Protests are likely to continue at a Co Down church despite advice from its over-arching body to stop the weekly demonstrations.
Last Sunday saw the eighth week of protests against Ballynahinch Congregational Church’s Rev George Speers, who the majority of the congregation do not recognise as their minister since a meeting to remove him in July last year.
At the beginning of September police were called to monitor disorder within the church when a protest by some elders and other churchgoers resulted chants of “Get out” at Rev Speers.
Those who took part later admitted the protests were “wrong” but said the situation had driven them to “breaking point”.
The Congregational Union of Ireland, which cannot dictate to any of the independent congregational churches, released a statement on Wednesday expressing their “wish” for the protests to stop.
The Union has previously offered to help with mediation between the members and the minister in a bid to resolve the row.
In a statement signed by Union Chairman Rev Victor Neill and Honorary Secretary Raymond McLarnin following a meeting of the Executive Committee “disapproval” of previous actions is expressed.
“While the Congregational principle of autonomy (i.e. the right of each local congregation to govern its own affairs) prevents direct interference by the Union, the Executive Committee did express their deep regret and disapproval of any intemperate and unchristian words and actions by any parties to this sad division in the local church at Ballynahinch.
“They wish to see protest or provocation cease, and remain willing to assist should help be requested by both parties. Pray God that He may send reconciliation or resolution to this matter soon, that His Name and Gospel be not dishonoured.”
Ballynahinch Church Deacon Trevor Crowthers, who was at the Union’s Executive meeting, said he believes the protests will continue.
“As far as we are concerned George Speers is not the minster of Ballynahinch Congregational Church,” he told the News Letter.
“We are in a very difficult situation where we have a minister who refuses to leave.”