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Rector row must be resolved

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 21/04/2015

Alan Kilpatrick and his wife
Alan Kilpatrick and his wife

Mainstream churches didn't get to where they are today by paying any heed to trends or new fads. That may seem a flippant remark, but by their very nature the churches' rituals or practices evolve with glacial slowness.

At a time when more and more young people are deserting the pews, the ageing congregations are remaining very traditional in their practice of their faith. They don't like change. Churchgoing is a solemn event to many people and attempts to lighten the atmosphere naturally will bring some quizzical looks at best.

That certainly would seem to be the experience of the Rev Alan Kilpatrick, rector of Knocknamuckley Church of Ireland church outside Portadown. It seems that many of his parishioners are uncomfortable with his style of ministry and some walked out when a dance troupe took part in the Easter Sunday service.

His dress sense, the playing of more modern music, his association with an American church movement and disputes with groups over church services or meetings has led to a split in the congregation with some opponents meeting last night to decide what action they can take against the rector.

It is unfortunate, at the very least, when a clergyman falls out of favour with a large proportion of his parishioners. The immediate response should be to thrash out the differences which has led to any dispute.

While the Bishop of Down and Dromore, the Rt Rev Harold Millar, says that the rector has spiritual authority in the parish, it would be best if the Bishop or some other respected outsider could help bring the opposing parties together to see if agreement can be reached on the way forward.

People, particularly in rural areas, have a strong attachment to their church and their parish. They may have lived there for generations and a long line of family members may be buried in the local graveyard. There is a sense of belonging to the church and also a sense of ownership of it.

The hurt caused by any schism in the congregation could last for a very long time, certainly long after the rector has moved to pastures new or even retired. This should not be a case of either the rector or the congregation trying to impose their will on each other but of a mature Christian debate so that worship can be resumed without rancour.

Belfast Telegraph

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