The Church of Ireland is part of the Anglican Communion, a family of churches with around 75 million members on every continent. The Anglican Communion is the third largest Christian body in the world, after the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.
During the 16th Century Reformation, most churches in the Western world either remained loyal to the Pope in Rome, maintaining their traditional teachings, or embraced radical new teachings that came to be known as Protestantism. The Church of Ireland, in common with the Anglican Churches in Britain pursued a middle way. The Anglican Churches joined Protestants in rejecting the papacy, and embraced some Protestant teachings, but also kept the historic teachings and practices of the Catholic church – in particular in the way that they worshipped. Holy Communion remained the centre of Anglican worship, the ancient creeds were retained, and traditions like the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer were not only kept but improved.
Within the Anglican Churches, there are distinct traditions. ‘Low church’ parishes are ones which embraced more of the teachings of the Protestant Reformation, while ‘high church’ parishes retained more of the traditional Catholic teachings, with many parishes being ‘broad church’ – somewhere in the middle. In the Church of Ireland, most parishes tend to be ‘low church’, but St. George’s is known as the most strongly ‘high church’ parish in Northern Ireland today.
Ecumenism has long been an important part of the work and witness of St. George’s as well as the wider Church of Ireland. As a Parish drawing spirituality from both the Catholic and Protestant traditions, and located in the heart of a city for too long bitterly divided between Catholics and Protestants, St. George’s has long sought to marry its strong commitment to the traditions of the Church of Ireland with an openness and willingness to share with Christians of other traditions.
If you would like to learn more about the Church of Ireland, the Association for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge has produced a series of excellent, simple, study leaflets which can be read online here.