An outline of the challenges and opportunities for the Church in Ireland from secularisation was presented by Dr Gladys Ganiel to over 100 delegates at the 94th Annual Meeting of the Irish Council of Churches (ICC). Dr Gladys Ganiel is Research Fellow at the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice.
In her keynote talk, Dr Ganiel suggested that there are sociological reasons why secularisation and anti-institutionalism should be seen as opportunities for the churches to flourish, not threats for them to overcome. She said that ‘Christians must understand that the choices they make about how they respond to secularisation and anti-institutionalism will determine the future of the Irish churches in ways that we cannot even begin to imagine.’
‘..it seems clear to me that churches that refuse to change in meaningful ways will be choosing their own extinction. Having raised the spectre of extinction, I’m convinced that the churches have life in them yet. The churches can help make this island a better place to live. If the churches make good choices, they may be able to witness to Christ’s love much more effectively than they have in the past’, she said.
She outlined lessons she had learned from people who are trying to grasp the opportunities:
- Extra-institutional religion is better equipped than traditional religious institutions (especially denominations) to contribute to personal, religious, social, and political transformations.
- A key task of extra-institutional religion could be transforming traditional religious institutions themselves, inspiring them to become more flexible and creative in their approaches.
- Reconciliation needed to be promoted between groups: Catholics and Protestants on the whole island, Irish-born and immigrant, people of different religions, and within the institutional churches themselves.
- The case for reconciliation needs to be made in both secular and religious terms.
- No single expression of extra-institutional religion can sustain the activism necessary to effect large-scale religious, social, or political transformation so networks need to be created of groups and individuals, drawing on the skills and resources of both religious and secular citizens.
‘ICC could be considered to be well-placed to grasp the opportunities: it might even be considered an example of extra-institutional religion’, said Dr Ganiel. ‘The ICC is associated with ecumenism, and ecumenism has been – and remains – a minority sport among Ireland’s Christians… 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 argued.
Dr Ganiel has made the whole of her talk Do the Churches have a Place in a Post-Catholic Ireland? available online.
You can read the ICC’s report of the annual meeting on the ICC website.