Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Newry rector criticised for removing RBL flags from churches

A Newry rector has been criticized by his own congregation for removing Royal British Legion (RBL) flags from his churches.

Rev Kingsley Sutton took the decision to remove the flags from St Patrick’s and St Mary’s Church of Ireland churches in the city, and replaced them with a white flag featuring a red heart.

He said the move was to “make a break” from the past with the new flag representing “a new hope”.

However, the decision has caused anger and hurt among some of his parishioners who say it is the latest in a series of changes the rector has made to traditional services at the churches, both of which he ministers.

It is believed parishioners of St. Mary’s plan to hold a meeting in the near future to discuss their grievances.

One aggrieved parishioner told the Belfast Telegraph newspaper that claimed many church members have left in disgust at the actions of Rev Sutton, which have included changing the traditional style of services and barring the Orange Order or the Apprentice Boys from holding services in either of the churches.

“He has gone very modern and done away with traditional services.  Then he removed the legion flags from both churches saying he wanted to make a break with the past. This has caused a lot of hurt, not least because the adjoining churchyard has a lot of soldiers’ graves in it,” the parishioner said.

“People are also very annoyed that he has stopped allowing the Orange Order to use the church, and also two weeks ago stopped an Apprentice Boys parade in Newry from using the church.

Writing in his parish newsletter, Rev Sutton explained his actions over the RBL flags. He said the white flag with the heart which he replaced them with was from the Global Day of Prayer event in the ground of the Stormont Estate in 2006.

“We must make a resolute break from the past, lest we be dragged back,” he wrote. “I have taken down the Royal British Legion flags in both churches and have replaced them with a white flag that has a red heart at its centre. Although this act may seem an unusual thing to have done, and even very hurtful, please let me expand on why I have taken this action.

“First, can I assure any reader of this letter, and all my parishioners, that I have nothing against the good work for the Royal British Legion or against any of its members and supporters. They do an immense amount of good among us, and especially following the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However I have intentionally removed these flags to declare a break from the past, and a shift into a new hope, a hope that is embodied in the two new flags.”

The Examiner attempted to contact Rev Sutton but was directed to the Diocese of Down and Dromore press office which issued this short statement: “The diocese very recently became aware of the current issue in St Mary’s and is taking a closer look at the situation. Meanwhile we ask those involved to exercise Christian grace and restraint.”