Ballynahinch Congregational Church dispute: Minister accused of hurling insults at his opponents
The unholy row at the heart of a church in Northern Ireland has taken another twist, after the minister was accused of comparing the opponents of his leadership to rubbish.
Members of Ballynahinch Congregational Church have been split over the leadership of Rev George Speers for over a year.
The bitter dispute has seen police called into a Sunday service, and protests outside as sermons are preached. In a sermon earlier this month, Rev Speers quoted from an evangelical Texan preacher, Charles Swindoll.
Quoting from Swindoll, he said: "There's a lot of litter today thanks to yesterday's trash, and the church is the place where all the garbage stacks up".
The Rev Speers followed up by commenting on the protesters who oppose his leadership.
He said: "Past generations accumulated the litter and the rubbish and it stacked up and there are those who protest, supposedly against me, but what they are standing for is the litter, the rubbish and the trash of liberal thinking that they want to maintain."
However, one of Rev Speers' supporters, who does not wish to be named, said the minister's words had been taken out of context. "He was talking about how the church was not a congregational church, the only thing about the church that is congregational is the name," explained the source.
But according to Samuel Graham, one of the church trustees, the words were aimed at those who oppose Rev Speer's leadership. "Many of the congregation, men and women on that day, were moved to tears by what he preached. And that was from their pastor, their shepherd," he said.
Recently, Rev Speers' opponents, who describe themselves as supporters of the church, began holding their own services in the church hall. According to Mr Graham, 55 people attended the main service at the church and 90 were present for a protesting service. At the centre of the dispute is the claim members voted to remove Rev Speers and his ministerial team from office in June 2012, but the ministerial team refused to leave. At the start of the year, the cost of policing the protests had reached nearly £12,000.
Rev Speers could not be contacted for comment.
Police were first called to Ballynahinch Congregational Church last September to break up a dispute during morning and evening services.
Rev Speers' opponents say he and his ministerial team were dismissed more than 20 months ago, but have refused to leave. The dispute has split the congregation in two. Some of the church members want Rev Speers and his ministerial team to stay, while others want them to go.