Bishop calls crisis meetings in bid to calm storm over controversial rector
A Church of Ireland Bishop has called a total of three crisis meetings next week to discuss the storm over a controversial minister who has divided a congregation in Co Armagh.
The Rt Rev Harold Miller will also speak at two services in a bid to bring the warring factions together.
A letter from the Bishop of Down and Dromore was read out yesterday at morning worship by the Rev Alan Kilpatrick, the Scots-born earring-wearing cleric at the centre of the row over his ministry at Knocknamuckley Parish Church, which lies between Lurgan and Portadown.
More than 170 parishioners, including a number of Mr Kilpatrick's opponents, attended the service and several of them refused to shake the minister's hand as they filed out of the church at the end of the service.
During the 80-minute service, member of the congregation Ian Morton said prayers for the healing of the rift which has erupted over Mr Kilpatrick's 'happy clappy' services and claims that he has links with an American revivalist group, the Bethel school of Supernatural Ministries.
Rev Kilpatrick has also been criticised for his unconventional style of dress during services and a ban on the Royal Black Preceptory from using the church.
The minister was invited to a meeting of parishioners in nearby Bleary last week, but said that he didn't attend because it was his day off.
It's been reported that up to 70 people have already quit the church and that many more are trying to influence changes from within.
Few people would talk on the record, but one man told me Mr Kilpatrick had "hijacked" the old-style format of church services at Knocknamuckley. He also expressed concern about a group associated with the Bethel church having been hosted at the church in March.
Another said: "I've seen other ministers out in my time here. I'll see him out, too."
A woman who also refused to give her name said Mr Kilpatrick's services or style of ministry were "not the issues" but she wouldn't say what she believed were.
A supporter of the minister said: "We knew what we were getting when we invited him to come here. He always said he wasn't your typical Church of Ireland minister and that he didn't wear clerical robes or preach from the pulpit. We have to back him now."
At the end of his sermon, Mr Kilpatrick referred to the ongoing dispute within the parish and the toll it had taken on him and his wife Jan.
He said: "It's been quite a week.
"In this group there are a lot of emotions, a lot of feelings and Jan and I have been praying all the time and having a lot of conversations
"Physically we are both absolutely shattered, but spiritually we are on fire for God. And whatever happens over the next week, two weeks or whatever, we want God to be honoured and glorified."
Exactly what will happen has been the focus of intense speculation and a number of breakaway members of the parish have said that the only solution will be for the Bishop of Down and Dromore to remove Mr Kilpatrick from office.
In his letter, which was directed at church members, the Rt Rev Miller said they had been - and would continue to be - in his prayers.
He added: "I would like to invite all of you to engage in a process where we commit ourselves to healing and reconciliation.
"To commence this process I have asked for a small group from the diocese to meet with and listen to a number of groups from the parish."
The Bishop, who had originally intimated that he would not be intervening in the row, said he wanted the meetings to take place as soon as possible and had arranged for them to be held next Thursday night in the church hall.
He said he had invited the church's select vestry and the committee of a newly-formed women's group in the parish to take part in separate meetings with diocesan representatives and that a third meeting would be held for any other members of the congregation who wanted to get their views across.
The Bishop said the diocesan team would also meet Mr Kilpatrick.
Mr Kilpatrick revealed that the Bishop will go to Knocknamuckley "to connect with as many people as possible" by joining him in two communion services, one of which will be traditional, the other a contemporary church service.
"Everybody is invited to come to whichever service they would want," said Mr Kilpatrick, who came to Knocknamuckley 18 months ago.
The Bishop said part of his role was to seek reconciliation in situations of division.
"It is my earnest prayer that this situation can be resolved quickly and in a way which will lead to much healing for the whole parish of Knocknamuckley."