Parish split deepens as details emerge of service with members of controversial American church
A group of concerned parishioners at loggerheads with their rector have urged the Church of Ireland to distance itself from clerics who associate with a controversial American church.
The call comes after it emerged that a Co Armagh church hosted a service with missioners from the revivalist Bethel Church, some of whose followers reportedly try to raise the dead and experience manifestations of gold dust.
Some congregation members at St Matthias' Church in Knocknamuckley, outside Lurgan, are opposed to the style of ministry adopted by their rector, the Rev Alan Kilpatrick, who is associated with the Bethel Church of Supernatural Ministries.
Around 100 parishioners jointly issued a statement saying that they oppose "any further development of ministry connected to the Church of Bethel in Knocknamuckley" following a meeting on Tuesday night.
Last night, the Scots-born cleric confirmed that a service involving some members of the Bethel Church had taken place last month at Knocknamuckley. However, he stressed his allegiance was to the Church of Ireland. He said in a statement: "I am a Church of Ireland clergyman and I preach about the Kingdom of God."
Referring to the service involving members of the Bethel Church, he added: "There was no mention of raising the dead or manifestations of gold dust."
It is not the first time that the Californian-based independent church has raised eyebrows amongst fellow Christians. Some of the more controversial beliefs discussed by Bethel followers are attempts to raise the dead through their religious belief and the phenomenon of gold dust appearing on believers' hands and faces when the 'glory of God' is released in the room.
One of its leaders, Kris Vallotton, wrote an online article in 2012 addressing what he believed was miscommunication about the church by its detractors. In the article he said that while he had personally tried to raise people from the dead twice, he was not successful. He added that some of the church's students had formed DRTs (Dead Raising Teams) and that he had personally witnessed the manifestation of gold dust on followers' faces and hands "hundreds of times".
The Bethel delegation visit to Knocknamuckley has caused tension between the Rev Kilpatrick - noted for wearing earrings and preaching in jeans during his 18-month ministry - and a sizable proportion of his congregation.
Earlier this week, the Bishop of Down and Dromore, Harold Miller, said he would not be stepping in to the row and backed his rector. However, the Church's stance shifted yesterday with an indication that there will now be an intervention.
A spokesman for Dioceses of Down & Dromore said it "will be engaging in a process of listening to the concerns expressed by some members of Knocknamuckley Parish and will make the parishioners aware of the process in the next few days".
"Rather than respond to individual questions at this point the bishop wishes to be advised on the key issues through that process and the diocese will seek to help find a harmonious resolution," it added.
The Church of Ireland was responding to concerns expressed to the Belfast Telegraph over the Rev Kilpatrick's style of ministry and his recommendation of Bethel teachings and books.
The group of concerned parishioners issued a statement to this newspaper yesterday after its meeting the previous night.
The group said Rev Kilpatrick "was invited to attend the meeting but declined the opportunity to address his concerned parishioners".
The statement added: "As a Church of Bethel Service had taken place on Tuesday, March 24, 2015 in Knocknamuckley Parish Church, it was agreed by those present at the meeting that they strongly oppose any further development of ministry connected to the Church of Bethel in Knocknamuckley and we call on the Church of Ireland hierarchy to resist immediately any clerics that associate with the Bethel Church of Supernatural Ministries with immediate effect."
A statement from the Rev Kilpatrick last night said: "Student missioners from Bethel Church who were visiting Ireland, north and south, recently participated in a worship and prayer evening in Knocknamuckley on the evening of Tuesday, March 24.
"They led singing and there was an opportunity for people to be prayed for along with prophetic ministry. People were free to come and go at the event and the church was full.
'Some of the songs from Bethel are very popular in many churches across the world and some are used in worship at Knocknamuckley."
What the Californian foundation is all about
Q. What is the Bethel Church?
A. Bethel Church is a non-denominational Charismatic Christian faith church which was established in Redding, California, as an Assemblies of God congregation in 1954. It’s since parted ways with the Assemblies of God. The Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry for students was founded by the church in 1998.
Q. Who are the leaders of the church?
A. Fifth generation pastor and author Bill Johnson and his wife Brenda are the founders. However, more senior pastors have joined it over the years.
Q. Where is the Bethel Church based?
A. Its headquarters are in Redding but it has several churches throughout the world.
Q. What does the church mean by its Supernatural Ministry?
A. The Redding church website states that “every believer is a supernatural minister of the gospel of power, adding that “all ministry flows from the prayer ‘Thy kingdom come... on Earth as it is in Heaven.’ We equip and send the church to carry on the signs and wonders that followed Jesus.”
Q. Why do some Christians have concerns about it?
A. Some of its followers and leaders have claimed that the power of God has caused manifestations of gold dust and white feathers in a room of believers, while some students have attempted to raise the dead after being inspired by a Bible verse. One of its leaders, Pastor Kris Vallotton, wrote in 2012 that the students who did this had not been encouraged by his or founder Bill Johnson’s teachings. He added, however, that he also tried to raise the dead and that he has personally witnessed the gold dust on people “hundreds of times”.
Q. Could the church be described as a cult or a sect?
A. Either label is something which the church would strongly deny.