Methodist Church in Ireland

Methodist Church In Ireland

Friends of all, enemies of none
Classification Protestant
Orientation Methodist
Polity Connexionalism
Leader changes annually[1]
Associations World Council of Churches, World Methodist Council
Region Ireland
Origin 1784
Separated from Church of Ireland
Separations Fellowship Of Independent Methodist Churches[2] 1973
Congregations 232[3]
Members 53,668[3]
Ministers 108[3]
Secondary schools 2
Official website

The Methodist Church in Ireland (Ulster-Scots: Methody Kirk in Airlann, Irish: Eaglais Mheitidisteach in Éirinn)[4] is a Wesleyan Methodist church that operates across both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on an all-Ireland basis. It is the fourth largest Christian denomination in Northern Ireland.[5] For the year ending 31 December 2012, there were 105 Methodist ministers, 227 local preachers and over six hundred lay people in leadership positions serving over 200 congregations, which combine to form a total community of 49,394 people.[6] The governing body of the Methodist Church in Ireland is the Annual Conference.


For an overview of Methodism in Britain see the main article: Methodist Church of Great Britain

The Methodist Church was founded by John Wesley and his younger brother Charles Wesley during the 18th century initially as a movement within the Church of England. John spent much of his time preaching in Ireland and is said to have visited forty-two times, spending six years of his life on the island.

Wesleyan Theology remained close to the Anglican criteria of scripture, tradition and reason. It has been suggested that nobody who lived in the 18th century has influenced more people in the years since then John Wesley, and in the dissemination of that influence Irish people have played a significant role.

Methodist Belief

The Methodist Church as part of the worldwide church shares those core beliefs which it believes to have been passed down from the time of the Apostles. Those beliefs are founded on the Bible and are summed up in the creeds, which are regularly used in Christian services of all denominations.

It is widely considered that the Protestant Reformation focused on three main matters of belief: the supreme authority of scripture; salvation by faith through faith in Christ, and; the priesthood of all believers. The Methodist Church affirms the importance of these matters.

John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) believed that certain aspects of the Christian Faith required special emphasis. Methodists today still hold to these emphases, known to them as, the 'Four Alls':


Knock Methodist Church, Belfast

The Methodist Church in Ireland works on a democratic structure. There are no bishops or ordained hierarchy. Authority in the Church is vested in the Annual Conference and the trustees.


The small group (or 'class') has always been the lifeblood of Methodism... They have different names now, whether an Alpha Home group, prayer triplet, Bible study, or whatever: but the aim is the same - to encourage one another in the Faith.

Societies and Circuits

These small groups gather, along with other people, to worship together on Sunday and "to work and witness in the community throughout the week". These congregations (or 'societies') can be linked with up to six or seven other congregations in the local area to form a 'circuit'. The direction of a circuit is guided by the Circuit Executive, composed of one senior minister ('Circuit Superintendent'), other ministers, local preachers and a group of leaders from the member congregations.


There are 73 Methodist circuits on the island of Ireland, which have been gathered into eight 'districts' to co-ordinate and motivate at a more general geographical level. Each district appoints a Superintendent and a Secretary to oversee the work and provide pastoral support to clergy.


The annual conference is usually held over the second weekend of June each year. There are several boards and departments which work at the Connexional level to serve individuals and the Methodist Church in Ireland as a whole. Each year Conference elects an administrative and representative president for 12 months.[8]

Social and Education

The Methodist Church has made a large contribution to Ireland both through education and social action.


The church has an emphasis on social action in society. One of the church's mottoes is that the organisation is "Friends of all, enemies of none". The Methodist Church maintains a number of "City Missions". Work carried out by the City Missions includes listening services, homeless help, retirement and nursing homes and various other self-help groups. Strongly emphasised is that the relief of social and personal needs are addressed irrespective of creed. The Methodist Church attempts to make a proactive contribution to society as a whole through its Council on Social Responsibility, World Development & Relief Committee and Home missions department. The Church can also claim a positive contribution to the peace process in Northern Ireland.


