Ballynahinch church protester receives 'burn in hell' text message
AN unholy row at a church has taken a sinister turn after a protester was told to "burn in hell."
Churchgoers who stage weekly protests at Ballynahinch Congregational Church have been told "action" would be "taken against them" if they continued to talk to the media about the dispute.
The congregration is split between those who support the minister, Rev George Speers, and those who want him to go.
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.
"Yes being told someone hopes you burn in hell isn't pleasant. But we at the church will not be put off by these disgusting threats," he said.
In a separate incident, police received a report of a man making comments which were felt to be intimidatory at yesterday morning's church service.
For more than 14 weeks, peaceful protests have continued outside the Sunday morning services against Rev Speers.
Yesterday afternoon, some 125 protesters set foot inside the church for the first time in months. The trustees and other supporters took a seat in the pews as they held their own Christmas Carol Service featuring readings, carols and participation by children in the Sunday School.
The trustees say they held the service at 2pm in a bid to avoid confrontation. Rev Speers and his supporters were not present.
Mr Graham used a megaphone at one point yesterday to ask "Can you hear me?", which was met with laughter from the pews, a reference to a previous protest.
He spoke of the group being denied the sanctuary of the church. One trustee said after the service the protesters had vowed to maintain their campaign.
"We are at stalemate. But we will be here until he goes. We are here until we get rid of George Speers," he said.
The row reached its head when police stormed the church to break up a protest on September 1. During the protest churchgoers surrounded the pulpit chanting "out, out, out". 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.
At the heart 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.
Police were first called to Ballynahinch Congregational Church on September 1 to break up a dispute during the morning and evening services. The trustees of the church claim that Rev Speers and his ministerial team were dismissed over 15 months ago, but have refused to leave. Protests have been ongoing since September and look set to continue.