Row over religious ceremony in Northern Ireland restaurant: Hotel disputes pastor’s ‘private booking’ claim
An evangelical pastor - whose church members were accused of making other diners uncomfortable after a religious celebration was held in a Carrickfergus hotel's restaurant - has claimed a private booking was made for the room.
However, the hotel has disputed that.
Last week, a woman named Kelly contacted BBC NI's Nolan Show to express her anger, saying that she was approached about religion during Sunday lunch at the hotel, and that a religious act took place nearby.
She told the show she was sitting with a female friend and some children when two men came over and started giving out Christian tracts.
After the hotel manager asked the men to leave the table, Kelly said she witnessed a "religious act or ceremony" at another table during which a woman was anointed with holy water.
However, Pastor Paul Burns of Adullam Christian Fellowship Church, said he and two other churches had privately booked the room in order to hold a Christian Easter celebration, and had allowed the extra guests to sit there at the hotel's request as it had been "overbooked".
"We paid £648 to have a private Easter Sunday function with 53 people at the Loughshore Hotel," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"We had planned to have speeches, music, games and give out leaflets and sweets for the children, as well as holding a ceremony for a missionary lady who is going to Africa.
"Then three extra tables were put in by the hotel as they said there was an 'overspill'.
"I could have objected but we decided to show a Christian attitude and, instead of doing what we had planned, we distributed the leaflets and sweets and held the blessing ceremony.
"By the time the leaflets were distributed there was only one table of strangers left, and an 88-year-old missionary who had been told not to go to the woman's table went over by mistake to give them a leaflet as he is hard of hearing. It was in no way intimidating to the woman or her family.
"The anointing with oil was done four tables away from the woman with just two people praying."
Meanwhile, Kelly said that if she had known that those in the hotel room had been celebrating a religious ceremony she would have refused to be seated there.
"When I rang up I was told there was no room left and the girl said they could put us in the small room, which she said was the same thing," she claimed.
"If I had known it was a private function I wouldn't have wanted to go in. The whole thing was very uncomfortable.
"The ceremony with the woman took place right at the front of the room and it was very visible, and the manager and staff were looking over. Two men came over to our table and it was just me with another woman and our kids, so we felt vulnerable.
"If it was meant to have been a private room then there wouldn't be anything in it, but why were we put in there too? It should have been kept private."
In a statement, Group Operations Director for the Loughview Leisure Group, Stephen Carson, denied the room had been booked privately. He said: "We catered for 82 guests in the Imperial Suite on Easter Sunday with 30 of those guests being booked by Pastor Paul Burns from the Adullam Christian Fellowship in Belfast. At no time was the Imperial Suite booked privately for any group, nor was any room hire charged.
"During the lunch period members of the church handed out religious tracts to their group and, by accident or otherwise, they offered tracts to a table of five guests who were not part of their group. One of the pastors from the church also said a prayer with one lady in their group.
"These two events were not to the liking of the lady who had booked the table for five guests and she complained to the duty manager who dealt with her complaint promptly with tact.
"At the Belfast Loughshore Hotel we are proud to welcome guests from all walks of life, all religions and all races."