Belfast Telegraph

Protest against minister spelt out with Bible verse placards

By CLAIRE WILLIAMSON

A bitter feud between a congregation and the minister of a church intensified at the weekend when members picketed outside with a placard protest.

Over 60 members of the Ballynahinch Congregational Church gathered outside the church in advance of yesterday morning's Sunday service, many holding placards emblazoned with bible verses.

Protests against the Rev George Speers have been ongoing over the past month after long-standing theological and personality clashes reached breaking point.

The nature of the protests have simmered in the past weeks, with members staging walk-outs instead of verbal protests. But now protesters are opting for more of a visual impact with their demonstration.

Yesterday some of the placards read: 'Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the Lord'. Another simply said: 'Judge not that ye be not judged.'

Speaking with quiet determination, those gathered peacefully at the church entrance said they had no plans to end their protests until the Rev Speers was removed.

Protester and trustee Jimmy McClenaghan said: "The feelings are very high and will remain so for quite some time, until mediation is taken up by the other side. We held our own service in the minor hall of the church on the past two Sunday mornings, conducted by a lay member of the congregation."

Mr McClenaghan said the last few weeks had been brought about by the "dictatorial" approach of the minister.

Protester and church trustee Sammy Graham said they had yet to decide the format of future protests.

"This is not orchestrated in any way," he said. "If people want to continue to protest they will."

The Rev Speers has his supporters and a number walked past the protesters in silence and into the main body of the church yesterday.

A pensioner who did not wish to be named and is close to the minister said the placard protests were upsetting children coming out of Sunday school.

The Belfast Telegraph was unable to get in contact with the Rev Speers but speaking previously he has tried to bring about a resolution.

"The accusations which have been made against me are false," he said. "In obedience to God's will and with His help I intend to continue to fulfil my calling as minister of Ballynahinch Congregational Church."

STORY SO FAR

Police were first called to Ballynahinch Congregational Church on September 1 to break up a dispute during the morning and evening services. The issues are of a complex theological nature. According to 13 trustees of the church, who support the church but not the minister, the main issue is that the Rev Speers and his ministerial team were allegedly dismissed over 15 months ago, but have refused to leave.

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