Belfast Telegraph

After Ian Paisley's scathing attack on their church, what does his former flock think of him now?

By Adrian Rutherford

Worshippers from Martyrs Memorial have spoken out in support of Ian Paisley – despite his scathing attack on the church.

People attending yesterday's Sunday service refused to criticise their 87-year-old former minister in the wake of his explosive remarks about his 2011 retirement.

Mr Paisley and his family no longer set foot inside the church he founded and preached in for 65 years following an alleged push by its elders to force him out of the pulpit.

He told a BBC documentary: "I think they are better not going to worship there because they would not be happy and you don't go to church to sit on nails, you go to church to sit in a place where there is rest and peace."

However, worshippers who spoke to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday were reluctant to voice direct criticism.

One worshipper said: "It is up to him to decide what he does.

"The church is not about a man. Jesus said he would build a church and the gates of hell wouldn't prevail against it. It's not about man, it's about God."

Asked if he still supported Mr Paisley, he said: "I wouldn't say anything bad about the man because he has seen thousands of people across Ulster saved.

"I can't condemn him, and if he has been wrong in different things, which I'm sure he has, then he will have to give an account some day, and it won't be to man."

An elderly woman, who said she had not yet seen the programme, said she had particularly fond memories of Mr Paisley's time as a preacher at Martyrs Memorial.

"If Mr Paisley isn't happy going to the church it is probably because he isn't minister any more," she said.

"I can't imagine he meant anything else by it because he is one of the kindest men.

"I don't get involved in the internal business of the church so I can't really say what caused him to leave.

"I do miss Mr Paisley but our new minister is very good too."

One elderly man, who has been attending the Ravenhill Road church for more than half a century, said that he believed few, if any, worshippers would publicly speak out against Mr Paisley.

"This whole thing has got out of hand," he added.

"You're wasting your time because no-one will speak out about Ian Paisley."

Several others indicated their general support for Mr Paisley and his work in growing Martyrs Memorial, but did not want to comment further.

One said: "I have supported Dr Paisley 100%, but will not be discussing the programme under any circumstances."

Dr Ian Brown, who replaced Mr Paisley as minister at Martyrs Memorial, did not refer to the programme in his sermon yesterday.

He spoke from the Book of John during the hour-long service.

Mr Brown has declined to comment on Mr Paisley's remarks. The Free Presbyterian Church has also not commented, although it is understood a statement will be released in the near future.

Despite preaching for the final time in December 2011, Mr Paisley still lives in the manse at Cyprus Avenue.

STORY SO FAR

In part two of the BBC's documentary, Paisley: Genesis to Revelation, Mr Paisley alleged he had been forced out as moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church and had also been asked by his own congregation's elders to step down as minister of Martyrs Memorial (right). The Paisleys no longer attend the church, with Mr Paisley saying they are better not to go because they would not be happy there.

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