Northern Ireland

Whiteabbey Congregational Church bans Girl's Brigade

Girls' Brigade
Image caption The GB said it has no option but to close down the Whiteabbey company

A County Antrim church has expelled its Girls' Brigade (GB) company because it does not approve of GB activities.

Whiteabbey Congregational Church recently adopted a new reformed constitution which restricts musical worship to unaccompanied psalms.

Since the GB's programme often includes dancing and popular music, they are unable to comply with the new regulations, and must leave the church.

The GB said that it now has no option but to close the 133rd GB company.

Last March, the Whiteabbey congregation voted to amend its constitution, and bring it back into line with the Savoy Declaration of 1658, which established guidelines for puritan churches in England.

The church considers all GB activities to fall under the category of worship, and as a result it does not tolerate singing, dancing or drama which is accompanied by music of any kind.

The decision caused controversy on BBC NI's Talkback programme, with many listeners disagreeing with the church's rigid interpretation of the Bible.

However there were also those who expressed support for the decision.

Rev Paul Dowling said the church was "reforming back to biblical practice in worship".

"We didn't say that the 133rd Whiteabbey GB has to end," he said.

"In fact we are only too glad that the company keeps going when they find different premises."

Nowhere to go

However, the problem for the GB is that their regulations do not allow them to simply uproot a company and move it elsewhere.

As a result, the church's decision is forcing them to close, leaving the girls with nowhere else to go.

In a statement, the GB said that its companies are not independently run, but are an integral part of the ministry of their individual church.

"The chaplain of the GB company, usually the minister or another senior church representative, is appointed by the church and is the most senior officer in the GB company. All leaders in the company are likewise appointed by the church.

"The issue is not one of transferring the 133rd Whiteabbey, to new premises. If GB is no longer wanted by Whiteabbey Congregational, then the church has no other option than to close the company, as it is their GB."

Rev Dowling said that he did not see any room for compromise outside his church's interpretation of the Bible.

It therefore seems unlikely that this situation will be resolved, and GB headquarters is already assisting parents in finding their children another group to attend.