THE minister and all elders at Cairnalbana Presbyterian Church have been removed from office.
A judicial commission of the General Assembly announced the decision last week to Rev Stephen Dickinson and a congregation which Presbyterian Church in Ireland leaders have described as being “riven by two factions”.
The commission found that Mr Dickinson’s effectivess had been “seriously impaired in part by his own actions” and also, “to a considerable degree by the actions and inactions of the Cairnalbana kirk session (church committee)”.
The decision of the judicial commission, the Church’s most senior body, was disclosed last Wednesday at a private meeting with the congregation, which is said to comprise 116 families.
There is no appeal against the most unusual decision which, a Church spokesman said, is intended to bring to an end to “ongoing disputes and the breaking down of good relationships in the Cairnalbana congregation over several years” which have “caused much annoyance, sadness and upset for all involved”.
The Cairnalbana kirk session first asked for mediation in the disputes in the autumn of 2009, since when, the Church claims, it has “made every effort to restore those good relationships”.
The spokesman explained: “This has been attempted through the Church’s normal processes at congregational level, by the Ballymena Presbytery and two commissions appointed by it, a conciliation process and through appeals to the Judicial Commission of the General Assembly.”
Last October, Ballymena Presbytery referred its enquiry into what the Church terms the “usefulness of Rev Stephen Dickinson’s ministry in Cairnalbana” to the judicial commission.
After a series of meetings and consideration of oral and written evidence presented to it by all concerned, the commission informed those involved of its decision at last week’s meeting in Cairnalbana Presbyterian Church.
The commission stated that it found that the breakdown of relationships in the leadership and congregation had not been re-established since Ballymena Presbytery first became involved nearly four years ago.
“On the contrary, the evidence received by the commission has revealed a congregation that is riven by two factions, with deeply fractured relationships emanating from the leadership of the church but also penetrating into the congregation,” according to a Presbyterian Church in Ireland statement issued to the Larne Times.
“It is with regret that the judicial commission has concluded that the minister’s usefulness has been seriously impaired and that he has, in part by his own actions, placed himself in a position where it is impossible for him to satisfactorily discharge the duties of his charge.
“However, the commission also found that the minister’s usefulness has been seriously impaired, not only by his own actions but also, to a very considerable degree, by the actions and inactions of members of the kirk session,” the statement continued.
The judicial commission’s determination was that Mr Dickinson be removed immediately from the congregations of Cairnalbana and Glenarm and all 12 elders of Cairnalbana Presbyterian Church be removed immediately from office.
The congregations of Cairnalbana and Glenarm have been declared “vacant”.
The commission instructed Ballymena Presbytery to appoint an interim kirk session for the Cairnalbana congregation until the Presbytery is satisfied that the time is right for an election to the kirk session and subsequently for an application to be made for leave to call a new minister.