Two Irish churches move closer together

Church of Ireland and Methodist Church in Ireland agree interchangeability of ministry


Ecumenical history was made at the Church of Ireland General Synod in Dublin at the weekend when it agreed to interchange ministers with the Methodist Church in Ireland.

It means that, while both churches remain distinct, interchangeability of their ministries can now take place. An ordained minister of either church may now come under the discipline and oversight of the other when it comes to exercising ministry.

The historic decision was approved by the required two-thirds majority of 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.

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In future Church of Ireland bishops will take part in the installation ceremony of a Methodist president, and vice versa for the installation of a Church of Ireland bishop.

Methodist ministers may 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.

Church of Ireland primate Archbishop Richard Clarke described Saturday's vote as a wonderful occasion in the life of the Church of Ireland, Irish Methodism, and the life of the church worldwide. To those less convinced by the move he said "you will always be loved in the Church of Ireland".

The president of the Methodist Church, Dr Heather Morris, said, "This is a truly significant moment in the history of both traditions." Addressing the General Synod, she said now "the challenge is that we allow our traditions to help each other" .

She was also "grateful to those who have had the courage to voice their hesitations. Thank you for your honesty and integrity. I am grateful to God for a depth of relationship that allows us to differ".

Relationships
The decision by the General Synod "makes the demand on us to build and enjoy our relationships – to be dissatisfied with splendid isolation. Today demands that we remember each other in our thinking and action," she said. She received a standing ovation.

The Bishop of Down and Dromore, Right Rev Harold Miller, recalled the words of a great Irish ecumenist, the late Fr Michael Hurley, who had spoken of living through "an ecumenical winter".

Bishop Miller said, "What we are doing here is an ecumenical spring . . . what we are doing today is something quite large in the ecumenical story". It was, he said, "a wonderful moment in the history of our churches and the history of our mission in this land and what we have to offer the world wide church".

During earlier discussion at the General Synod on the issue, Gillian Kingston, vice-president of the World Methodist Council, told delegates "we are within hours of an historic occasion" .

She recalled how discussion on interchangeability between both churches in Ireland had begun in 1905. Eventually there had been a covenant agreed in 2002.

“For some of us it’s been a lifetime’s work,” she said.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times