Belfast Telegraph

Girls' Brigade row at Killinchy church: 'I've been in this brigade all my life... but I feel unwelcome now'

By Joanne Sweeney

It's an unseemly falling out which has left a devout community divided and hurt. Two Girls' Brigade officers claim that they are being driven out of their positions because they attend another church just 400 metres away.

The reason given is that the church is a non-subscribing Presbyterian Church.

For those who are not of the Presbyterian faith, this distinction seems to be unimportant but to the minister of Killinchy Presbyterian Church, Rev Annes Nel, it's of the utmost importance.

He is a South African who was ordained as a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in 1985 and is a theology academic - they are two women who have been with the GB since they were aged three.

The young Co Down women say they now face the situation of possibly having to resign in fear of being removed as officers from 74th Killinchy GB - which is based in Killinchy Presbyterian Church - by April next year.

They are among 10 officers who devote their spare time to a local GB group catering for 120 girls every Tuesday night.

The Girls' Brigade is one of Northern Ireland's most respected youth organisations and has impacted significantly on the lives of many young girls. Tiffinee Dickson (20) and Lynne Patterson (22) are two of three GB officers who say that they have been demoted by the GB chaplain, the minister of Killinchy Presbyterian Church, because they regularly attend the nearby Killinchy Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.

The move to demote Miss Patterson from officer to associate and Miss Dickson, along with Sarah Davidson (18), from sub-officers to associates, was upheld this month by a judicial commission following a decision by Revd Nel and Killinchy Kirk Session.

The young women say that attending the Tuesday night sessions of the GB is a vitally important part of their lives.

Miss Dickson said: "It's like a part of your life, it's just part of my routine every Tuesday night and I love it. I turned down an offer to go to university in Newcastle-upon-Tyne because I didn't want to leave GB for three years and wanted to do my officer training.

"It's just been a total nightmare. We are so baffled by the judicial commission decision."

Miss Dickson has only been attending Killinchy Non-Subscribing Church for three years, having been introduced to it by her friend Lynne.

She added:"This is breaking people's hearts and it seems that there's nothing that we can do about it."

Ms Patterson, from Lisbane, has been attending Killinchy Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church for the last three years, although she had been christened at Killinchy Presbyterian Church and had previously attended there.

She said: "It's been an awful few months, particularly as I have been in the GB since I was three and have been an officer for about two to three years. It hadn't been a problem that I was attending the non-subscribing church up until this year.

"The Session said that we were going to be demoted this year unless I started coming back to the Presbyterian Church. I just said that's blackmail, that's not on as it was a hard decision to have left the Presbyterian Church.

"I was told by the Session that unless I moved back I wouldn't be allowed back at all next year. I don't let it affect my working with the girls, I don't want to let them see how annoyed I am about it but it's a different matter at night when I'm at home."

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