Rev Alan Kilpatrick's first service held in social club
More than 100 worshippers have attended the first Sunday service of a breakaway Church of Ireland congregation led by a controversial cleric - although the congregation had to leave the social club before the bar opened.
The casually dressed Rev Alan Kilpatrick's modern style of evangelical ministry has divided a rural parish near Portadown, with his followers gathering at the Goodyear Sports and Social Club in Craigavon yesterday.
Yesterday morning's "missional congregation" was almost twice as large as the more traditional gathering at St Matthias Church, Knocknamuckley, where worship was led by Rev Tom Conway.
The decision to split the flock was authorised by Bishop Harold Miller, of the diocese of Down and Dromore, following an emotional parish meeting at the church last Wednesday evening.
There were tearful scenes as people realised they would be leaving lifelong friends and the place they had worshipped in for years. At the meeting - according to the bishop in a letter issued yesterday to both sets of worshippers - "comments on issues about the rector's ministry and leadership were divided more or less equally in terms of encouragement and criticism".
Scottish-born Rev Kilpatrick, who wears ear studs and jeans while preaching and is linked to the spiritualist Bethel Church, said he was excited to be setting up "a new church".
"We are still Church of Ireland but it won't be part of St Matthias parish; it will be a separate entity completely," he said ahead of the service. "I think I'm allowed to stay in the rectory for another few weeks while I establish the new church and get a name for it. I have several in mind - it's important to have a name for a new identity."
Currently house-hunting, Rev Kilpatrick (47) was joined in the club's function room by his two teenage sons, Nathan and Rowan (Ronnie), and by his Kenyan-born wife Jan (49), who led some of the prayers.
"This has been tough on Alan. It will all work out and it will heal," said a tearful Mrs Kilpatrick. "He's the same humble man he always was, who wants to serve God. I'm very proud to be married to him."
The minister opened the Pentecostal-style service by acknowledging the "heavy hearts and sadness" over the recent upheaval in the parish, and led two minutes of silent prayer for the congregation of St Matthias, followed by the Apostles' Creed.
Thanking those gathered in the informal setting for their support, he invited them to an upcoming outdoor service he plans to hold in nearby Tannaghmore Gardens, and to a mid-week hour of prayer in their temporary place of worship at the Goodyear premises.
"We were given use of the club by a follower of Christ, free of charge. It is only temporary and we can only stay here this morning until the bar opens at 12," he said over a microphone, to the amusement of the congregation, adding that he had received emails of support from all over the world. He went on to ask his congregation - who ranged in age from toddlers to several elderly men and women - to thank Bishop Miller personally for his support.
He also asked them to attend the bishop's "prayer and healing" services for both congregations at the "neutral" venue of the Jethro Centre on Sunday, June 14 and Sunday, August 16.
The lively service included a musical interlude for children, and was brought to a close by the traditional hymn, How Great Thou Art.