Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Ballynahinch congregation says yes to mediation over church row

Minister George Speers
Minister George Speers

A furious congregation who protested against their own minister last Sunday have agreed to mediation talks.

The breakthrough comes after dozens of members of Ballynahinch Congregational Church surrounded Rev George Speers in angry exchanges last weekend.

Police were forced to intervene at the Dromore Road church.

The protest was led by the church trustees who claim to support the church, not the minister.

Yesterday it was revealed that after a meeting on Tuesday, the trustees accepted the offer of mediation through the Congregational Union of Ireland.

Secretary of the trustees Jim Magowan said: "Mediation is not yet happening, it is only an offer.

"We have agreed to mediation without knowing what the arrangements could be, but it is highly unlikely that that would mean a meeting of both parties."

Union chairman Rev Victor Neill confirmed that he had received an offer of acceptance from the trustees of the church but did not wish to comment further on the arrangements or if a response was received from Rev Speers.

Mr Magowan said he would be going in to the mediation with an "open mind".

He indicated that while there may be a protest this Sunday, the tone and approach would not be the same as the previous week.

The dispute, which has been ongoing for a number of years, has several complex issues at its heart.

In a symbol of division, the church has two websites, one of which lists Rev Speers as the minister, and the other that doesn't.

It is understood that the trustees have sent a copy of their acceptance of the mediation offer to both the Congregational Union and Rev Speers and are now awaiting a response.

BACKGROUND

The heated dispute in Ballynahinch Congregational came to a head last Sunday when around 40 members protested against their own minister, Rev George Speers, at services. The church is one of 27 independent churches of the Congregational Union of Ireland.

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