Church of Ireland Conference on the Covenant

In the first of a series of events being planned by the Church of Ireland to mark the ‘Decade of Centenaries’, when significant events in Irish history will be commemorated during the period 1912-1922, a one-day conference was held on Saturday 24 March focusing on the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant of 1912. It came about at the request of the Standing Committee of the General Synod of the Church to assist in thinking through how these centenaries might be addressed historically, ethically and responsibly by 21st-century Christians.

Taking place at Moira Parish Centre, and attended by around 100 people, the conference, entitled ‘Sober Reflections’, looked at the historical detail and context of the Covenant and also sought to reflect theologically on the how the Covenant might be addressed by the contemporary Christian conscience.

Professor Paul Bew, Lord Bew of DonegoreThe Conference was chaired by Professor David Hayton of Queen’s University, Belfast and introduced by Bishop John McDowell, chair of the working group which organised the day.

The first keynote speaker was Professor Paul Bew (Lord Bew of Donegore) (right) who give an overview of historical forces which gave rise to the Covenant and its significance to the political and social development of Ireland, north and south.

Professor Bew was followed by Dr Andrew Scholes who presented a paper which examined the particular role and reaction of the Church of Ireland in the making and signing of the Covenant and during the Home Rule crisis.

In the afternoon session, Professor Andrew Pierce, Assistant Professor of Inter-cultural Theology at the Irish School of Ecumenics (ISE), considered theological methods of addressing a divisive historical event in a more ecumenical age, speaking of repentance and witness by the Church and individuals.

Dr Johnston McMaster, Co-ordinator of the Education for Reconciliation programme of the ISE based in Northern Ireland spoke about his recent work of theological reflection on The Covenant and of how modern Christians might engage positively with it. This was followed by a plenary discussion with contributions from the floor, before the close of the event by Professor Hayton.

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