Saturday, 20 July 2024

Historic Election at the Irish Council of Churches' AGM

On 11th April 2024, a significant and historic event took place at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Irish Council of Churches (ICC), held at the Gracehill Moravian Church in Ballymena. This AGM saw the election of Bishop Sarah Groves as President, marking a notable milestone in the ICC's centennial history. Bishop Groves succeeds Bishop Andrew Forster of the Church of Ireland, becoming only the second Moravian to hold this position. The first was the late Bishop Joe Cooper, emphasising the significance of this event within the Moravian community and the broader ecumenical landscape in Ireland.

The election of Bishop Sarah Groves was a momentous occasion, highlighted by the proposal speech delivered by Br Mark Kernohan, a member of the ICC executive and Chair of the Irish District of the Moravian Church. In his remarks, Br Kernohan underscored the historic nature of Sr Groves' election, noting the pride that the Moravian community holds as a founding member church within the ICC's 100-year history. The election comes at a time where there is a challenge to re-imagine ecumenism and to tackle social issues.

The Role of the Irish Council of Churches

The ICC has long been a vital organisation in promoting unity and cooperation among Christian denominations in Ireland. Established in 1923, the council has worked tirelessly to bridge divides and foster a spirit of ecumenism. Though not the first time that a female will serve as President, the election of Bishop Sarah Groves is a testament to the ICC's commitment to inclusion and its recognition of the valuable contributions of diverse Christian traditions.

Bishop Groves brings a wealth of experience and a fresh perspective to her new role as President. Her leadership is expected to build on the leadership of her predecessor, especially as the ICC is looking to establish a new office in Northen Ireland. As only the second Moravian to hold the presidency, Bishop Groves' election is a source of pride and inspiration for the Moravian community and the broader ecumenical movement in Ireland. After her term in office as president, Sr Groves will remain on the executive as Immediate Past President.

Distinguished Attendees

The AGM was attended by several distinguished leaders from member churches of the ICC. Among them was Sr Roberta Hoey, Chair of the Provincial Board of the Moravian Church of Great Britain and Ireland, whose attendance underscored the support and solidarity within the Moravian community. Also present was Dr Nicola Brady, the General Secretary of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, whose participation highlighted the broader ecumenical connections and the collaborative spirit among Christian communities across the British Isles.

Launch of 'From Every Nation' Booklet

In addition to the election, the AGM featured the launch of a significant new resource for the ICC and its member churches: the booklet titled 'From Every Nation'. This handbook is designed to guide congregations on their journey from welcome to belonging, addressing critical issues of diversity, equality, and inclusion. The booklet specifically tackles the challenges of racism and the importance of understanding and addressing it within both church and society.

Richard Reddie from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland had the honour of launching the booklet. His presentation emphasised the booklet's role as a practical and educational tool for congregations seeking to foster more inclusive and welcoming communities. The booklet is expected to serve as a valuable resource for churches as they navigate the complexities of diversity and strive to create environments where all individuals feel a sense of belonging.

The launch of 'From Every Nation' at the AGM highlights the ICC's ongoing commitment to addressing issues of diversity, equality, and inclusion. The booklet is a tangible manifestation of the council's dedication to creating welcoming church communities. By providing practical guidance and fostering a deeper understanding of racism and its impacts, the booklet aims to equip congregations with the tools they need to effect meaningful change.

Richard Reddie's involvement in the launch underscores the collaborative efforts between the ICC and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. This partnership reflects a shared vision of promoting justice and inclusion within Christian communities in Ireland and beyond.

Looking Ahead

As Bishop Sarah Groves assumes her new role as President of the ICC, there is a sense of optimism and anticipation for the future. Her election represents a historic milestone and a reaffirmation of the ICC's commitment to ecumenical partnership. Under her leadership, the council is poised to continue its important work of fostering deeper relationships among member churches and addressing pressing social issues.

The launch of 'From Every Nation' marks a significant step forward in the ICC's efforts to promote diversity and inclusion. The booklet's impact will be measured by the positive changes it inspires within congregations, as they strive to become more welcoming and equitable communities.

The 2024 AGM of the Irish Council of Churches celebrated both leadership transition and the launch of an important new resource. With Bishop Sarah Groves as President and the 'From Every Nation' booklet in hand, the ICC is positioned to continue its mission of fostering unity, justice, and inclusion within the Christian community in Ireland.

Br Livingstone Thompson

Provincial Board and Minister of Kilwarlin and University Road Belfast Moravian Congregations

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