A dispute within a Co Down church that saw police officers called to monitor a tense protest looks no closer to being resolved after the minister at the centre of the row rejected an offer of mediation.
While members of the congregation at Ballynahinch Congregational Church have agreed to engage in mediation with the Congregational Union of Ireland in a bid to resolve what has become a bitter dispute with the Rev George Speers and his followers, the News Letter understands the minister has decided against mediation.
The row, over a number of issues including Biblical teachings, has been going on for a number of years but tensions came to a head last Sunday when a crowd of those opposed to the Rev Speers’ ministry within the church engaged in a loud protest while the minister used a megaphone to make his sermon heard.
In the first statement since the protest the Rev Speers, who was appointed as minister in 2003, said those involved in last weekend’s protest had “violated” the Scriptures’ teachings on worship.
He also maintained he had made numerous efforts to bring about a resolution to the disagreement before now.
He said: “I have attempted to bring about a resolution through the use of internal church structures.
“I have also engaged in joint talks facilitated by third parties. Sadly, a resolution accorded with Biblical principles could not be found.”
The minister said he is determined to continue with his work, despite talk of another protest tomorrow.
“I will not be deterred from preaching the Gospel by the illegal actions of a group of protesters,” he said.
“By their actions they have violated all that Scripture teaches about worship and have denied others the fundamental liberty to worship without interference.”
The minister, who has kept a low profile since the services last weekend, added that he has received support from various quarters.
“I have been greatly encouraged by the messages of support given to me by members of my congregation, ministers from various denominations and members of the general public.”
One member of the congregation told the News Letter she would be “very surprised” if the minister agreed to mediation, claiming he rejected an offer from the unions of England, Scotland and Wales previously.
Ahead of tomorrow’s services the Rev Victor Neill, chairman of the Congregational Union of Ireland, said he is hopeful there will not be a repeat of the scenes witnessed last weekend.
“We can only offer mediation, we can do no more than that,” he said.