Bishop overturns rector's ban on loyal order's church service
A minister who refused to allow a Royal Black Preceptory service in his church has been overruled by his bishop.
Rev Alan Kilpatrick has attracted the ire of some of his parishioners by barring the senior loyalist institution from Knocknamuckley Parish Church in Portadown.
He created a further storm by hosting a service in the church earlier this year with missioners from the revivalist Bethel Church, some of whose followers reportedly try to raise the dead and experience manifestations of gold dust.
Now, Bishop of Down and Dromore the Rt Rev Harold Miller has intervened, announcing that the Royal Black Preceptory will be welcomed to the church next Sunday, May 10.
The event is an annual district service which rotates each year around 11 churches in the local area. A spokesman for the Royal Black Preceptory welcomed the move.
"As a Christian organisation, our members are looking forward to worshipping at Knocknamuckley Parish Church on May 10," he said.
Parishioners of Knocknamuckley contacted the Belfast Telegraph several weeks ago to express their discomfort at some of the actions of the earring-wearing Rev Kilpatrick.
It has been reported that up to 70 people have already quit the church and that many more are trying to influence changes from within. In a statement, Bishop Miller acknowledged the events of recent weeks have been "very difficult for the rector and the people of the Parish of Knocknamuckley".
He announced the intention of an investigation into what had been going on.
"In the midst of all of that, I note that there is, on the part of many people, a concern about Christian teaching, and fearfulness about some doctrinal expressions," he said.
"This has been seen in regard to the teaching of the Black Preceptory and the teaching of Bethel Church in California.
"I have decided that, where such concerns exist, the groups involved must be treated with respect but must also be open to scrutiny. This is only right. So, I will be setting up, over the next month, a small theological commission to report to me and the diocese."
The bishop went on to announce that Rev Kilpatrick has now agreed to allow the Black Preceptory to use the church.
"In light of this I ask for gracious provisional judgments from all parties. The rector, therefore, has agreed on this particular occasion, to give permission to the Tandragee District of the Royal Black Preceptory to use St Matthias' Church on Sunday, 10 May," he said.
"I had already planned to be at the evening services on that Sunday, and have decided that, as bishop, in the context of this painful time, I will also conduct and preach at the afternoon service."
He added: "It has been particularly difficult to have the contentious issues within a local church publicised by the Press, and there has been a great deal of pain and hurt."
He concluded by asking for prayer: "Please pray for healing and reconciliation in Knocknamuckley.
"This has been a difficult time for all and, as your bishop, I grieve to see division and will help in any way that I can."