Page last updated at 09:31 GMT, Tuesday, 7 June 2005 10:31 UK

Church row splits congregation

Torn asunder: Bethel Pentecostal Church

A holy row between rival factions of a Shankill Road Church has split its congregation and ended up in the hands of lawyers.

The trials and tribulations of the Bethel Pentecostal Church are the subject of a BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight programme.

It offers a fascinating insight into the colourful world of the Belfast evangelists, their passionate views of religion and Catholicism in particular.

The dispute, over an anti-Catholic pamphlet, involves controversial clergyman Clifford Peeples.

He was the assistant pastor of the Bethel congregation until he was arrested in 1999 for loyalist paramilitary offences.

He was sentenced to ten years after he was caught with hand grenades and a pipe bomb in his car.

The conviction shocked many members of the church which has been led since 2001 by Pastor John Hull.

Stormy meeting

He says he only took on the job on the understanding that Mr Peeples would have nothing further to do with the church.

However, on his release from prison in 2004, Clifford Peeples returned to Bethel and his influence began to grow again.

Pastor with a paramilitary past: Clifford Peeples
He was installed as its minister at Easter after a stormy meeting of senior churchmen concluded with some of them demanding Pastor Hull's resignation.

He and his supporters later walked out vowing not to return until lawyers sorted out the dispute.

John Hull has accused Mr Peeples' faction of trying to politicise the church by bringing in a lurid anti-Catholic leaflet called "Rome Watch".

He tells the programme: "The magazines contained photographs and articles on what they called Roman terror, Orange halls, Protestant houses, Protestant buildings and churches, that had been defaced in one way or another, or attacked, or vandalised, by those who were from the Roman Catholic community or republican community,

"Clifford Peeples brought it in without permission and when I approached him about it he told me that regardless of whether I wanted it or not, he would continue to bring it there."

Closer to God

The deposed minister says: "There seems to be this innate hatred of Catholics but the gospel is for everybody - Protestant and Catholic.

John Hull says he has been deposed from the Bethel Church

"Catholics need to be born again, Protestants need to be born again and that's the gospel we have always preached."

But Pastor Peeples rejects the charge of bigotry: "That is not true. I despise and dislike the Roman system.

"I do not hide that, I have never hid that, nor would I ever wish to hide that but individual Catholics I like and I love."

He says he is glad to be reinstalled as the leader of the Bethel congregation.

"I thank God that I went to prison, what others meant for evil, the Lord meant for good. I went to prison and I got closer to God.

"I sit here under the protection of the almighty God. The people of the Bethel have called me here as their minister and I will continue to do that."

The split has resulted in about 60 church-goers leaving the Bethel church as both sides await the result of legal action to settle the matter of who should minister to its congregation.

The programme will be shown on BBC One Northern Ireland at 2235 BST on 7 June. It will be repeated on BBC Two Northern Ireland at 2320 BST on Wednesday 8 June.



SEE ALSO
Self-styled loyalist pastor jailed
08 Mar 01 |  Northern Ireland


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