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Bishop supports 'trendy' minister who has divided his congregation

By Joanne Sweeney

Published 21/04/2015

Rev Alan Kilpatrick and his wife Jan
Rev Alan Kilpatrick and his wife Jan
Rev Alan Kilpatrick with Bishop Harold Miller when the minister arrived at the church in 2013
Knocknamuckley Parish Church

A Church of Ireland bishop has backed a minister in a growing dispute between him and his congregation.

Tension is mounting at a rural Co Armagh parish church between its earring-wearing 'trendy' minister and a large number of his more traditional parishioners over his 'Pentecostal' style of ministry.

As some parishioners of Knocknamuckley Church, outside Portadown, claim they are increasingly uncomfortable with the Rev Alan Kilpatrick, since he took over in 2013, an intervention by the Bishop of Down and Dromore has been ruled out.

The Right Rev Harold Miller last night confirmed the rector's authority over his parish - and his appointment.

A statement said: "The rector is the spiritual authority in the parish. I trust that any disagreements can be resolved amicably in a spirit of Christian fellowship."

A private meeting of disgruntled parishioners will take place tonight in Bleary.

One parishioner said of Mr Kilpatrick's style: "If you walked into one of his services, you would never know that it's a Church of Ireland church. It's not what we know, love or were brought up with."

Concern over the Scots-born minister, who has four stud earrings in his ear and rarely wears his clerical robes, has heightened over recent weeks.

Rev Kilpatrick responded to some of the criticism via a statement from the Church Of Ireland press office.

Of his clerical garb, Rev Kilpatrick said: "I do wear robes for funerals and I preach robeless from a small wooden lectern."

Congregation sources told the Belfast Telegraph that 60% of the parishioners are unhappy with their rector, who has previously ministered in the United States and South Africa.

It's claimed that they only continue to attend services because they have a long-held allegiance to their church.

Disgruntled parishioners also claim the minister is associated with an American church movement, the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministries, and that is at the centre of the dispute.

It is a charismatic church with an emphasis on healing and the work of the Holy Spirit, with an international outreach.

Asked if he was a follower of the Bethel School, Rev Kilpatrick said in his church statement: "I subscribe to Jesus and bringing glory to him."

The introduction of more contemporary style of music at the expense of traditional hymns and a 'happy-clappy' style of service to the church which is more than 150 years old, has also left some parishioners cold.

A dance demonstration from a troupe of young girls at the Easter Sunday service caused 13 parishioners to get up and leave as they deemed it not suitable for the religious occasion.

Understood to be the Zepheniah Dancers based in nearby Portadown, they perform routines to Christian music and stories from the Bible and have been on stage at the Waterfront Hall.

The dance group said: "Our mission is to provide tuition in Irish dance to the highest competitive standard and to use the medium of Irish dance to bring the Good News of the Gospel in a unique and dynamic way."

It also uses its events to raise money for charity.

There was a hotly contested vote at a recent vestry meeting on Mr Kilpatrick's performance which he and his supporters won, amid claims from his detractors that it was an undemocratic vote.

Another claim that Mr Kilpatrick decided not to allow the local Royal Black Preceptory to hold one of its regular church services at Knocknamuckley has also left a sour taste with disgruntled parishioners.

Asked why this was, the minister replied only: "The local district has unanimously accepted the use of the church hall."

An RBP spokesman said last night it was unaware of the issue.

A claim that the minister's recent refusal to allow a women's meeting of mostly congregation members to be held in the church hall also failed to win local hearts and minds.

While Rev Kilpatrick declined to be interviewed by this newspaper yesterday, he did say earlier: "I'm an Anglican minister and I only want to do the work of God and work for my church."

He added that the dance troupe performing on Easter Sunday were "dancing on the most joyous days of the church calendar".

However, some of his recent tweets appear to directly address his detractors through scriptural quotations.

He tweeted on April 17: "When someone speaks ill of you or curses you, declare the opposite and receive blessings from God - he loves giving blessings" and "When God is your Father you have no need to fear intimidation!"

Mr Kilpatrick has been married to his English-born wife Jan for 26 years. They have four children - Jasmine, Keziah, Nathan and Rowan, aged between 20 and 14 - and live close to the church.

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