A Presbyterian minister has cautioned that plans to burn a wooden structure called ‘Temple’ in Londonderry on Saturday come from a pagan practice.
So far thousands have visited the site in the Waterside, where the 70-foot carved tower has been built.
The aim of the artist behind the temple David Best - who was at the centre of the USA’s Burning Man Festival in Nevada - is to bring the people of the city together to offer an alternative perspective on bonfires.
Thousands of visitors have already left personal messages inside the structure which is expected to burn in front of around 15,000 people tomorrow night.
The ‘Temple’ website says that “everyone is invited to bring messages, photographs or mementos to the structure, to enjoy a moment of reflection in the space before it is set alight in a special ceremony on Saturday, March 21”.
However, the Rev Graeme Orr from Magheramason Presbyterian Church in the Presbytery of Derry and Donegal said in a statement: “Paganism often leads to the occult, which is spiritually Satanic in nature and according to the Bible should be avoided at all costs.
“Paganism leads to hedonism and self-indulgence – some of which I have described have become part and parcel of these burning festivals.”
Urging people not to “become involved in this temple-burning event”, he encouraged the public to “instead look to the Lord God and his Holy word in the Bible for the answer and deliverance from our past hurts and losses”.
“As we approach Easter the answer to society’s deepest needs will not be met in the sacrificial burning of a wooden man or a temple but in humility, repentance and faith looking to the man, Jesus, who was sacrificed once (and) for all on an old rugged cross…”
Director of Artichoke, Helen Marriage, who produced the event, said that “outside the narrow theological doctrine this is clearly not anything evil, it is clearly a platform for people to express their own humanity, their own feelings of grief, joy or love or loss and it is hard to see anything Satanic about it”.
Paganism leads to hedonism and self-indulgence, some of which I have described have become part and parcel of burning festivals.
“It seems to me to be a moment in the city’s life where people who have a lot of pent-up pain or anger or hope can express it publicly. It is a monument to the city and its shared future.”
Minister of First Derry Presbyterian church, the Rev David Latimer, said he believed ‘Temple’ was “a fresh opportunity for people who are carrying burdens and are weighed down with all manners of problems, anxiety, anger and division to find release”.
When visiting the site Rev Latimer said he saw “therapy” for people who wrote their messages.
“People were digging into their hearts and the depths of their souls to enshrine messages that are very personal and private and ones they would probably not share with a minister,” he added.
On Thursday afternoon the parents of PSNI constable Philippa Reynolds, who was killed in a collision in 2008 outside Londonderry, left a memento at the site.