A breakaway branch of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland (RPCI) has been formed in Portadown by a former elder, who has been excommunicated from the mainstream organisation.
Mr David Dunlop and around 40 former members of the Loughbrickland congregation of the RPCI, known as The Covenanters, have started their church at the Watson Centre in Killicomaine. And they are calling themselves the Upper Bann congregation of RPCI (Relief) to differentiate themselves from the main church, which has around 37 congregations in the province.
Mr Dunlop confirmed to the Portadown Times that they had broken away from the RPCI over the analysis of ‘sin’ during a sermon at Loughbrickland, and the issue was raised with the session (the ruling body) at the church. Mr Dunlop was one of four elders, and the minister is Rev David Silversides.
He added he was not prepared to go into details, as the matter could have legal implications. But the Upper Bann website claims, “The matter spiralled out of control, when Biblical and church procedures were ignored. Spurious ‘discipline’ was enacted against a number of members and it was impossible for some to continue.”
The upshot was that Mr Dunlop was excommunicated. He and another elder moved out, with 40 members, “for the sake of the peace of the Loughbrickland congregation”.
The website adds, “As it is an ongoing controversy, still before the ecclesiastical courts – elements of which my come before the civil courts – we refrain from presenting details at present.”
The website claims that members excluded from Loughbrickland were denied “constitutional redress within the RPCI”, and they decided to move to Portadown, and set up the first Covenanters Church in the town.
The Watson Centre was available and – after renovating and decorating the building – they moved in earlier this month, with ‘Upper Bann Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland (Relief)’ sign on the gable wall.
The meeting hall consists of pews and a small pulpit, and there is no organ. The groups follows the traditions of the RPCI by singing just the metrical psalms unaccompanied, and the singing is started by a ‘precentor’.
Rev David Silversides, who has been minister at Loughbrickland for around 30 years, confirmed that Mr Dunlop had been excommunicated by the church. He added, “It was a long-drawn-out situation, but I don’t want to comment any further.”
He referred the Portadown Times to the RPCI’s main ruling body – the Synod – where the clerk, Rev Edward McCollum of Ballymoney, also confirmed the excommunication. “It’s is a difficult situation and I cannot see a resolution,” he added. “But that’s all I want to say.”
Mr Dunlop said the Relief group was in Portadown for the long haul and had a viable congregation of people in the wider Upper Bann area who were committed to the new church. “We are becoming well established,” he added.