Rector's actions inexplicable
It is practically impossible to fathom what was going through the mind of the Rev Kingsley Sutton when he not only removed British Legion standards from two Church of Ireland churches in Newry, but then incinerated them. In his statement of admitted abject apology he blames his misguided thinking and zeal for his actions.
Those words do not even come close to explaining what he did. An over-ambitious desire to remove vestiges of the past from the church may have led him to take the standards down, but even the most zealous moderniser must have recognised that to burn them would be regarded as grossly offensive.
The standards undoubtedly meant a lot to many members of his congregation. They were symbols commemorating the soldiers from the World Wars who are buried in the graveyard and those who gave their lives in more recent conflicts, including the Troubles.
Rev Sutton admits he acted against the advice of his bishop and did not seek the views of his flock. With every word of apology his actions became more and more inexplicable.
He also managed to offend the loyal orders, again seemingly unable to grasp the need to respect their traditions and values.
Of course he had no option but to resign given the intense hurt felt by so many touched by his actions, which may well serve as a parable for other clergy of all denominations keen to bring greater modernity to their places of worship.
Churches evolve generally at a glacial pace. They teach that their truths are eternal and that feeds into the consciousness of their congregations, who want their churches and their services to remain what they have always been. At the very least they want to be consulted if change is to happen. They don't want their symbols of tradition torn down and destroyed and replaced - as in this case - by a flag that has little or no meaning to them.
The biggest challenge facing the mainstream churches today is not only retaining their rapidly diminishing congregations but attempting to encourage more people through the doors. While the Rev Sutton says his ambition was to make the churches under his control more accessible, what he did was to alienate his existing parishioners as well as the loyal orders, which are, after all, religious organisations.
After yet another embarrassment for the Church of Ireland, will any disciplinary action be taken against this errant rector?