The prospective new minister of First Portadown (Edenderry) Presbyterian Church has withdrawn after elders questioned his ecumenical and church unity activities within his Republic of Ireland congregation.
The Rev Chris Kennedy, current minister of Dun Laoghaire Presbyterian Church, County Dublin, was number one on the Edenderry shortlist to succeed Dr Stafford Carson, who was appointed principal of the Presbyterian Union Theological College in Belfast in September last year.
It had reached the stage where Mr Kennedy was due to preach his ‘sample sermon’ to clinch the move north. But the Portadown Times understands that a small number of elders gave him such a grilling that he withdrew and decided to stay in Dun Laoghaire. Mr Kennedy, who was installed in Dun Laoghaire in September 2009, comes from Northern Ireland and was formerly minister of Knock Presbyterian Church in East Belfast.
First Portadown is against ecumenical teachings and Christian unity, and it was this incompatibility that led to Mr Kennedy turning them down. It is thought that a picture posted on the Dublin Anglican website led to the final rift.
It shows Mr Kennedy with the Church of Ireland Rector of Christ Church in Dun Laoghaire - Icelandic-born Rev Asa Bjork Olafsdottir - entering the local St Michael’s Roman Catholic Church during an ecumenical ‘Walk of Light’. The event also encompassed the town’s Methodist Church and was part of a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in the seaside town.
Mr Kennedy is believed to have been taken aback by the line of questioning by a small number of Edenderry elders and felt that the post was not for him. When the Portadown Times rang him to his manse, he retorted, “I’m making no comment whatsoever – speak to Church House.” (The Presbyterian Church of Ireland headquarters in Belfast).
There, the Rev Dr Donald Watts, out-going clerk of the General Assembly, said he was aware Mr Kennedy had withdrawn, “which puts the church back to square one in its search for a minister, but I don’t have the details”. He added it was up Edenderry and the Armagh Presbytery to sort things out.
Since Dr Carson’s departure, the pulpit vacancy has been the responsibility of the Rev Peter Gamble, minister of the Mall Presbyterian Church in Armagh and clerk of Armagh Presbytery.
He said he was aware that Mr Kennedy had withdrawn, “but these deliberations are in confidence and I cannot give details”. He confirmed that First Portadown would have to start afresh in its search for a minister, which could take another year in the complicated system.
The Portadown Times contacted a number of Edenderry elders, but the response was the same – “I can’t comment on what goes on in session meetings, and don’t use my name.”
But one church member said, “It seems that the questioning was pretty tough and Mr Kennedy felt that he and First Portadown simply weren’t suited.”