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What religious divide? Protestants share border church with Catholic neighbours

By Claire McNeilly

There is no such thing as a religious divide in one border town after it emerged that Catholics and Protestants will now be praying under the same roof.

From today St Maeldoid's Church of Ireland in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, will throw open its doors to its neighbours at St Mary's Church, after the latter closed for renovations.

It means there will be weekly Protestant services, as well as Masses and other Catholic ceremonies, in the same building at different times, until work is completed on St Mary's next June.

Local Church of Ireland rector Rev Neal Phair told the Belfast Telegraph his congregation was looking forward to sharing their place of worship with their Catholic neighbours.

"I'm good friends with Fr Pat McHugh, the parish priest at St Mary's, so when he told me about the year-long renovation project I told him he could have the use of our church," he explained.

"My parishioners are absolutely delighted; there's a very good community spirit in Castleblayney and everybody was fully behind the initiative. Everyone thinks it's great news and a lovely idea It's fantastic that we can help each other out."

Fortunately, there won't be any clashes when it comes to services; Rev Phair's main service is at 10am on Sundays, while Mass has been put back from 11.30am to 11.45am "to give us time to get out and them time to come in and get prepared", he said.

The rector welcomed the collaboration between the two churches "which are very similar theologically and work very well together anyway". He added: "Our two Bishops of Clogher always issue joint Easter and Christmas messages and there's a lot of co-operation between the Church of Ireland and the Catholic Church.

"We have a vast amount in common and we already share other services, such as the week of prayer for Christian unity, and Fr Pat and I are very ecumenically-minded and we would like to do as much as possible together.

"The more Christians can come together, the far more potent the voice will be, and it's a very positive image for Christianity as a whole."

A spokesman for the parish council at St Mary's Church said: "This is a huge development in interdenominational relations and it sets a headline for the country."

The Church of Ireland Bishop of Clogher, Right Rev John McDowell, said: "We are delighted to offer our church as a place of worship for our brothers."

Fr McHugh said: "Thanks to the kind spirit of good neighbourliness and generosity on the part of the local Church of Ireland community, we are very fortunate to have the use of St Maeldoid's Church."

There will be some changes to the timing of services to facilitate both congregations. Parishioners at St Mary's were told of plans to use the Church of Ireland church in the Muckno Parish Newsletter.

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