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Faith Matters

Churches challenged to use their 'soft power' to critique 'post-Catholic' Ireland

THE Irish Council of Churches held its 94th annual meeting last week with a discussion of the challenges and opportunities posed by secularisation in 'post-Catholic' Ireland.

Dr Gladys Ganiel, Research Fellow at the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice, gave the keynote address, which asked 'Do the Churches have a place in a Post-Catholic Ireland?'

She noted that the ICC could be seen as belonging to what she defined as "extra-institutional religion", whereby "new religious spaces... are being created or discovered within Ireland's post-Catholic environment".

"These are spaces where people use various methods and strategies to keep their faith alive, outside or in addition to the institutional Catholic Church, or indeed, other 'institutional' Churches," she said.

The ICC had the potential, she said, to greatly engage with and contribute to public life, adding that "from a sociological perspective, sometimes the margins are the best place to be".

"While you may lack conventional power or influence, there is an important soft power in your ability to critique and offer alternative visions, and to move quickly to respond to pressing needs," she told more than 100 delegates from Protestant, Orthodox, Reformed, Catholic, independent and migrant-led Churches.

ICC president the Rt Rev John McDowell, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Clogher, told the conference, held this year at the Methodist Church's Belfast Central Mission, that the ICC needed to think how it might explore "the God space" in contemporary society.

"We must think of ways of encouraging and informing our member churches to specifically address witnessing in a pluralist society and bringing our particular gifts to building up the common good," he said.

The Irish Council of Churches was founded in 1922 by "Christian Communions in Ireland willing to join in united efforts to promote the spiritual, physical, moral and social welfare of the people and the extension of the rule of Christ among all nations and over every region of life".

It meets with Catholic Church representatives in the Irish Inter Church Meeting, which traces its roots to the Ballymascanlon talks in 1973.

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