Sunday, December 30, 2007

Just bloody-minded?

What is it about the Ulster Protestant that leaves Malcolm lost for a word?

Well, one might well start with the seasonal spat between the two Presbyterian churches in Portadown.

The Presbyterians ordained their first woman Minister, the first woman ordained by any Irish faith, over thirty years ago. Well-educated (Edinburgh BA and BD, with further qualifications in social work, and an OBE to boot), literate and civilised, Ruth Patterson still represents too much of a novelty for many in the sect.

Witness the curious goings-on (or, rather, not going-on) between the two presbyterian fanes at opposite ends (in so many ways) of Portadown.

Since the end of another war, the Second World War, the two churches in Portadown (Armagh Road and Edenderry) have alternated Christmas services. The First Presbyterian (a nice piece of élitism, there, and pictured above) in Portadown extended its biennial invitation, as usual. There was, however, a caveat: the Edenderry Minister, one Stafford Carson, would not share his pulpit with the Minister from Armagh Road, Christina Bradley. The reason: the Rev. Bradley is not a pukka gent, and so fails to reach St Paul's exacting standards.

Mrs Bradley put her case with reasoned dignity:
... although the Edenderry session sent an invitation to Armagh Road, Mrs Bradley sought clarification and it was confirmed she would not be permitted to play any part. Thus, the invitation was "sadly declined".

"It has been the tradition for the 'away' minister to preach the sermon, while the 'home' minister conducts the service," said Mrs Bradley. "Stafford Carson and I had a long talk about it. He was the essence of courtesy, but the bottom line is that I am not welcome in his pulpit.

"It is sad to see such a long-standing tradition terminated. It has been an excellent tradition. I would have been proud to continue it, but I am precluded from doing that.

"In Faith, I studied for the ministry to which God called me. I am a woman and cannot change that. This discrimination against women is created by society, not by God."
Or, as said Stafford Carson is also quoted:
I ... am saddened at the end of such a long and fruitful tradition of united services and am sorry to see it end, but I believe that the Bible - especially in the Letters of Saint Paul - is specific on this issue and therefore I must follow my conscience.
There are twelve months for the two sides to made some kind of Christian peace. On past experience of the stubborn Ulster constitution, that is not exactly a sure-fire prospect. Meanwhile, Malcolm refers to Ruth Patterson for an appropriate comment:
When I look back over the years I see many areas where we, the church, did not provide leadership and didn't speak out when we should have. We should have been the prophetic voice speaking out in front. Certainly, there were some who did that but by and large we weren't courageous heralds of a new age.
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