Row could silence cathedral choir

TOP churchmen faced demands to resign last night over an extraordinary row that threatened to silence a famous cathedral choir.

It followed a decision to axe the musical director’s post at St Anne’s in Belfast, where five members of the ruling board walked out in protest at the cost-cutting measure.

Choristers have now threatened to stop singing unless current director Philip Stopford is reinstated.

English-born Mr Stopford, who was appointed to the position in 2003, is a critically-acclaimed choral composer whose pieces for the St Anne’s choir have been sold on CDs worldwide.

The musician, who is in his early 30s, has been off work on health grounds since the decision to make his post redundant was made earlier this summer.

Billy Miskimmin, one of the board members who resigned, yesterday called for senior Church of Ireland clergy and officials involved in the matter to stand down.

They include board chairman and Bishop of Connor Rev Alan Abernethy and the Dean of St Anne’s Houston McKelvey.

“This is a resigning matter – they need to resign and get out and let a whole new flock take over,” said Mr Miskimmin.

Dean McKelvey declined to comment on the issue yesterday. Mr Stopford also said he wasn’t able to discuss it.

Mr Miskimmin resigned from the board with four other disillusioned colleagues – Dr Michael Callender, a retired liver specialist, Mervyn Hempton, Gwen Preece and Chris MacLaughlin.

The quintet also penned an open letter to the congregation of St Anne’s highlighting the issue.

A group set up on social networking site Facebook calling for the choral tradition at the cathedral to be saved has now got more than 400 members.

It is understood the decision was taken in a bid to reduce the outgoings at St Anne’s.

The famous Belfast landmark costs around 350,000 a year to run but the coffers have been hit by a drop in revenue generated by the city centre park it operates on the grounds. The 106-year-old building is also in need of some costly structural work.

Mr Miskimmin, who was suspended from the board earlier in the year for criticising other elements of church management, said cutting the musical director was short-sighted.

“To lose the director of music post as a so-called means of saving money forgets the fact that the majority of people who attend cathedral attend it because of their interest in choral music and worship God using the high-quality choral music with which the cathedral is associated.”

He added: “It’s unlikely that the choir will ever reconvene – I certainly won’t be singing for it again and I know some of the other stalwarts feel the same.”

It is understood the cathedral intends to employ a curate to take over the running of the choir.

A spokeswoman for the Church of Ireland said the issue was a matter for the board of St Anne’s.

“The board is currently in discussions with the post-holder and is not in a position to comment further at present,” she added.