Police had to storm into a church to break up an angry protest staged by part of a congregation demonstrating against their minister.
At one stage officers had to stop a man trying to pull the power plug to the church organ.
Tensions between two groups within the Ballynahinch Congregational Church reached breaking point during angry scenes yesterday.
The dramatic climax in the evening service came amid a furious row between some members of a congregation and Rev George Speers.
Years of underlying issues came to a head at both the morning and evening service in the rural church in Co Down yesterday.
Around 70 members were in attendance at the evangelical church on the Dromore Road when Rev Speers was heckled from the pews.
For the second time that day, just as his sermon began, around 40 church members left their seats and began to shout at the minister.
They roared “Out, Out, Out”, clapping, whistling and cheering and moving to the front of the church to surround the pulpit.
Rev Speers continued with the service but could not be heard over the angry crowd.
The fury was echoed by stamping of feet and singing of “We shall not be moved.”
At one point the minister used a megaphone to make himself heard over the jeers.
It is believed that the church is split into two groups — those who claim to support the traditional church style and those who claim to support the minister who took up the post more than seven years ago.
The remainder of the congregration stayed in the church until the sermon was officially ended by Rev Speers at around 7.30pm.
They shouted “Praise the Lord” in response to the protest at the front of the small church.
As the organist continued her hymn list for the service, one of the protesters swiped her music sheets in a bid to stop her from playing. One man was spoken to by police for pulling the plug out of the organ.
While the exchanges were not violent, the police reminded the crowd that disrupting a religous service was a breach of the peace.
Eddie Bell, who was not taking part in the protest, said he was saddened to watch the scenes inside a church he has been a member of for 35 years.
“This is completely wicked and demon,” he said.
One protester told the Belfast Telegraph: “I am here with hate in my heart and I am ashamed to say that. I am a Christian and I feel hate in my heart towards the teachings and changes here.”
Glasses of water were bought on a tray to cool down the protesters, many of whom were pensioners.
Rev Speers was escorted from the building flanked by police when he had finished his sermon.
His supporters shook his hand as they left the building.
There were similar scenes at the morning service when Rev Speers was interrupted after beginning his teachings.
It’s believed he was forced into lockdown in his manse after the service as the issues within his congregation reached boiling point, but vowed to officiate, “God willing”, at the evening service.
The cause of the split seems to be a series of complex issues within the congregation.
Jim Magowan (66) is secretary of the 13 trustees who say they are supporters of the minister.
“The issues are that there is a majority of people within the church who have no confidence in the ministerial team,” he said.
“Some theology issues, some doctrinal issues and a lot of personality issues. It’s so difficult and so involved but it’s come to a head, this has been going on for a couple of years, but it’s built up to this point.”
Police were also present at the church ahead of the morning’s service. Mr Magowan said he was not sure who alerted them to the problem.
Ballynahinch Congregational Church, which is situated near Ballynhinch, Co Down, is one of 27 member |churches that make up the Congregational Union of Ireland.
The church, which was established in 1902, currently has two websites run by two separate groups which further indicates the alleged split vision of the congregation.