A new report for the bishop of down and Dromore Rt. Rev. Harold Miller, has raised questions about whether all the beliefs of the Royal Black Institution (RBI) are consistent with the Church of Ireland.
The report says some of the RBI’s rituals and ceremonies “may be difficult to defend from a Christian basis”. It adds that problems associated with the “privacy and secrecy of the RBI” raise questions about whether the COI should hold its services.
The report was written by a four-person Theological Working Group appointed by Bishop Miller in June 2015 after problems arose in the St Matthias congregation at Knocknamuckley in Co Armagh.
The group’s brief was to examine the theology of the RBI and of Bethel Church, Redding in California, which was reported to have had a significant influence on the teachings of a newly appointed minister at Knocknamuckley.
There was a very public split in the church following the appointment of Rev Alan Kilpatrick.
One of the biggest tensions in the congregation followed him blocking the Royal Black Institution from using the church. The service eventually went ahead under the leadership of Bishop Miller.
Rev Kilpatrick eventually resigned and set up an independent church – Hope Community Church Craigavon.
Bishop Miller described the report as “fair and balanced”. He added: “I am looking closely at the report’s recommendations and hope to meet with people from the Royal Black Institution, St Matthias’ Church and Hope Community Church, Craigavon.”
The panel found that the RBI theology may contain “confusion of biblical material with other sources, which could mislead members”.
The report also concluded that there “may be a lack of attention to the New Testament in their rituals”. It added: “Some rituals and ceremonies may be difficult to defend from a Christian basis”.
For example, it cited people being asked to take oaths without prior warning of their content.
The panel also found problems associated with “the privacy and secrecy of the RBI, which makes it hard for the Church to assess whether it should, by implication, endorse the RBI by holding services in its churches for members and friends”.
It suggested a further meeting with the RBI to discuss “theological matters” and mooted the idea of a diocesan group which considers requests from the loyal orders to use churches.
The report also suggested the diocese may wish to reflect on how it monitors prayer, counselling or deliverance ministries.
And it recommended that the diocese considers “focusing on helping everyone know and understand their Bibles thoroughly and deeply”.