The board of directors of Green Pastures Church in Ballymena has launched an internal investigation over a message that was sent to the church members' email list.
A statement was last week emailed to parishioners from a group called 'Green Pastures People's Voices' calling for "truth and transparency" regarding events in the past few weeks which have rocked the church.
Earlier this month, lead pastor Jeff Wright resigned from his position, while eight members of the church's 'executive team' also stood down in recent weeks.
A review into staff complaints about Mr Wright is ongoing and the Charity Commission has opened an investigation after a "concern" was raised.
In a statement emailed to church members last week, Green Pastures People's Voices said: “We are a group of Green Pastures Church members’ that have come together in recent days due to concerns regarding disturbing events within the church we love.
“We have all read many statements, heard many voices from various directions.
“We now believe it is time for the church membership itself to have a voice and write this from a place of love and commitment to the future wellbeing and vision of our Church — remembering that in whatever we say or do, we must apply wisdom and this wisdom comes from God.
“It is therefore our intent to give you, the planted members in our fellowship, an opportunity to address the matters we now face. Your voice needs to be heard and spoken for those who cannot speak for themselves. We require and deserve truth and transparency at all levels.”
A letter was subsequently sent by the group to the Green Pastures board on May 5, signed by 77 church members, asking for a meeting for an "open question and answer session affording members the chance to ask questions regarding recent events, to air their concerns and to have those questions answered as fully and openly as possible”.
The group, however, said the board refused this request and the board then opened an investigation into an "unsolicited email" sent to church members.
“We have immediately begun an investigation to ascertain whether a GDPR breach has occurred which may have resulted in your email address being accessed by an unauthorised individual or group," the board said in the message to members.
“Further, the board is also obliged to disclose this suspected breach to the relevant authorities.
“The board is deeply aware of the challenges of the current season but has no choice but to respond to these new circumstances. Thank you for your understanding and patience.”
In relation to the review into complaints against Mr Wright, the board of Green Pastures said in an email sent to members last week that it related to "alleged behaviours by Ps Jeff Wright which have purportedly had a detrimental and significant impact on the mental and spiritual well-being of those staff".
"This review is being carried out by Trusted HR Limited who are an independent firm with expertise in this area and who have no connection either to the church or the board. The board await the outcome of this review,” the board said.
“At this stage the board do not believe that the complaints give rise to moral or financial failures on the part of Ps Jeff Wright. Rather we understand that they mostly centre around issues relating to the style of leadership adopted by Ps Jeff Wright.
“The board has communicated with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland in respect of the complaints received and the process that has been instigated. The Charity Commission has advised that the board has acted in accordance with the principles of good governance and has endorsed the actions taken to date.”
The Belfast Telegraph visited Green Pastures last Sunday for the usual 12pm service. However we were informed that it was not going ahead and no one was available to speak to us about the situation.
Outside in the car park, a few other showed up for the service, seemingly not having been told it wasn’t going ahead. They were tight-lipped when asked about the recent revelations behind the scenes at Green Pastures.
Green Pastures founder Mr Wright was once a director of Ballymena coachbuilder Wrightbus, which went into administration back in 2019 before being sold to English industrialist Jo Bamford. Following the news of Wrightbus' administration, it emerged that the church had been given £15m by the firm over a period of six years.
Green Pastures was formed in 2007 at a site next to the Wrightbus factory near Galgorm, before re-locating to a vast, 97-acre site on the outskirts of Ballymena, which was once valued at £75m, but was sold to the church for a reported £4m.
Green Pastures was asked to comment, but did not respond. Pastor Wright was not available for comment.