Belfast Telegraph

Church split as Knocknamuckley minister Alan Kilpatrick moves on

By Claire Williamson

The row at a troubled rural church has ended with the controversial minister leaving and the congregation splitting in two - leading to tears and emotional scenes.

The divide comes after the minister at Knocknamuckley, outside Portadown, became embroiled in an unholy row over his style of ministry, with some of the congregation supporting his more modern style of worship, while others wanted a more traditional approach.

The trouble at St Matthias Church escalated as the congregation divided in reaction to the teaching adopted by their rector, the Rev Alan Kilpatrick, who is associated with the Bethel Church of Supernatural Ministries.

Now the congregation will officially divide in two - with some churchgoers choosing to leave the church and go with him to start a new congregation.

Dozens of parishioners - young and old - arrived to hear the fate of their minister last night.

Some voiced their concern and hoped for a positive outcome while others said the only option was for the rector to be removed.

As the meeting got under way one parishioner stormed out, stating that he was "disgusted" at what was going on.

However, there was little movement again until the decision had been made and it is understood the Rev Kilpatrick will be leaving by September 30.

Knocknamuckley Parish will now be split into two separate congregations - one will remain in St Matthias Church and a new missional congregation will meet in Craigavon.

Both will be under the authority of the Bishop and Diocese of Down and Dromore. The congregations will meet separately from this Sunday.

There were emotional scenes as the visibly broken congregation left the church, with some women crying and hugging each other.

Even parishioners who had opposed the minister's teachings said it was not a decision they called a "victory".

A spokeswoman for the Knocknamuckley Concerned Parishioners Group, formed in opposition to the minister, said: "We are happy he is leaving. But we are disappointed that the church and congregation is being split as a result. It's no victory for anybody." A tearful female parishioner who supports the minister will now leave the church she has attended since she was an infant.

She said: "It's very sad in a sense. A lot of us have worshipped here since we were infants, but we just have to keep believing that this is God's will and something really amazing is going to come out of this and that he will build his church with it."

A 57-year-old man added: "You can't in a rural parish the size of this, have one man from Scotland come in and tell us what to do, that doesn't work - it doesn't work in any walk of life. I don't think there are any winners because the congregation is split."

Another female parishioner said: "I can see both sides. I don't think anybody would be happy about the decision.

"But I trust the bishop has put a lot of thought and prayer into the way forward."

The Bishop of Down and Dromore Harold Miller intervened to help deal with parishioner complaints by holding meetings to hear the views of the women's group, vestry and general parishioners at the beginning of May.

Detailing the decision in a statement, the Diocese of Down and Dromore described the divisions as "sad".

It said: "The Rev Alan Kilpatrick will remain as incumbent until 30 September, when he will step down as rector of Knocknamuckley and become minister-in-charge of the new missional congregation.

"In the months of June to September, while remaining rector, Alan Kilpatrick has agreed that the services in St Matthias will be led by another clergyman and that alternative pastoral cover will be provided for those who require it."

The Belfast Telegraph last night contacted the Rev Kilpatrick, but he declined to comment.

Timeline of controversy

April 21: Church of Ireland Bishop Harold Miler backs Knocknamuckley Parish’s rector Rev Alan Kilpatrick after some parishioners raise concerns to the Belfast Telegraph on his ministry and teachings, the banning of a Royal Black Preceptory (RBP) church service and the Women’s Group from holding meetings in the church hall.

April 22: Disgruntled parishioners call for the rector to leave the parish after over 100 of them gather to discuss their dissatisfaction.

April 23: Concerned parishioners urge the Church of Ireland to dissociate itself from the controversial American Bethel Church after details emerge of Bethel missioners hosting a service at Knocknamuckley in March. Bethel Church leader talks of followers “trying to raise the dead” and witnessing “manifestations of gold”. Rev Kilpatrick insists: “I am a Church of Ireland clergyman and I preach about the Kingdom of God.”

April 27: The Royal Black Preceptory claims that a ban on its members using St Matthias’ Church of Ireland breached their “civil and religious liberties”.

April 30: Diocesan team meets with women’s group, parishioners and vestry to listen to concerns about Rev Kilpatrick’s ministry and teachings.

May 4: Rev Kilpatrick’s decision not to allow the local RBP is overturned by him after Bishop Miller intervenes.

May 10: Bishop Miller attends St Matthias’ to take Sunday service and is rounded on by several irate women parishioners who ask him what he intends to do about Rev Kilpatrick. He answers: “I’m not here to answer those questions.”

May 13: Knocknamuckley Concerned Parishioners Group is formed and calls for Archbishop Richard Clarke to intervene as well.

May 14: Religious correspondent Alf McCreary argues that the dispute will not die down as long as Rev Kilpatrick remains, as there is a significant number of parishioners “who are not for turning”.

May 18:  Concerns about Bethel Church teachings continue to upset parishioners. One protester lists concern on Facebook page as “The blatant disregard and almost disdain for anything to do with Church of Ireland and its traditional ministry” and “The use of Bethel and its ministries as the core teachings within the church”.

May 24: Rev Kilpatrick does not take either of St Matthias’ Sunday services.

May 27: Churchgoers told minister will be leaving and a new congregation formed.

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