Belfast Telegraph

Church protests: Unholy row that split a congregation

BY CLAIRE WILLIAMSON

The issues at the centre of an ongoing church row which has split a congregation are complex and also in dispute.

It is understood that the row began around three years ago when the Reverend George Speers announced to the Deacon's office that he and his two assistants were now running the church as elders and that the Diaconate, the group of deacons elected by the congregation, no longer counted.

This was not well received as the group of 13 trustees of the church claim that congregationalism means that the congregation makes all the decisions.

They alleged that as the minister learned of his opposition, he began removing those who were opposed to him.

The trustees claim that the Rev Speers was challenged on canvassing votes four times, but he denied it.

The group says it has a copy of an email proving this happened.

Further issues include a claim that the Rev Speers wished to get rid of the church choir and that their piano and chairs were removed from the church building several times. It was reported that an anonymous note was left for the choir calling them "Corncrakes", but it is believed the minister would not investigate this. There have been reports of the doors to the wing of the church being sealed up to prevent those who normally worship there from doing so and chairs being removed, leaving one solitary chair for those attending the service. It is also claimed that locks were superglued, changed and keys hidden.

The main bone of contention appears to stem from two separate meetings which occurred on June 27, 2012 – one held by the Rev Speers and the other by the trustees.

At the meeting of the trustees, they voted the minister and his two associates out of office.

They believe that their meeting was viewed as legal from all aspects and respects by the church solicitors.

Secretary of the trustees Jim Magowan said: "I have never attended a more sombre meeting."

At a separate meeting held by the Rev Speers it is claimed he removed 15 communicant members within 45 minutes, without any consultation with them before or after the vote.

Mr Magowan said: "We watched them come down from their meeting but they did not have a quorum for the meeting, so it was not legal and it wasn't above board."

According to the trustees, the protest on Sunday came about because the Rev Speers has refused to step down.

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