The thirty-third meeting of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting took place over 19 and 20 October in Dromantine Conference Centre, Newry. The theme for the meeting was “Our Reconciling Vision of Hope: Fifty years since the Ballymascanlon Talks”.
2023 is particularly significant for Irish Inter-Church Meeting (IICM) as it is the 50th Anniversary of the first Ballymascanlon Talks, which led to its establishment. The talks brought together Protestant and Catholic Churches across the island of Ireland in the midst of the Troubles.
The IICM was first and foremost intended to be a space for the development of relations between the churches. After sharing lunch and attending various addresses, representatives joined a service of thanksgiving and reflection as part of the two day meeting. Representatives from across the membership of the Irish Council of Churches, and the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, led the service which was attended by delegates from across the island. Various speakers shared at the conference which explored the context around the Ballymascanlon Talks, including the priorities, challenges and achievements of those early years. There was also a session exploring current dynamics in international Inter-Church Relations. Father Martin Browne (Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity) discussed recent developments and directions in international ecumenical relations and how they can inform our journey here in Ireland. Father Martin said, “As we celebrate 100 years of the ICC and 50 years of the IICM, we give thanks for those pioneers who took risks and endured criticism for doing what we can do so unselfconsciously today, meeting together. We give thanks that we are no longer strangers to one another, but brothers and sisters, and friends. Perhaps the hopeful vision for the future can be one of still greater closeness and the unity of Christians.”
Day two of the conference began with Rev Dr Donald Watts of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, who spoke of positive accomplishments by IICM and its initiatives over the years, noting that “we are involved in a dynamic movement rather than a static structure”.
A panel considered current challenges to our vision of a more connected Church in Ireland, as well as areas offering opportunity for closer relationships and collaboration with ICC Vice-President Bishop Sarah Groves, Rev Dr Heather Morris who serves as secretary of Conference for the Methodist Church in Ireland, and Dr Damian Jackson, the IICM joint secretary. In this session the aspect of hospitality was discussed as we aim to move from knowing each other a little to forming trusting relationships, open to change.
Co-chair of the 33rd IICM, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, concluded the conference with a discussion of the topic, ‘What are we to take from this meeting for our coming work’. The Catholic Primate of All Ireland encouraged the audience to contemplate considerations for themselves, for the local Church and for Churches together. As the audience engaged in thoughtful group discussion, the point of common concern across all groups was the urgent need to meaningful engage with young people and to include this demographic in future significant gatherings.