One of the chief protestors at Ballynahinch Congregational Church has not ruled out the possibility that – if mediation was successful and compromises were made “on both sides” – a future resolution to the dispute could involve the Rev George Speers staying on in his post.
But church trustee Jim McClenaghan said the chances of such a scenario were slim – and that, as the row enters its sixth week, there has been “no immediate sign of progress”.
Around 60 members of the congregation have undertaken weekly protests against their minister since the beginning of September, when police had to be called to keep the peace.
The dispute centres around a number of issues, including church teachings.
Another of the regular Sunday protests is planned for tomorrow, with those involved holding an alternative morning service in the minor hall while Rev Speers conducts a meeting in the main church.
Last Sunday, protestors stood with placards stating their opposition to the minister.
Mediation has already been offered a number of times but no offers have been taken up by Rev Speers, something Mr McClenaghan said is very frustrating for those involved.
“There is no immediate sign of progress,” he said.
“Mediation has been offered but turned down. It takes two to mediate. We will always be open to mediation.”
When asked if there was any possibility a future option to satisfy all involved could include Rev Speers remaining within the church, Mr McClenaghan said it could not be completely ruled out – but admitted the chances were slim.
“That is always part and parcel of mediation,” he said.
“Maybe if attitudes were changed on both sides. Ultimately our goal is to have peace returned to the church.
“George Speers has been the root cause of all these problems, but mediation could resolve a lot of things.”
The damage caused to the reputation of the church by the ongoing row is a major concern for the congregation, Mr McClenaghan said.
“It is very worrying that we are having to take this action,” he said. “The church is being brought into disrepute.”
Rev Speers was voted out of office at a meeting of the trustees in summer 2012 but is understood to have taken legal action, claiming their decision was not legitimate.
Since then, Mr McClenaghan said the numbers attending church have dwindled, with many saying they will only return when the issues are resolved.