Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Still no end in sight to unholy dispute at Ballynahinch Congregational Church

Protesting members of Ballynahinch Congregational Church hold a placard protest outside the church yesterday morning
Protesting members of Ballynahinch Congregational Church hold a placard protest outside the church yesterday morning

The unholy row at the heart of the Ballynahinch Congregational Church dispute has split a congregation.

Tensions within the rural church came to a climax on September 1 last year when police were forced to intervene as members of the congregation stormed the pulpit just as Reverend George Speers began his sermon.

Protesters rose from their pews and surrounded the pulpit, chanting "out, out, out" and the plug was also pulled on the organ.

In order to be heard over the jeers, Rev Speers was forced to speak through a megaphone.

The congregation is split between those who support the minister and those who want him and his supporters removed.

At the centre of the dispute is the claim that church members voted to remove Rev Speers and his ministerial team from office at a meeting in June 2012, but the ministerial team refused to leave.

Rev Speers has previously denied the claims.

Since September, the police have been at the premises on a number of occasions and recently it was revealed that the cost of policing the protests linked to the Co Down church had reached nearly £12,000.

Attempts of mediation between the two sides have been unsuccessful to date.

Protesters staged a series of walkouts before progressing to a placard protest, where they stood outside the church with signs brandishing Bible verses.

Recently, the supporters of the church had been holding their own services in the church hall and Christmas was the first time in months they had set foot inside the church.

The trustees and other supporters took a seat in the pews as they held their own carol service.

The dispute took a sinister turn as the protesters were told "action" would be "taken against them" if they continued to talk to the media about the dispute.

It is understood the anonymous text messages were sent to church trustee member Sammy Graham, who said the warnings would not intimidate him or stop protests.

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