Belfast Telegraph

Church which received £15m in donations 'heartbroken'

Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

The evangelical church led by Wrightbus shareholder Jeff Wright, which received at least £15m in donations through the business, has said it is "heartbroken" by its collapse.

Mr Wright has faced criticism since the company went into administration with the loss of 1,200 jobs over his part in failed negotiations for a sale.

The church said it was "incredibly grateful" to the Wright family for the donations.

As part of a rental agreement with a potential buyer, believed to be Chinese company Weichai, Mr Wright had asked for rent of £1m per year for company premises.

The Wright family has said that a rental agreement had been reached as part of a "deal", but that the talks then fell through.

It did not give a reason for why the bidder had withdrawn from the deal.

Yesterday a spokesman for the church said many of its congregation would be affected by the job losses, which are the third redundancy blow to affect Ballymena in recent years.

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Mr Wright has embarked on a major building project to construct a new church and surrounding village for his church named Project Gateway - though work on that project has stalled over the last few months.

Staff who lost their jobs when the business went into administration have said they will protest at the existing church on Fenaghy Road tomorrow over the role of Mr Wright, known to his flock as Pastor Jeff, in the collapsed negotiations.

A poster publicising the protest said its aim is to "save 1,200 jobs... answer our questions about why we are jobless, explain why a church got millions of the profits we made. Stand with us".

But the Wright family has said it is standing over the donations it made to the church over a six-year period.

Yesterday, a Green Pastures spokesman said: "As any church would be, we are devastated by the huge number of job losses at the Wright group and we are especially heartbroken because of impact this will have on so many individuals and families in our local towns and communities.

"We understand the hurt, anger and confusion felt by so many, as many within our own congregation have been personally affected by these job losses and we are doing all we can to support them at this time."

The church added: "As with any donation we receive as a church, we are incredibly grateful for the support the Wright family have offered us. They, along with many others, chose to be generous when their family business enabled them to do so.

"The leadership, staff and people of Green Pastures Church will continue to love and serve people in our community in and through these challenging times."

It has emerged that in two sermons in 2016, Jeff Wright told an 850-strong congregation that Green Pastures needed completing because "the world is ending".

He urged them to find 400 new members for the church, saying "Jesus is coming" and no seats should be empty. Mr Wright said people would not believe the size of the church that would be built.

He told them: "You need to understand. And here's the thing - God will finance all of this, incredibly. Millions, millions. It's just not possible. Without any businesses or without any Asdas or anything like that, finance it all - why? Because it's his will."

Belfast Telegraph