‘Locked-in mentality’ of Church of Ireland members criticised

‘Many migrants opting for warmer and safer migrant-led churches’

The mindset of Church of Ireland members in the Republic has been shaped by a "structural and cultural lock-in", Philip McKinley, Dublin-based project officer of the Church's anti-sectarianism Hard Gospel Project has said. This was illustrated by "the still disproportionately low levels of engagement by southern Protestants in politics, the Garda and Irish Army, " he said.

The Hard Gospel Project, which existed between 2006 and 2009, was set up to challenge sectarianism within the Church of Ireland following the Drumcree crisis.

Speaking in the context of recent remarks on sectarianism by Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson, Mr McKinley said: "Any cursory glance at a secondary school pupil's Irish history book will show that the last 500 years of national history have been plagued by sectarian religious division throughout the island." As a result, "so much of Irish religious identity has been formed in opposition to the 'other'," he said. This was "even reflected today by some who say that they understand Protestant 'ethos' in education as simply meaning that the school is not Roman Catholic".

Today also there were “Church of Ireland nursing homes, schools and graveyards”. It was also common “to hear someone in the Church of Ireland describe another person as ‘one of our own’, even if that person hasn’t been to church in 30 years”.


An area in which this mindset has been evident recently was in the response of the Church of Ireland to immigration, he said. Over the past 10 to 15 years large numbers of migrants who had come from religious backgrounds compatible with Anglicanism “have not found a home within the Church of Ireland”, he said.

'Decline of enthusiasm'
He recalled that in the book Migrant Activism and Integration From Below in Ireland, sociologist Dr Alessia Passarelli wrote of "a decline of enthusiasm in the Church of Ireland in relation to welcoming the strangers and building an integrated church, resulting in many migrants opting for warmer and safer migrant-led churches where they can worship in more familiar settings".

The growth of evangelical, charismatic and pentecostal churches suggested “significant numbers of migrants from Anglican backgrounds, have joined other churches since coming to Ireland,” he said.

"For example, since 1996, the Redeemed Christian Church has founded 116 new churches in Ireland."

For the most part “the policy in local parishes has been either one of apathy or assimilation”, whereby migrants can participate only if they adapt. This again is a reflection of the historical legacy of “structural and cultural lock-in”, he said.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times