This website is best viewed with CSS and JavaScript enabled.

Church of Ireland celebrates 150 years of independence from the state

Posted on: November 14, 2019 11:23 AM
Photo Credit: Church of Ireland

[ACNS, by Rachel Farmer] The Church of Ireland is celebrating 150 years since it was disestablished from the Church of England and has set out an innovative programme to mark the milestone.

A special service of celebration this month in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, when the Archbishop of Canterbury will preach, launches the #D150 programme and will look back on achievements over the past century and a half.

The Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, Richard Clarke, wrote about the landmark year saying: “Today we may reasonably celebrate 150 years of disestablishment, but only if we are now ready to show the same faith, courage and generosity our forebears epitomised in 1869 as we seek to shape our future course.”

'Free to shape our future' is the theme for the #D150 celebrations, taken from a phrase used by one of the architects of the disestablished church. After 1869 the Church was no longer the State church and bound by the rules of the State and parliament, it could put its own shape on the Anglican church in Ireland. Members of General Synod did, and still do, change and shape the Church of Ireland by the passing of Bills to alter the constitution each year.

The Irish Church Act of 1869 disestablished the Anglican church in Ireland from the State as part of Prime Minister Gladstone’s policy to win support of Irish nationalists for the Union with Great Britain and address the resentment of other churches over the privileged position enjoyed by an established church representing less than 12 per cent of the population.

This independence became more important through the revolutionary period of 1916 to 1923 after which Ireland gained independence and then went through a civil war. Many believe that if disestablishment had not happened when it did, the Church of Ireland might not have survived intact; Gladstone’s Irish Church Act had generously allowed the church to keep its buildings and resources.

Looking back on the history of disestablishment, the Archbishop of Armagh said 150 years ago there had been widespread uncertainty about whether the church could survive financially and also that it might fragment into different doctrinal and ecclesiastical factions.

However, according to the Archbishop, the Church of Ireland has always sought to find a consensus and to “stick together” amidst the diverging cultures and socio-political realities of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Some of its achievements include being at the forefront of Anglican liturgical development and providing legislation to permit the marriage of divorced people in a church setting. In terms of ecumenical relations, the church has provided a middle road and been heavily engaged in international ecumenical commissions over many decades. It was the first of the Anglican churches in Europe to ordain women to the priesthood and to the episcopate.

As part of the Church’s D150 initiative a series of essays called ‘Irish Anglicanism, 1969 –2019’, have been published, telling the story of major aspects of the life of the church in the past half-century. The subjects range from role of women in church ministry; the Anglican Communion; dialogue with other churches and faiths; the covenant relationship with the Methodist Church; architecture and art; pastoral care; theological training; the church and education in Northern Ireland and in Ireland; liturgy and worship; music in the life of the church; canonical and legal change; the Irish language; archives and publishing; and the church and media.

The Archbishop of Dublin & Glendalough, Michael Jackson, spoke at a recent diocesan synod and said that members of the Church of Ireland had a unique opportunity to take a positive spirit forward in the commemorations for the 150th anniversary.

He said the Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission were a common language to take into their relationships with neighbours inside and outside churches in Ireland and with neighbours of other World Faiths or of no faith.

He said: “The Five Marks of Mission are a language of informed engagement for everyone, not exclusively for clergy. Everyone can do this and many have done so already. Such a democratization of opportunity is a blessing with no disguise, and I would suggest the right place for a confident Disestablishment to be in its 151st year: Proclaiming God’s Kingdom; Teaching, baptizing and nurturing; Responding to human need; Transforming unjust structures; Safeguarding creation.”

He continued, “I am particularly proud of the people and clergy of this diocese as we show we are ready to shape our future without need for fear in the 150th year of Disestablishment and beyond.”