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This impasse can't continue... it's time for tough decisions

By Alf McCreary

Published 14/05/2015

The situation at Knocknamuckley Parish Church has reached breaking point after weeks of open discontent. Given the latest statement from a group of parishioners, the dispute will not settle while the Rev Alan Kilpatrick remains the minister.

This follows a weekend comment from Rev Kilpatrick to this newspaper that he was "waiting for it all to die down".

Clearly there is a solid group of parishioners who are not for turning, and the row is not going to go away anytime soon.

Things have gone so far that, unless one side gives in, there will be irreparable damage to the church in the long-term. Church disputes are nothing new, but the rows in Knocknamuckley have escalated to the point where even the intervention of Bishop Harold Miller seems to have failed to quieten things down.

The Knocknamuckley dispute is a classic case of a collision course between traditionalists and a "trendy" minister, who advocates a less-formal style of worship. The traditionalists also object to the influence of the Church of Bethel, which, they allege, teaches "supernatural flawed ministries".

Theological differences apart, the Rev Kilpatrick originally did not allow the local Royal Black Preceptory to hold its annual service at Knocknamuckley.

This raised tensions even further, to the point where Bishop Miller intervened, allowing the service to proceed and he preached at it himself.

All of this is desperately sad for the divided congregation, for the local community, for Bishop Miller and for the Rev Kilpatrick and his family.

There is no doubt that both sides have sincerely held views, but clearly they are unable to overcome their differences.

On balance, therefore, Rev Kilpatrick might consider his position in consultation with his family, his bishop and his supporters at Knocknamuckley, and conclude that the best way forward is to continue his ministry in another place.

In this situation there are no winners and the wounds of everyone involved may take a long time to heal.

However, the history of the Christian Church at large has shown that wounds do heal and that individual ministers and congregations do go on to greater things.

There comes a point, however, when a line has to be drawn under the past, so that everyone can move on to a better future.

That is the stark choice which faces Knocknamuckley and the Rev Kilpatrick right now.

The current impasse cannot continue.

Alf McCreary is the Belfast Telegraph's religion correspondent

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