council of Churches was born at a time of great change and uncertainty in Ireland; likewise the Irish Inter–Church Meeting began as an effort of the Churches to respond to the divisions in our society during the worst days of the Troubles. This year we celebrate how the Churches of our island have sought to bring hope in difficult days and together share the good news of Jesus Christ. We delight in celebrating these significant milestones in our history of deepening connection and look forward in hope as we continue to journey together.’

Bishop Sarah Groves.
Bishop Sarah Groves.

Bishop Sarah Groves, from the Moravian Church, who serves as Vice–President of the ICC, added: ‘We naturally want to remember and commemorate anniversaries of the tragedies of our past but it is just as important to celebrate anniversaries of historic moves towards understanding and reconciliation. The creation of the Irish Council of Churches 100 years ago and the talks with the Catholic Church that began 50 years ago has led to an atmosphere of mutual respect between the Churches and enabled us, as brothers and sisters in Christ, to work together for the good of society.’

Bishop Brendan Leahy, Co–Chair of the Irish Inter–Church Meeting representing the Roman Catholic Church, said that we should never take what has been achieved for granted: ‘The past fifty years have provided us with an amazing symphony of persons and groups, conversations and initiatives, studies and documents, all focussed on the pathways of peace, unity and reconciliation with a profound recognition of our Christian siblinghood. But now we must go forward improving even more in learning to do good, seeking God’s justice and fostering a dialogue of life based on the law of one for one another.’

‘We can never take what has been achieved in the past for granted. Past gains serve a purpose – to foster together a common witness so that the world will believe and, in our specific context, will strengthen our fragile peace. Each new generation has to be won over to the cause of peace, unity and reconciliation. While each new generation can understand the past more by exploring it together, they always need to be looking together to the future, taking up the responsibility of carefully laying the building blocks in their generation of a world where we truly are sisters and brothers to one another.’

The service will be livestreamed at www.facebook.com/belfastcathedral

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