The Rev George Speers has a long history with Ballynahinch Congregational Church and has had good relations with the members as far back as the mid-1990s, it was revealed yesterday.
Jim McClenaghan, one of the 13 trustees in the church, told the News Letter that the Rev Speers had served as an assistant minister with the church some 20 years ago.
He had moved elsewhere to serve and the church’s previous cordial relations with him had given them confidence to ask him back as their minister nine years ago, he said.
The congregation and minister enjoyed some six years of good relations until three years ago, when Mr McClenaghan says the minister told the church’s ruling body of deacons that they “no longer counted”.
“He said that the elders were now to run the church, but this was never put before the church for a vote,” said Mr McClenaghan. “This is a congregational church, which means that it is run by the congregation – not by a minister or diaconate (deacons).”
The new elders, he said, were the Rev Speers and his two assistant ministers.
An annex or extension was built onto the church building during happier times because of the growing congregation.
The trustees say the partition between the extension and the main church building was repeatedly bolted shut, which they felt had the effect of excluding them from the church service.
“In some churches you have elders and we were working towards that end but we had agreed that it would take some time to bring the congregation along,” Mr McClenaghan said.
He said the Rev Speers was “no longer a congregationalist”, adding: “He does not take his decisions to the congregation any longer to be ratified.”
Last night neither the Rev Speers or assistant minister the Rev Stephen Walker were able to be contacted.