Orange anger at Church gay row

A PLAN to "celebrate diversity" at a high-profile Church of Ireland service has been scrapped after the Loyal Orders withdrew over the involvement of a pro-gay lobby group.

The symbolic service, held during the Church's annual General Synod in Armagh, to be attended by the Roman Catholic Cardinal, Sean Brady, would have been the spiritual focal point of what is effectively the denomination's parliament.

The Sunday morning Holy Communion service, to be held on May 10 at St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh, was to involve prayers said by representatives of the Orange Order, Royal Black Preceptory, Freemasons and GAA.

But it was the involvement of Changing Attitude, a group which lobbies for the full involvement of gay and lesbian people in church life, which has led to the Loyal Orders' angry withdrawal and the subsequent decision not to go ahead with the event as it had been planned.

Instead, it is understood that a more traditional service will be held.

A spokesman for the Orange Order said the service had been planned and details circulated before it had been consulted.

"It is the view of the Loyal Orange Institution that any official representation by it at this service would contradict the principles and beliefs that we hold and would in particular lend credence to theological beliefs contrary to that of biblical Protestantism," he said.

A spokesman for the Royal Black Institution said that it had not been consulted about the plans for the service and would not be taking part in it.

A senior Orange Order source said that Grand Secretary, Drew Nelson, who the invitation had been sent to, was angry that the institution had been "dragged into an internal row within the Church of Ireland".

"There is this argument going on within the Church about Changing Attitude, but it is nothing to do with the Orange Order," he said.

It is understood that a retired Church of Ireland minister, the Rev Mervyn Kingston, who is a member of Changing Attitude, was to pray that God would "bless all of our relationships" and "give us patience and understanding as we seek to build bridges with those who have difficulty in accepting us and our opinions".

Conservative members of the Church and the Loyal Orders interpreted that as a blessing of same-sex relationships, an issue which has divided the Anglican Communion in recent years.

A copy of Dean Rooke's letter to prospective participants in the service, obtained by the News Letter, states that the Archbishop of Armagh, Alan Harper, had requested that the various groups be asked to pray at the service.

In a statement, the Very Rev Patrick Rooke, Dean of Armagh, who is organising the service, said: "The theme of the service, in keeping with the Church's Hard Gospel process, will be on the Gospel imperative to 'love God and our neighbour'.

"Representatives of various groups/organisations with which the Hard Gospel Committee has had conversations, including the Orange Order, were invited to participate in the prayers; however, some felt unable to accept.

“It was therefore considered that alternative arrangements should be put in place for the intercessions and we have invited representatives of all the groups to join us as guests at the service.”