Church of Ireland Bishop Rt Rev Harold Miller has conducted a service for the Royal Black Institution in Co Armagh after the incumbent rector refused the use of the church building to the loyal order.
In his scripture reading at St Matthias Parish Church at Knocknamuckley, Bishop Miller emphasised unity and peace among brothers.
Some 300 members of the loyal order paraded to the church accompanied by a band playing traditional hymns.
The incumbent minister Rev Alan Kilpatrick blocked the institution’s use of his church, although no explanation has been given.
He has also caused disquiet among some members of the congregation due to his modern approach to services.
The church service is an annual event among Royal Black in the area which moves from church to church on a 12-year rota, this time coming back to Knocknamuckley.
After pressure from the loyal order Rev Kilpatrick had said they could hold their service in the parish church hall.
Parishioner Stanley Harrison, who is also a member of the Black, explained how the loyal order was finally granted access to the church after the stand-off.
“There was a notice put on the diocesan website last Saturday evening stating that the bishop would be taking this service today at the church,” he said.
“He will be conducting and preaching at the service,” he said just before the service.
Mr Harrison claimed the rector had been “overruled” by the bishop, but said he had no evidence to prove this,
But he was glad to see the order was being welcomed back into the church, even though the rector was absent for the service.
“As a parishioner, I am very pleased,” he added.
Bishop Miller read out 1 Peter chapter 3 as the basis for his sermon, acknowledging that his audience may not have been surprised by his choice.
“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tender-hearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.
“He who would love life And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it.”
The Bishop declined to offer any comment to the News Letter.
Also taking part in the service was Canon George Lyttle, who told the assembled ‘Black men’ that he brought greetings from members of the loyal order in Newtownhamilton.
UUP MLA Samuel Gardiner, also a member of the Black, had called for the service to proceed.