Mass cycle race slashes church’s worship numbers

The Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia makes its way through the streets and roads of Northern Ireland
The Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia makes its way through the streets and roads of Northern Ireland

A massive cycling event has been condemned for wreaking an “unprecedented” level of disruption upon some worshippers at the weekend.

The minister of Carryduff Free Presbyterian Church has said their Sunday morning service suffered a huge drop in attendance due to the Gran Fondo bike challenge, which saw roads across the region shut to motor traffic.

Gran Fondo riders passing through the streets and roads of Northern Ireland on June 5, 2016

Gran Fondo riders passing through the streets and roads of Northern Ireland on June 5, 2016

Rev David McLaughlin said he is now seeking to establish what the full cost of holding the event has been on the public purse.

The colossal event involving thousands of riders began on Sunday morning, with riders setting out from Belfast on journeys across Co Down. It had also been staged in the Province last year.

Riders could either embark on a 175km route around the Mournes (roughly 109 miles) or a shorter 58km (36 mile) route.

Rev McLaughlin said his church was just one of four in Carryduff which had been affected by the closures of main roads from the early morning to the late afternoon.

Organisers had announced beforehand that the Killynure Road (on which the church stands) would be shut from 10.45am to 3.15pm.

The church thus had to bring forward its traditional 11.30am service to 10am (it is one of two services held on Sunday, with most worshippers attending both the morning and evening ones.

“There were quite a number of families didn’t get out,” he said, adding that usually there would be between 60 and 80 people in attendance.

“I’d say we were well down by maybe at least between a third and a half...

“As far as we’re concerned, it was unprecedented. I can’t recall any other time when something like this has come to pass and impact on us this way.”

Many of the congregation are elderly and “don’t like change”, he said.

They had been considering holding an open air service by the roadside in protest, but he felt it would be pointless since the organisers would not be present.

Instead they displayed a large banner reading: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it HOLY”.

The church also had to cancel its annual children’s day – at which one teenager was going to give a demonstration of his prowess in memorising scripture, having learned all 176 verses of Psalm 119.

The children’s day will instead be held on June 19 – Father’s Day.

Noting that the event costs between £55 and £65 to enter, Rev McLaughlin said: “I will be, under Freedom of Information, trying to find out just how much it’s actually costing to host the event... how much for policing, et cetera et cetera.”

The PSNI press office could not be reached on Sunday afternoon.

Rev David McLaughlin had made the news last year when he led a protest against Northern Ireland playing their first-ever Sunday home game.

He said that the match not only clashed with the Biblical command to respect the Sabbath, but also with worship at Tyndale Memorial Free Presbyterian Church in south Belfast, close to the Windsor Park stadium.

In response to the match, a street protest was held outside the church.

He had said at the time that whilst some fans had raised their voices and clenched their fists at the demonstrators, “they weren’t as raucous as I thought they could have been”.