Belfast Telegraph

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Other congregations which have hit the headlines after being torn by disputes

Published 23/10/2015

Split: Rev George Speers
Split: Rev George Speers

St George's Church, Belfast city centre:

Last week the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the minister of one of the oldest churches in Belfast had offered to fight one of his parishioners in a dispute over the rectory.

The altercation was one of a number reported to Church of Ireland authorities concerning the Rev Brian Stewart of St George's.

It is understood that Rev Stewart has been the subject of at least three complaints.

Another of these alleged complaints was made by the wife of another Church of Ireland minister, Maire Foster, who claims that Rev Stewart told her that he wanted her to leave the church after she challenged him during an AGM, and also said he threatened to suspend a monthly Irish language service she ran.

Ballynahinch Congregational Church:

The PSNI had to intervene at Ballynahinch Congregational Church after members of the congregation at one stage attempted to storm the pulpit in their upset at their minister the Rev George Speers.

During the extraordinary standoff, Rev Speers used a megaphone in a bid to drown out those jeering him from the pews while preaching.

The row has several issues at its heart, and the congregation is sharply split between those who support him and those who want him removed. There was a vote to remove Rev Speers in June 2012 but the outcome had been disputed. Ballynahinch Congregational Church is one of the 27 that makes up the Congregational Union of Ireland.

But the governing body cannot intervene unless invited. Earlier this year it was claimed that a text message threatening to burn down the church had been sent to a Trustee.

Police have estimated that the cost of keeping the peace during Sunday services has cost up to £12,000.

Even after three years, this row is still ongoing, each Sunday separate services are held in the church and the church hall, with more people understood to attend the services in the hall away from Rev Speers.

St Mattias Church, Knocknamuckley:

Members of this Church of Ireland congregation approached the Belfast Telegraph as a last resort in their unhappiness with their minister, the Rev Alan Kilpatrick.

Their obvious disquiet was around Rev Kilpatrick's association with American revivalist group, the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministries. The minister's unconventional style of dress during services and a ban on the Royal Black Preceptory from using the church also raised ire.

Scores of parishioners are believed to have quit the church over the minister, while others remained to oppose him.

By April the situation had become so serious that the Church of Ireland Bishop of Down and Dromore, Harold Millar, had become involved. Rev Kilpatrick had hoped to wait for the opposition to die down, however in August he formally resigned.

The parish became vacant on October 1, 2015. However, some of his former congregation followed him. Those who remain have said they can now "start to build bridges".

Belfast Telegraph

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