Ford dispute sees Presbyterian minister step aside

Second Donegore Presbyterian Church  outside Templepatrick

Second Donegore Presbyterian Church outside Templepatrick

The Presbyterian minister of Alliance MLA David Ford’s church has temporarily stepped aside for three months while another inquiry is conducted into a dispute within the congregation.

The decision about the Rev James L Tosh was announced to the congregation at Sunday morning’s service of worship at Second Donegore Presbyterian Church.

It is understood that a minister has been appointed to pastor the congregation until the Rev Tosh returns.

Just a month earlier, the same service was told that Mr Ford had been removed as an elder of the Presbyterian congregation where he has held the role for almost three decades.

However, although Mr Ford was removed from that post, Church House stressed that he was recognised by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland as “an elder in good standing” eligible to hold that post in other congregations.

In a statement yesterday, the Rev. John Murdoch, Clerk of the Presbytery of Templepatrick, said: “In exercising a duty of care for the Rev James Tosh, and with his consent, the Presbytery has agreed that Mr Tosh should step aside from all ministerial duties in Second Donegore, for a number of weeks and until further notice.

“For the avoidance of doubt, Rev James Tosh remains the Minister of Second Donegore in good and full standing and has not been suspended.

“Rather, by mutual agreement with the Presbytery, in exercising its duty of care for him, he is stepping aside from Ministerial duties in Second Donegore for a temporary period.”

When contacted by the News Letter yesterday, Mr Ford – who retired as Alliance leader earlier this month after 15 years at the head of the party – declined to comment.

At the time when he was removed as elder, Mr Ford said that the situation arose because his fellow elders in the church “refuse to work with me”.

Last month, the Presbyterian Church’s Judicial Commission – its highest appellate body – found that “Mr Ford had placed himself in a position where it had simply become impossible for him to satisfactorily discharge his duties as a ruling elder in Second Donegore, due to a breakdown in relationships between him and the other members of the Kirk Session”.

The South Antrim MLA has not been personally disciplined but the decision to remove him as an elder in Donegore centred on fractured personal relationships in the session of the church. In a statement at the time, the South Antrim MLA said it was “a matter of great sadness to [wife] Anne and me that both Presbytery and Session have failed to act to promote healing and unity within our church, despite repeated requests from us over the last nine months”.