Church dispute to end by Xmas Day... next year
Two Ulster churches at the centre of a gender row have pledged to resolve the issue for next Christmas. Rev Christina Brad- ley, minister of Armagh Road Presbyterian Church and Rev Stafford Carson of First Portadown Presbyterian Church have been at loggerheads over a joint Christmas Day service.
On Friday the Belfast Telegraph reported that Mrs Bradley had been barred from taking part in the service - because she is a woman. For at least 60 years the churches have alternated a united Christmas Day service.
Until now, all ministers of both churches have been men, with the 'home' minister conducting the service and the away minister preaching the sermon.
But this year Rev Carson of confirmed he could not 'in conscience' permit a woman minister into his pulpit.
In a joint statement, both ministers said they were working to find a compromise.
"When differences between ministers and two congregations of the same denomination become public, emotions arise quickly over hurt feelings, misunderstandings and misinterpretations; people take sides and things can easily get out of hand. "It is very unfortunate that the crux of the matter is the gender issue which upset the pulpit exchange and joint Christmas Day service our congregations have practised and enjoyed for over 50 years" the statement said.
"This year there will not be a united service and no pulpit exchange. What happens next Christmas is a different matter and each member of the congregations are invited to give your elders and Minister that support which enables both churches to move forward together and maintain the friendship that exists between many of their members."
The statement said that both sides had spent "considerable time" in dialogue trying to resolve the matter in recent days.
"Both ministers regret that they did not work harder to develop a compromise which would have had the support of everyone in their congregations. They hope and pray that finally good will come out of this regrettable situation as they enter into continuing contact and conversations."