Parishioners at a Co Armagh church have told of their concern at development plans which they fear are going to “destroy” the character of the ancient building.
Church of Ireland parishioners at Drumcree Parish Church in Portadown have claimed the situation is threatening to split the congregation.
A spokesman for the Church of Ireland Diocese of Armagh said they were aware of the situation.
A letter purporting to represent around 100 concerned parishioners at Drumcree Parish Church claims the plans, many of which are still at an early stage, were not approved by the full Select Vestry.
One parishioner even claimed that the situation is in danger of becoming “another Knocknamuckley” – a reference to a split in that Co Down church after differences of opinion over the style of worship.
However, Rev Gary Galway has said the church cannot stand still and that the proposals have been approved by a majority vote of the Select Vestry, which represents parishioners.
He also said the details of various aspects of the plans have been on display in the church and that parishioners were welcome to raise any concerns or views they had.
In the letter the group of concerned parishioners said: “The proposals, if carried out, would destroy the character of what is a very old established parish church and members of the parish do not wish this to happen and are very distraught at what is happening with these damaging and hurtful decisions.”
The letter adds that far from the whole parish being in favour of the proposals, many people were “outraged” at them.
And they pointed out that the plans, including underfloor heating and removal of pews, was not approved by the full vestry and “will destroy the character of an important, listed place of worship”.
Last night a spokesman for Armagh Diocese said: “While the purchase of land for a car park is a matter for the parish, all proposals concerning church property vested in the Representative Church Body (RCB) are required to be submitted for the approval of the RCB, upon a recommendation of the Diocesan Council, prior to any work commencing.
“Such approval is required for the Select Vestry’s proposals to create a linkway between the church and hall, the installation of a biomass heating system and underfloor heating, and the removal of pews in the church.
“Presently, approval has been granted only for the removal of three pews at the front of the church in order to facilitate the extension of the platform area. Approval is also required for the sale of parish land.
“In December, the Diocesan Council appointed a sub-committee which is to meet with the Select Vestry in the next few weeks to discuss in greater detail all aspects of the proposals, including the impact of these on the wider parish.”
Drumcree Parish Church, which lies around two miles outside Portadown, is the site of the Orange Order service which is held annually on the Sunday before July 12.
The return route of the parade along the Garvaghy Road has been the subject of a Parades Commission ban since 1998.