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Christian Unity and Dialogue

Warm celebration for stronger links between Church of Ireland and Moravians

Bishop Sarah Groves, from Gracehill Moravian Church, and Bishop Michael Burrows, representing the Church of Ireland, at the tree–planting in Gracehill Village Square.
Bishop Sarah Groves, from Gracehill Moravian Church, and Bishop Michael Burrows, representing the Church of Ireland, at the tree–planting in Gracehill Village Square.

While the weather overhead told a different story, an abundance of warmth (and hospitality) greeted everyone taking part in a special service on Monday (18th March) to celebrate a new relationship between the Church of Ireland and the Moravian Church in Britain and Ireland.

The setting, in Ballymena and Gracehill, recalled the histories and traditions of both denominations.  The Church of Ireland’s earliest roots reach back to the life and faith of St Patrick, once a shepherd on Slemish. Gracehill was founded as a Christian settlement by Moravians in 1759 and the church building dates from that time.

Church of Ireland-Moravian Celebration
Church of Ireland-Moravian Celebration

This was a single service in two locations, with the Ministry of the Word in St Patrick’s parish church and the Ministry of the Sacrament in Gracehill.

A tree was planted by children from St Patrick’s before the first part of the service commenced in its building, in Ballymena town centre, at 2.00pm. The second part of the service was held at Gracehill Moravian Church, with a further tree–planting ceremony led by children from its fellowship in the Village Square.

Also on hand to help were Moravian Bishops Sarah Groves, from Gracehill, and Joachim Kreusel, who travelled from Derbyshire; and the Church of Ireland’s Primate, Archbishop John McDowell, and Bishop Michael Burrows, who leads its Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue.

Each tree marked the Armagh Agreement, signed in November 2021 to allow clergy from each church to serve in the other; the churches decided to wait until after the Covid–19 pandemic had well–subsided before going ahead with the celebration.

Participants in the service were welcomed by the Bishop of Connor, George Davison, and the Rector of Kilconriola (Ballymena), Canon Mark McConnell, who pledged that the parish would continue to be good friends with their Moravian neighbours.

In the course of his sermon, Archbishop McDowell stated that “what belongs together is now being brought together” – the purpose of which is articulated by St Patrick in his Confession. “The one and only reason I had to go back to that people from whom I had earlier escaped was the Gospel, and the promises of God,” the Primate related from the Confession.  “And I hope it’s not too far–fetched to say that we, the Church of Ireland, and the Moravian Church, have been brought together in the wide arc of God’s providence, for the sake of the Gospel and the promises of God.”

Speaking at the reception in the Cennick Hall which followed the service, Miss Roberta Hoey (who chairs the Provincial Elders Conference of the Moravian Church in Britain and Ireland), remarked: “It’s been a combination of years of dialogue, understanding and prayerful consideration on all sides.”  She added: “For us, ecumenism is not merely an abstract concept; it’s a lived reality, it’s an imperative that calls all to engage in dialogue, collaboration and through partnerships as we strive for unity in Christ.”

Readings were by Reuben Rea, Dr Emma Kingham, and the Revd Melanie Sloan, with prayers by Canon Dr Helene T Steed.  The Revd Philip Cooper, the Revd Dr Livingstone Thompson, and the Revd Jared Stephens, from the Moravian Church, also participated in the service, and the organists were Mr Adrian Poston and Mrs Leah Greer.

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