Samuel Gardiner, Upper Bann MLA and high-ranking officer in the Black Institution, has entered a divisive row at Knocknamuckley Parish Church at Ballydougan.
Mr Gardiner said that he had contacted both the Rector, Rev Alan Kilpatrick and the Bishop of Down and Dromore Harold Miller in a bid to resolve the decision to bar the regular ‘Black’ service from the church, one of many issues that have split the rural parish.
It is sad that a minister should ban what is in effect a religious order from his churchSamuel Gardiner
Mr Gardiner said, “It is sad that a minister should ban what is in effect a religious order from his church. Obviously the rector – who is from Scotland and has ministered in the United States and South Africa – misunderstands the Institution’s ethos.”
Mr Gardiner is Deputy Imperial Master of the Black Institution and a former District Master of Lurgan, which has held several services in Knocknamuckley. But the services are just one issue causing division in the parish, with a reported 60 per cent of parishioners being opposed to his methods.
The ‘anti’ brigade is angry that he wears stud earrings and rarely wears his clerical robes, except at funerals – he preaches robeless. Traditionalists in the church, which is more than 150 years old, insist that he has turned away from what is viewed as Church of Ireland ways, favouring the American Bethel School of Supernatural Ministries. It is a Charismatic Movement based on healing and the work of the Holy Spirit.
There was further controversy during the Easter period when a dancing troupe – the Portadown-based Zepheniah Dancers – gave a display of routines based on Bible stories.
It is claimed that it all began when Rev Kilpatrick refused a women’s group the use of the church – they were mostly members of the congregation and that set the row in motion.
One dissident said, “The rector has split the congregation down the middle. His ways are not the ways of Knocknamuckley. Many people have left and others go simply because they love the church, hoping that he will move on soon.”
But one long-established parishioner said, “The people who object are stuck in the past, Alan Kilpatrick preaches the Gospel in a straight-forward way, and anyone who took offence at the dance troupe has little to do. It was very tasteful. He has his reasons for restricting the use of the church.”
The Rector and the Bishop are both standing firm. A statement from Bishop Miller said, “The rector is the spiritual authority in the parish. I trust that any disagreement can be resolved amicably in a spirit of Christian fellowship.”
Mr Kilpatrick said that the ‘Black’ decision for the church hall had been accepted by the (Lurgan) District, adding, “I am an Anglican minister and only want to do God’s work.”