The traditional old hymn ‘The Church’s One Foundation’ comes down hard on the divisions within the Christian Church, with the passage – ‘By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed’.
Perhaps the reported disagreements within the various churches in Portadown over recent years are not quite so extreme. But there is no doubt that, when the occupants of the pews get going, mayhem is often the result.
There are the passionate arguments of creationism versus science. One group states that the world is 6,000 years old, while scientists claim the planet goes back 4.5 billion years.
Then there is the same-sex partnership/marriage controversy which has especially split the Church of Ireland, with former Portadown man, Dean Tom Gordon – living in Carlow – having taken part in a civil ceremony with distinguished musician Mark Duley in 2011.
It didn’t cause many ripples in the CoI down south, but up north, petitions were signed, condemnation was rife and there will be a discussion in a synod sometime in the future.
The Roman Catholic Church, meanwhile, seems to be short of priests, with the man-made ‘no marriage’ rule – and the various paedophile scandals have rocked it to its foundations all over Ireland.
On the local scene, the various clerical bodies are divided along ‘evangelist’ and ‘ecumenical’ lines – there are two groups in town. And in Presbyterianism there is the controversy over female clergy not allowed into certain pulpits.
The gender row came home to roost in a much-publicised row in recent years between the two local churches. And recently a prospective new minister at Edenderry bailed out when he was criticised for taking part in an ecumenical event in Dun Laoghaire.
Which takes us to the festering row in Knocknamuckley Church of Ireland where there seems to be staunch opposition to the policies of the rector, Rev Alan Kilpatrick. His penchant for wearing earrings, banning the Black Institution from his church, welcoming dance groups and not normally wearing his robes seems to have caused much rancour. He also had a reported run-in with a women’s group whose activities were moved from the church to the church hall. Around 60 per cent of parishioners are said to be opposed to him.
The main disagreement is over his charismatic approach to worship. His history is in South Africa and America where the happy-clappy approach is more in keeping, although many churches in the town have their praise groups which manage to blend with the older traditions.
Church of Ireland parishes have no control over who their new rector will be. He or she is appointed by the Bishop – in this case Harold Miller of Down and Dromore. There are no doubts over Mr Kilpatrick’s Christian qualities. Just his style. And rural-farming Knocknamuckley has a proud history in the CoI in general and in the local area.
It would appear the two are incompatible. As Bishop Miller says the only way to resolve things “is through dialogue, in a spirit of true Christianity”.
And maybe the outcome – whatever that may be – will reflect another line in the hymn mentioned at the start of this article – “And soon the night of weeping shall be a morn of song”.