THE Church of Ireland can now implement arrangements for interchangeability of ministry with the Moravian Church. Thanks to a shared commitment to threefold ministry that, among other provisions, enabled any Moravian deacon entering the ministry of the Church of Ireland to exercise diaconal ministry in the manner traditionally understood by the Church of Ireland, and vice versa.
Any Church of Ireland priest wishing to serve a Moravian congregation would be received as a Presbyter, and vice versa. The Church of England “is content that Church of Ireland bishops take a full part in the consecration of Moravian bishops, even when this takes place in England, provided the local C of E bishop is informed as a courtesy.”
The agreement was endorsed by the House of Bishops in November 2021. The Bishop of Tuam, Limerick & Killaloe, the Rt Revd Michael Burrows, who proposed the motion, described conversations between the two Churches since 2015 as “in-depth, extremely amiable, and helpful”, and the Moravian Church itself as a historic Church, “representing something distinctive and renewing”.
He continued: “We are daring to hope the Church of England will learn something from us — but don’t quote me unless you are reporting for the Church Times.” The Church of Ireland, he said, wanted to build on the Anglican-Moravian Fetter Lane agreement of 1995, in which the two Churches achieved significant theological convergence. “With each agreement on ecumenism, we are binding up episcope’s wings — to make it an office of unity,” he said.
Bishop Sarah Groves, of the Moravian Church, declared herself “absolutely delighted to be at this place at this time”. Moravian bishops were bishops for life, she said: they are elected by the province at synod, able to operate anywhere in the Church, and paid the same as deacons. They were a focus for unity.
She was also delighted to be called “a bearable anomaly”. The talks between the two Churches had shown that “you learn not just about the other Church but about yourself in the process.”
The Dean of Cork, the Very Revd Nigel Dunne (Cork, Cloyne & Ross) hoped that the Synod would legislate to underpin this legislation under Canon 10, giving it “a legal base from which to develop our future relationship”. Canon Helene Steed (Down) saw it as an opportunity to widen the ecumenical discussion and involvement: “It is about the whole household of God, not just bishops and clergy.”
George Woodman (Connor) had been much moved to find the church of Gracehill, Ballymena, on a map of settlements in a visit to a folk museum in a remote part of Moravia. He welcomed the interchange of ministries: “Such a move is worth making when links with Europe outside the immediate West are fragmenting.”
The Bishop of Derry & Raphoe, the Rt Revd Andrew Forster, said: “Today is about continuing and deepening those relationships. . . The motion leaves space for that relationship to grow. That’s what it’s all about.”
The Archdeacon of Belfast, the Ven. Barry Forde (Connor), drew on the experience of the covenant with the Methodists to emphasise the importance of looking at what would happen after the agreement, in shared spaces and in villages and towns. “Let’s not find ourselves saying afterwards that ‘it can’t be done because this is the way we’ve always done it.’”
Bishop Burrows, concluding, suggested that the Church of England sometimes found the mechanics of these processes trickier, and was perhaps “often quite glad its Celtic neighbours were exploring the ground ahead”.
The motion was passed unanimously:
“That the General Synod, pursuant to its Resolution of 2015 —
recognises that the conditions now exist for the implementation of arrangements providing for the interchangeability of ministries with the Moravian Church, in accordance with the attached agreement made between representatives of our Churches and endorsed by the House of Bishops;
empowers the standing committee to take steps to set up the necessary reference group.”
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