‘Hard to be sure’ why congregation split, clerics say

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THE Presbyterian Church admits it is difficult to determine when and why two factions developed within the leadership at Cairnalbana Presbyterian Church.

In July, 2012 a judicial commission of the General Assembly reported: “Various theories have been proffered and it is hard to be sure about any particular one. What is abundantly clear to the commission, however, is that this turmoil in the kirk session has existed far too long and needs to be repented of immediately.”

In July last year, the Larne Times reported that the commission upheld a decision of Ballymena Presbytery to disqualify two elders and suspend six others following “a breakdown in relationships”.

The presbytery, which had been called in by the kirk session to try and mend a rift within the leadership of the congregation and to restore “warm, open and loving relationships between minister, elders and members”, also “publicly rebuked” the minister, Rev Stephen Dickinson.

The judicial commission’s inquiry determined that the leadership at Cairnalbana had become “deeply divided” and found that the breakdown in relations had manifested in “confused communication, non-cooperation, manipulative behaviour, coldness and lack of respect towards each other”.

The commission added: “It has been suggested that it was the failure of the kirk session to deal with issues brought before it that has led not only to a split in the eldership, but also in the congregation.”

The commission determined that Mr Dickinson and a majority of the elders had failed to act proactively to mend relationships, as directed by the presbytery.

A presbytery statement to the congregation in January, 2012 read: “That whereas the Rev Stephen Dickinson, minister of Cairnalbana, has been found, after trial, to be guilty of contumacy (resistant to authority), we the Presbytery of Ballymena, in the name and by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, do hereby rebuke him for his failure to fully comply with the directives of the said Presbytery.”

The Larne Times understands that although removed from his charge at Cairnalbana and Glenarm, Mr Dickinson remained a minister within the Presbyterian Church of Ireland, entitled to a salary and would not be required to leave the manse immediately. We were unable to contact Mr Dickinson.

The Cairnalbana elders would be eligible for election to a new kirk session. Only then will it be possible to extend a call to a new minister and in the meantime it is expected that a neighbouring Presbyterian cleric will be invited to act as convenor of the vacancy at Cairnalbana and Glenarm.