Maverick rector Alan Kilpatrick regrets modern style of sermon
As tearful scenes heralded news that Rev Alan Kilpatrick was moving his unconventional service and causing a split in the congregation, the under-fire cleric reveals to Una Brankin his regrets at the unholy row
The controversial minister behind the split at a rural Church of Ireland parish near Portadown has admitted it was a mistake to drop traditional services entirely since he took over in 2013.
Scottish-born Rev Alan Kilpatrick (47) is moving his contemporary Pentecostal-style service from St Matthias Church in Knocknamuckley to the cross-community Goodyear Sports and Social Club in Craigavon from Sunday.
The congregation was informed of the decision by the Church on Wednesday night, leading to tearful scenes as people realised they would be leaving lifelong friends and the place they had worshipped in for years.
The move follows a long list of objections to Rev Kilpatrick's more unconventional ministry and association with the Californian Bethel Church of Supernatural Ministries.
Approximately 60 parishioners - around half the congregation - are expected to follow him to his new place of worship, much to the dismay of those who will continue to attend traditional services at St Matthias under the newly-appointed Rev Moore.
"On reflection, I should probably have started a traditional service earlier in my incumbency," Rev Kilpatrick said last night.
"Do I feel my style of ministry was too modern for the congregation? When I came here, I had a conversation with the nominators, who made it clear that the parish had to move forward in order to grow and to connect with those outside the church.
"I want to see healing come to the parish now and this move offers the best opportunity for that to happen. I believe God called me to Knocknamuckley and I still feel called to minister in the Craigavon area."
Rev Kilpatrick, who has four studs in his left ear, and wears jeans and an open-necked shirt in church, apart from at funeral services, stressed that he was not asked to move to another congregation but "chose to do so".
"I have been hurt by the way events have been played out in the newspapers and on social media when I believe the issues could have been resolved in a more private and less divisive way," he said.
"I have always been, and remain, an evangelical Christian who loves the scriptures and who longs to see lives changed by the power of God."
A widely-travelled father-of-two, Rev Kilpatrick has previously said that he found certain sections of Northern Ireland more conservative than his past ministries in Bible-belt America and apartheid South Africa.
He declined to comment on his association with the spiritualist Bethel Church and his recent opposition to a service for the Royal Black Preceptory at St Matthias, which was eventually led by Bishop Harold Miller.
He said: "Bishop Miller has requested a continued period of 'gracious provisional judgment' while his working group on the theology of the Royal Black Preceptory and the theology of Bethel Church carries out its work.
"In order to respect this process and to give it the best chance of success I will not, therefore, be making any comment about Bethel Church."
Meanwhile, the Knocknamuckley Concerned Parishioners Group, formed to oppose the minister, feel that the Rev Kilpatrick's new 'missional congregation' services in Craigavon will further deepen divisions in the close-knit parish and further deplete dwindling church attendance, a growing problem readily acknowledged by the Church of Ireland authorities.
"It has caused big upset and the split has been exacerbated by the decision to place Rev Kilpatrick's service on our doorstep, less than two miles away," one one group member said. "If he'd been moved further, the congregation may have been able to pull together with prayer and goodwill, and survive after he'd gone.
"Instead, there was no consultation with the parishioners; just a meeting in which we were given no choice.
"Our grievances have been ignored. We've been split into two sides. Some will go to Alan's services and that includes a personal friend of mine whom I've known since school. She said to me straight, if Alan goes - I go."
Rev Kilpatrick has been married to his English-born wife Jan for 26 years.
They have four children - Jasmine, Keziah, Nathan and Rowan, aged between 14 and 20 - and live close to the church.
On Easter Sunday, 13 parishioners walked out of his colourful service, which included a dance demonstration by a troupe of young girls from the Zepheniah Dancers based in nearby Portadown, which perform routines to Christian music and stories from the Bible, and have been on stage at the Waterfront Hall.
A parishioners' spokesperson said: "Any other minister would have gone to visit them afterwards or even phoned them, but he did nothing.
"It's very alienating. Rock music is played at his services. There's a place for rock music, but not in a church."
"He would be far better in an inner-city parish with a different sort of congregation, but he's right on our doorstep."
A Diocese of Down and Dromore spokeswoman last night confirmed Knocknamuckley parishioners would have the opportunity to continue to worship with the Church of Ireland under the leadership of Rev Kilpatrick.
She said: "Alan believes God called him to Knocknamuckley and he remains called to minister in the Craigavon area.
"The measures put in motion following Wednesday night's meeting are believed by the diocese to be the way forward in the situation and offer the best chance of healing for all parties.
"The diocese has put pastoral cover in place and ensured that worship continues uninterrupted in St Matthias' Church.
"Neither Bishop Harold Miller nor the diocese will be making any comment about Bethel Church."