Churchmen face calls to resign over St Anne's church music row
The glorious sounds of choral harmonies have graced St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast since the 1770s.
But now they have been replaced by the discordant notes of conflict as an extraordinary row has rocked one of Northern Ireland’s best known religious buildings to its foundations.
Top churchmen last night faced demands to resign over the row that has threatened to silence the famous cathedral choir.
It followed a decision to axe the musical director's post at St Anne's, where five members of the ruling board walked out in protest at the cost-cutting measure. Choristers have now threatened to stop singing unless current director Philip Stopford is reinstated.
Billy Miskimmin told the Belfast Telegraph his decision to resign from the board and choir one of the “most painful” he had ever made. He called for senior Church of Ireland clergy and officials involved in the matter to stand down.
They include board chairman and Bishop of Connor Rev Alan Abernethy and the Dean of St Anne's Houston McKelvey.
Dean McKelvey declined to comment on the issue. Mr Stopford also said he wasn't able to discuss it.
Mr Miskimmin resigned from the board with four other disillusioned colleagues — Dr Michael Callender, a retired liver specialist, Mervyn Hempton, Gwen Preece and Chris MacLaughlin.
A Facebook group, Save the Choral Tradition of St Anne’s Cathedral, has 423 members so far. It was set up by Phlilp Prosser, a choir member since 1979, who also maintains and tunes the magnificent Harrison organ in the cathedral, which is the largest pipe-organ in Northern Ireland.
He said: “The decision has prompted me to leave the choir.
“The choir are upset and it’s now hard to see how it can continue without a director. All the past directors of music are extremely well qualified and an advertisement for someone with a strength in choral music is hardly commensurate with what we have had in the past.”
In an open letter to the choir and congregation Dean Houston McKelvey said: “The extremely serious overall financial situation at the Cathedral does mean that several areas of ministry will have to be approached differently in the future.
“I feel confident that the Board will ensure that the choral work which is a part of the overall mission and witness of the Cathedral is fairly resourced.”
A spokesman for the Church if Ireland said: “With regard to reports concerning St Anne’s Cathedral and the position of Director of Music being made redundant, this is a matter for the Cathedral Board. ”