Northern Ireland

Discord at St Anne's Cathedral over choir job

St Anne's Cathedral
Image caption St Anne's Cathedral has a long tradition of choral music

Five board members at St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast have resigned over the Church of Ireland's decision to drop the post of Director of Music.

In their resignation letter, they said the decision was "destructive of the Cathedral's excellent choral music".

It is understood the current director, Philip Stopford, has been off work on health grounds since the decision to axe the post earlier this summer.

The Chuch of Ireland said the issue was a matter for the board at St Anne's.

Mr Stopford, who is in his early 30s, took up the post in 2003.

He said that he was not in a position to discuss the matter.

The Dean of St Anne's, Houston McKelvey, also declined to comment.

Cathedral directors of music are organists who train and mentor musicians and choose its repertoire.

The five board members who have resigned are Dr Michael Callender, a retired liver specialist, Mervyn Hempton, Gwen Preece, Chris MacLaughlin and Billy Miskimmin.

BBC Newsline reporter Julian O'Neill said that the resignation letter of the board members "makes reference to concerns about the previous treatment of the director of music".

"We understand that there have been two internal church inquiries on the basis of complaints made by Mr Stopford," our reporter said.

"One of those inquiries cost £56,000 but few know its findings."

Resigning matter

Mr Miskimmin said that he believed that senior Church of Ireland clergy and officials involved in the decision to abolish the post of director of music should stand down.

They include board chairman and Bishop of Connor Rev Alan Abernethy and Dean McKelvey.

Mr Miskimmin said: "This is a resigning matter - they need to resign and get out and let a whole new flock take over.

"This seems to have been a decision taken behind doors and the reason for it I still cannot grasp.

"I refuse to accept that it is just the finances.

Image caption Philip Stopford (right) has been Director of Music at St Anne's since 2003

"Here we've attracted one of the finest talents and by a stupid decision taken in the last few minutes of a board meeting he has been cast aside."

Mr Miskimmin said he had also resigned as a member of the choir.

"I know that many other adult members of the choir have done the same - they will not serve in an atmosphere where it's quite evident that the choir and the director of music are not being appreciated."

Mr Stopford, who is in his early 30s and was an organ scholar at Keble College, Oxford before taking up the post in 2003, said that he was not in a position to discuss the matter.

A Facebook campaign, Save the Choral Tradition of St Annes Cathedral, has almost 50 messages of support.

A spokesperson for the Church of Ireland said: "The board (at St Anne's) is currently in discussions with the postholder and is not in a position to comment further at present."

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