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'It's a pity this has happened, but it can be sorted out'

By Noel McAdam

Published 12/10/2015

Parishioners at St Patrick's in Newry are already on higher ground even before a service begins. Their beautiful, wall-surrounded church, which is amongst the oldest in Ireland, is perched high on Stream Street overlooking the city.

Even on a misty, murky October morning, the view from the front of the church - which takes in sister church St Mary's in the mid-distance - is stunning.

But the situation inside the church is a much less pretty picture.

It is the Harvest season, but all is not safely gathered in.

The dispute between some church members and their rector has spilled into the public arena

Parishioners attending morning worship at St Patrick's yesterday proved reluctant to talk about the row.

But as it emerged their minister was being asked to step aside temporarily, many were optimistic that a resolution would be found, and found quite quickly.

"Rev Sutton is a lovely man. He has been here for more than 10 years and is well respected in my view," one church member said.

"It really should not have gone into the public domain," another added.

"We are here holding our Sunday morning service; it should be a private matter and any difficulties should be left to be sorted out internally."

One woman said: "There has been a bit of a controversy about.

"I am not a flags person, but I would say for people for whom they are important we should never forget the sacrifice of all those who laid down their lives for us, and their view should be respected."

Another woman said: "The flag came down in our other church (St Mary's) first, but it was when the flag was taken down at St Patrick's that there seemed to be more ill-feeling. It is a pity that it happened, but it can be sorted out."

None of the parishioners wanted to be named and many others opted not to even give an opinion. A few were affronted to be approached on their way to Sunday worship.

The church has an old-fashioned feel. Said to be the oldest post-Reformation church on the island, it was transformed by building work just over a decade ago when almost all the stained-glass windows were taken out and fully restored - and two depicting the parables were completely renewed.

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