History was made in Dublin tonight when the two Church of Ireland archbishops took part in the installation of the new Methodist President Rev Peter D Murray.
The Church of Ireland primate Archbishop Richard Clarke, Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson and the Bishop of Dromore Harold Miller took part in the installation ceremony at Christ Church Leeson Park.
The ceremony was also attended by Rev Murray's predecessor, Rev Dr Heather Morris, who was the first woman to lead a church in Ireland. Her one-year term of office ended tonight with the installation of Rev Murray and the opening of the 2014 Methodist Conference.
The participation of the Church of Ireland archbishops and bishop in the ceremony follows agreement by both churches that, while they remain distinct, interchangeability of their ministries can now take place. An ordained minister of either may now come under the discipline and oversight of the other.
The historic decision was approved by the required two-thirds majority of Church of Ireland General Synod. Equivalent legislation had already been approved by the Methodist Church in Ireland.
Both churches also now agree that a Methodist president, who is elected and holds office for a year, is recognised as an “episcopal minister”, as are all previous holders of the office.
In future, Church of Ireland bishops will take part in the installation ceremony of a Methodist president, and vice versa at the installation of a Church of Ireland bishop.
Methodist ministers may henceforth be considered for clerical positions within the Church of Ireland and the church’s presidents will be eligible for election as Church of Ireland bishops.
Among the attendance at the installation tonight were Col Brendan McAndrew, aide-de-camp to President Michael D Higgins, the Catholic Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin and the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rev Dr Donald Watts.
There are an estimated 50,000 Methodists on the island of Ireland, about 38,000 of whom are in Northern Ireland.