For 20 years I have watched, and wrestled pastorally and missionally, with what I have seen as the spiritual landscape of Ireland changed out of all recognition. There is a generation under 40 who are no longer there in institutional Church worship on a Sunday morning.
What happened? Where have they gone? Has anything taken the place of the Church? What is the future of the Church on the island?
This is a book for the day that the Irish Church is in. It is essential reading for anyone involved in Christian Church leadership in Ireland in 2016.
For days like these, Gladys Ganiel is a gift to the Irish Church. From Maine in the USA she has made her home in Belfast. Having worked at Irish School Of Ecumenics, during which time this book was researched, she has moved to Queens University’s the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation & Social Justice.
Gladys has a keen sociological eye on Irish Church life. She has a wonderful grasp of the Irish Church; it’s breadth and depth (or lack of depth). She is interested in new emerging forms of Christianity. In all of this her passion for reconciliation weaves through.
In Transforming Post Catholic Ireland, Ganiel brings together her knowledge of the institutional Church, the thoroughness of academic research skills and her ability to make sense of it all. She does so at a vital moment in Irish ecclesiology.
It does not take any kind of robust research to be aware of the decline in in institutional Churches in Ireland, north and south. Whether the Catholic Church’s influence in the Republic or the declining numbers and power of the mainline Protestant Churches in Northern Ireland, something significant has happened in these last 40 years.
What might not have been so well documented is the increase in what Ganiel terms extra-institutional groups. These groups suggests an individualising of religion. However in Ireland for whatever reasons these groups still have links with the institutional church. These links might vary in weakness and strength but they are still there.
Ganiel with her fellow researchers have looked for, found and spent time with a variety of such extra-institutional groups. From Catholic Parish Councils, to Churches Forums, to charismatic groups, to African centred Churches to Monastic Brothers there are detailed interviews and analysis of what is going on across Ireland in Christian terms. I guess apart from the title, which never convinced me described the book, my only critique would be that I would have loved a study of a new extra-institutional Belfast group like Redeemer Central or The Village.
Ganiel asks if these groups might just be the transformers of the old institutions but also asks if they are the most potent spaces for reconciliation to take place. These new groups are more dynamic and might be more energetic in every way from spiritual formation to social transformation.
She writes: “… on the island of Ireland, the practice of extra-institutional religion has the potential to contribute to reconciliation, more so than any other expressions of religion such as the traditional denominations. The traditional institutional Churches are more often than not tainted by the island’s religiously divided and sectarian past, the Churches perceived failure to act during the Troubles, and the failure to deal within religious institutions. Extra-institutional expressions of religion are not burdened with that baggage, have more freedom to critique religious institutions, and have more flexibility to form networks with like-minded religious and secular groups to respond quickly to pressing issues and needs.
Though she doesn’t declare it in these terms I wonder if this is an investigation of what the Holy Spirit might be doing to bypass the inertia of big bulky institutions that the Millenniums (18-35 year olds), as they are called, have long become suspicious of.
I was particularly pleased to note that she is suggesting Fitzroy as an extra-institutional group!
Gladys Ganiel will speak about the book on Sunday June 5th 2016 at 7pm in Fitzroy. ALL WELCOME!