The Methodist Church maintains two large secondary schools in Ireland, one north and one south. Methodist College Belfast has made a significant contribution to the life of Ireland and internationally, with some distinguished past pupils including Ernest Walton.[9] Its counterpart in the Republic, Wesley College Dublin has a similar reputation. Famous past pupils of Wesley include George Bernard Shaw and Senator Gordon Wilson. The Methodist Church also maintains a number of primary schools in both the Republic and Northern Ireland.[10]

In addition to these schools the church also maintains a theological college at Edgehill which has been in existence for over 80 years. Edgehill Theological College is a constituent college of the Queen's University, Belfast and provides a series of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in theology, part-time courses in faith and worship and other areas of church life as well as correspondence courses and seminars. Edgehill is the ministerial training college for the Methodist Church in Ireland.[11] The church also owns an agricultural college in the Republic of Ireland called Gurteen College.[12]

Children's & Youth Work

Methodism has a long tradition of organised youth work, currently instigated and supported by the Irish Methodist Youth and Children's Department [IMYC] (formerly Department of Youth and Children's Work). The first full-time General Secretary was appointed over thirty years ago. IMYC exists to establish links between the Church and children and young people, so that every generation in the church's life is appreciated and listened to. This involves representing and advocating youth and children's issues within the whole life of the Church as well as providing training to ministers and youth and children's workers.

The current General Secretary is Rev Dr David Rock, and his predecessors have included: Rev David Neilands; Rev Dr Johnston McMaster, Rev Winston Good and Rev John Knox, the Department's first General Secretary. Current members of staff are: Wendy Johnston (Administration), Janette McCormick, Nicky Blair & Raymond Ruttle (Children's Ministry) and Gillian Best, Lisa McPherson & Stephen McCann (Youth Ministry).

It offers a year out discipleship and evangelism programme known as Team on Mission (TOM) which is currently in its 25th year; TOM succeeded the older programme known as Youth Evangelism Team (YET). The Department also runs a number of flagship events such as Follow the Star (an interactive prayer room for under 8s), Soul Mates (For ages 9–13) and Autumn Soul (for ages 13+).


Contribution to Northern Ireland

The Methodist Church and its members have made an arguably enormous contribution to the peace process in Northern Ireland. It has often been said of the Methodist Church that of all the denominations the Methodist Church have caused the least obstruction and arguably made the greatest contribution to healing in The Troubles (Senator Brian Hayes).

Eric Gallagher is such an example. As president of the Methodist Church in Ireland he was the first Protestant churchman who met with IRA representatives in Feakle, County Clare in the 1970s to unsuccessfully try to broker a peace. The meeting was broken up by the Garda Síochána, but the fugitive IRA men had already left.[15][16]

Gordon Wilson

Further commitment to the Peace Process was achieved from seeming tragedy in 1987. Gordon Wilson, a member of the Church was the father of Marie Wilson, one of 11 victims of the Enniskillen Remembrance Sunday Parade bombing by the Provisional IRA. He came to national and international prominence with an emotional television interview he gave to the BBC the same evening in which he described his last conversation with his daughter, a nurse, as they both lay buried in rubble.[17]

Wilson declared at the end of his interview that he forgave his daughter's killers and urged loyalist paramilitaries not to take revenge for her death. This was seen as a turning point in the peace process, that somebody so soon after such a disaster was able to forgive his own daughter's murderers.[18] His contribution was honoured when he was invited to take a seat in Seanad Éireann by request of the Taoiseach in 1993.[19]

In 2005, The Church was once again thrown into the centre of the Peace Process as a former president of The Methodist Church in Ireland, Rev Harold Good, was asked to be an independent witness for the historic decommissioning of IRA arms.[20][21]

Ecumenical Relations

The Methodist Church is a member of several ecumenical bodies, including the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, and the Irish Council of Churches.

Into the Future

In 1998 The Methodist Church in Ireland embarked on a period of reflection on its position within Irish Society which it called 'Dreaming Dreams'. Although in many areas of the country the Church is increasing in numbers it is aware that as a whole numbers are decreasing in church membership across the country in every denomination.

The church has since published its 'ConneXions' plan. The core vision of ConneXions is that each local Church will reflect the life of Christ in its own area. Each church was asked to participate in a community survey so as to find a policy in each church which will best match the needs of its locality. The Methodist Church hopes that this plan when fully implemented will put the entire connexion in a strong position for regrowth and redevelopment in the 21st Century whilst holding fast to the emphasises of the Weslyan tradition on which it was formed.[22]

In 2002 The Methodist Church in Ireland signed a covenant for greater cooperation and potential ultimate unity with the Church of Ireland.[23]

See also


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