Edenderry Presbyterian Church – without a minister since Dr Stafford Carson left in the summer of 2013 – is about to re-start the long and complicated system of appointing his successor. But not until the church elders complete a three-week course on the laid-down procedures.
The Presbytery of Armagh, earlier this month, imposed the conditions on the elders after last year’s controversy when the “favourite” to fill the vacancy, Rev Chris Kennedy – then minister at Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin – turned down the post.
It was reported that, at the final stage, an interview with the elders homed in on the fact that he had taken part in an ecumenical ‘Walk of Light’ through Dun Laoghaire, involving the local Roman Catholic, Methodist and Church of Ireland clerics and members. It was part of a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in the seaside town.
It came to light when a picture of Rev Kennedy and the Church of Ireland Rector, Rev Asa Bjork Olaksdottir (an Icelander), surfaced on the internet. This did not sit well with a few of the Edenderry elders, and the discussion became so heated that Mr Kennedy decided to remain in Dun Laoghaire.
It happened a year after Dr Carson left to take up the post of Principal of the Union Theological College in Belfast. The complicated process of appointing a new minister in Presbyterianism usually takes a year, and Edenderry is having to start again from scratch.
The Armagh Presbytery isn’t making any official comment, nor is Edenderry. But sources in both camps confirmed that the elders are having to attend a three-week course to reacquaint themselves with the detailed process. And then – in the language of the church - “they will get leave to call a new minister”.
The minister in charge of the vacancy after Dr Carson’s departure was Rev Peter Gamble of Mall Presbyterian Church in Armagh, but he will not be bearing the double responsibility this time round.
The Portadown Times rang Mr Kennedy at the height of the controversy, but he refused to comment. And the General Assembly, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s ruling body, insisted it was up to the Armagh Presbytery and First Portadown to sort things out.