Lisburn minister boycotts cross-community ‘walk of witness’

Lambeg clergy pictured prior to the start of the Lambeg Churches Good Friday carrying of the cross walk of witness taken in 2012 at the first of what is now an annual event.  L to R: Rev Stephen McElhinney (Derryvolgie Parish), Rev Helen Freeburn (Assistant Minister of Harmony Hill Presbyterian), Rev Canon Ken McReynolds (Lambeg Parish).
Lambeg clergy pictured prior to the start of the Lambeg Churches Good Friday carrying of the cross walk of witness taken in 2012 at the first of what is now an annual event. L to R: Rev Stephen McElhinney (Derryvolgie Parish), Rev Helen Freeburn (Assistant Minister of Harmony Hill Presbyterian), Rev Canon Ken McReynolds (Lambeg Parish).

A Church of Ireland minister in Co Antrim has refused to take part in an annual Easter procession because of theological differences with the Roman Catholic Church.

The cross-community carrying of the cross ‘Walk of Witness’ in Lambeg is a popular event on the Christian calendar, bringing together representatives of main churches, as well as local missions, for the public act of worship on Good Friday.

Lisburn clergy carrying the cross for the annual walk of witness through the city last Easter

Lisburn clergy carrying the cross for the annual walk of witness through the city last Easter

Despite the walk’s widespread appeal, the new rector of Lambeg, Rev Eddie Coulter, has broken with parish tradition by refusing to take part due to “deeply held theological disagreements” with the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Rev Coulter – who grew up in Lisburn but has served as a minister in Dublin, Ballymena, Knockbreda, Armagh and Upper Falls in Belfast – told the News Letter that he has “stood shoulder to shoulder” with Catholic neighbours during troubled times, but could not participate in joint worship.

“I decided not to participate in this year’s March of Witness in Lambeg on Good Friday morning because I have deeply held theological disagreements with Roman Catholic teaching about the cross, so do not feel able to share a common witness in this context,” he said.

In a statement issued to the News Letter, he said: “In this 500th year of the anniversary of the Reformation and drawing on the 39 Articles of Religion, I feel that it is important to uphold the Gospel of grace alone through Christ alone, for the spiritual welfare and benefit of all people.”

Rev Coulter, who was installed as rector of Lambeg in October 2016, went on to say: “I have, however, worked closely on social issues such as unemployment with Roman Catholic churches in the past, as rector of Upper Falls, and I’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with Catholic people during the Troubles and especially when as a rector near Portadown joining a rally to protest against loyalist violence towards Catholic families. I therefore am happy to stand with the Catholic Church and with Catholic people. Many are my friends and family.”

Immediately prior to joining Lambeg Parish, Rev Coulter had been senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Dublin and the superintendent of Irish Church Mission.

The father of three is the son of a former chief talent scout for Manchester United.

One irate church member, who did not wish to be named, contacted the News Letter to say the minister had effectively “banned” the congregation from taking part in the walk, adding: “He told the church members they shouldn’t take part in it as the Catholic church was involved. He doesn’t approve of events with the Catholic church.

“A lot of church members would go to the walk and the majority would be in favour of it.”

Rev Coulter rejected the claim, saying that while he “wasn’t encouraging” the walk, he made it clear to his congregation that they were “free to make up their own mind and follow their conscience”.