Parish still divided over controversial ministers as bishop meetings held
The split at a rural church over a controversial minister shows no sign of healing.
Tensions remained high last night as dozens of passionate parishioners descended on Knocknamuckley Church of Ireland near Portadown to air their views on the issues that divide the congregation.
Car-loads of churchgoers arrived to discuss the Rev Alan Kilpatrick who took over in 2013.
At the centre of the dispute are claims that Mr Kilpatrick's style of ministry is not what is expected in a Church of Ireland church.
Three groups met with a delegation of four people chosen by Bishop Harold Miller to listen to the congregation and feed back to him, led by the Archdeacon of Down and Dromore, David McClay.
In a visible sign of the divisions in the congregation, three separate meetings took place.
It's understood the meetings were originally supposed to be held in the church hall but were moved to the church. Some parishioners then voiced outrage at a "business meeting" taking place in the church itself.
The first to share their views was a women's group which is 64 members strong. They presented two A4 pages of their grievances, sparked by them not being allowed to use church facilities for a meeting. They were visibly emotional as they left the meeting, which lasted almost an hour.
A spokeswoman said: "We are not stirring things up, I wouldn't be part of that. We are discouraged, it's so sad. We've never had this before here. Not only is the church family broken but blood families are broken over this. It's very sad it's come to this."
The second group heard was the select vestry. It is understood they too are split over the minister. Church warden Jim Uprichard, who supports the minister, said: "Some people are anti what he is trying to do. He is trying to move the church on and focus less on religion and more on Jesus. He has been appointed by God."
Another who did not wish to be named said there was a "miscommunication" problem.
The final meeting was with other parishioners of the church. Among those supporting the minister was a 26-year-old woman who did not wish to be named.
She said: "People are struggling with this, but it could have been done in a better and more loving way." Mr Kilpatrick said: "I hope this period of listening will bring about a resolution and healing among people."
Basil O'Malley, part of a deligation sent by the bishop, said: "We are here to listen."
The Rev Alan Kilpatrick has been criticised for his unconventional style of dress during services and a ban on the Royal Black Preceptory from using the church. It's also been claimed he has links to American revivalist group, the Bethel school of Supernatural Ministries. It's been reported that up to 70 people have already quit the church and that many more are trying to influence changes from within.