New President & Vice President for ICC

11.4.2024 | Church in Society, Irish Council of Churches

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) was one of the founding members of the Irish Council of Churches (ICC), and today representatives from PCI and the ICC’s 14 other member churches from across Ireland, met in Gracehill Moravian Church, County Antrim, for 101st Annual Meeting, where the new President and Vice President were installed.

Having concluded his two-year term as president, Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Foster handed the presidency to his vice president, Bishop Sarah Groves, who is also the minister of in Gracehill Moravian Church. Bishop Sarah will now serve as President of the Irish Council of Churches until 2026. PCI’s former Moderator, Very Rev Dr Charles McMullen, minister of West Church in Bangor, County Down, was installed as vice president. Dr McMullen will serve as ICC President from 2026-2028.

Speaking after her installation today, Bishop Groves said, “As the Moravian Church was one of the founding members of ICC over 100 years ago, this is an exciting day. I look forward to my term as ICC President and to leading the organisation as we continue to equip Ireland’s churches to connect through a common belief in Christ."

Founded at the height of the Irish Civil War in 1923, as the United Council of Christian Churches and Religious Communities in Ireland, the ICC has become one of the world’s oldest national representative church bodies. It is also the formal national body through which PCI and all member churches formally engage, dialogue and act on a wide variety of issues.

During the meeting 'From Every Nation? A Handbook for a congregation's journey from welcome to belonging' was launched. The aim of this resource is to equip churches with an understanding of diversity and inclusion, and to support actions at a local church level to improve inclusion and work towards racial justice through faith.

Speaking about the handbook, immediate past ICC President, Bishop Andrew Forster, said, “We're thrilled to be able to introduce this handbook as a comprehensive guide exploring the intersection of faith, diversity, and anti-racism. We hope those involved in church leadership will find it useful in fostering deeper belonging for all in their church.”

This year’s key note address was given by Richard Reddie, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland’s Director of Justice and Inclusion. Reflecting on the handbook, Mr Reddie said, “Racial justice ‘is everyone’s business’ and ‘is unfinished business’. Often many Christians don’t engage in these matters because they do not feel equipped to do so – they don’t want to say the ‘wrong thing’ and offend people. But if Christianity is for everyone, it behoves us all to engage and it’s great to see this handbook exploring these matters within an all-Ireland context.”

Addressing the Annual Meeting, Bishop Sarah spoke about the encounter with Jesus of two of his followers on the Road to Emmaus. Originally from rural England on the border with Wales, she said, “There is something about the rhythm of walking, the steady pace and the regular breathing, and that time away from regular work and having that time with each other. And that is something so important for the Irish Council of Churches – that we take time away from the regular work of our Churches and walk and talk together about our certainties, yes of course, but perhaps almost more importantly our uncertainties. And we have that time to learn more about each other as people and our Churches and traditions and this journey is not just for ourselves but for the sake of the Kingdom...”

Quoting the 18th century Moravian leader, Bishop, Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, who said that each denomination is like a facet of a beautiful jewel, Bishop Sarah continued, “…So I really look forward to working closer with you all…I am not naive enough to believe that we will always agree - there are real and deep differences in our cultures and understanding and it is not easy to cross those at times. Faith can often produce the deepest of divisions.

But we are brought together not because we agree, not because we are first friends but because we are called together in fellowship with God…this coming together is important for its own sake; and that the world may see that we are united, when so often we are seen as divided; and that we may learn more of our Lord together…”

Bishop Sarah concluded by saying, “But we also come together for the sake of the communities in which we are set…Jeremiah told the exiles, seek the good of the city and as Jesus taught us to pray ‘that thy kingdom come, on earth as it has in heaven’. So I pray that walking together, talking and sharing, eating and dreaming will be blessed in the coming years and that in so doing we will continue to be a blessing to the world around us.”

The President of the Irish Council of Churches is one of the five Church Leaders, who along with the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Archbishops of Armagh, the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland and the Presbyterian Moderator, make up the Church Leaders Group (Ireland). It cam into existence in the late 1960s when the Church Leaders recognised the value in working together in light of the urgency of political developments of the time. Since then, those holding these offices have met frequently, united in their identity as disciples of Jesus and their shared commitment to work together for the common good.

Photos & Images: (1) left to right pictured outside Gracehill Moravian Church are the immediate past president of the Irish Council of Church, Bishop Andrew Forster with the new ICC President, Bishop Sarah Groves and ICC Vice President Very Rev Dr Charles McMullen (2) the front cover of the ICC's publication 'From Every Nation? A Handbook for a congregation's journey from welcome to belonging', which was launched at the AGM (3) keynote speaker, Richard Reddie, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland’s Director of Justice and Inclusion (4) ICC President for 2024-2026 Bishop Sarah Groves.

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