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Rector should be building bridges, not burning them

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 10/10/2015

Moderniser: Rev Kingsley Sutton
Moderniser: Rev Kingsley Sutton

Church of Ireland rector, the Rev Kingsley Sutton, may have been acting from the best of motives in attempting to make a break from the past at two border churches near Newry, but he has gone about it in a high-handed and insensitive manner.

His modernising moves have included removing Royal British Legion flags from St Mary's and St Patrick's churches, changing the traditional style of services and barring the Orange Order and Apprentice Boys from holding services in either church.

Tactically and strategically, he has made a mistake. The laity are not prepared to be dictated to in these modern times. In the past, clergy in most mainstream churches seldom had their decisions or actions openly questioned, but that is no longer the case. Ironically, that is a modern development which is causing problems for the Rev Sutton, with reports that some of his congregation have left.

At a time when attendances in all mainstream churches are diminishing, clerics should be wary of alienating those who do attend. Given that many soldiers are buried in the graveyard of St Mary's church and that there have been national events to remember the centenary of the First World War, his decision to remove the RBL flags was always going to cause hurt.

While we cannot continue to be bound by the past, neither should we forget the sacrifice of those who died in the world wars and in more recent conflicts for our freedom.

It should also be remembered that the Orange Order - whatever its image to outsiders - is first of all a religious organisation and it beggars belief that it - or indeed the Apprentice Boys - should be barred from holding services in the churches.

The parables of the Good Shepherd or even the Prodigal Son come to mind. Surely, all who wish to profess the Christian faith should be welcomed to the pews. The Rev Sutton should move to build bridges towards his desired future.

Belfast Telegraph

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