During last week the ongoing row between the Parades Commission and the Orange Order came up again. In April Rev. Mervyn Gibson, minister of Westbourne Community Presbyterian Church and Orange Order’s District Number 6 Chaplain complained when the Parades Commission specified that only one hymn “Abide with Me” be played whilst bands marched passed St. Mark’s Catholic Church on the Lower Newtownards Road.
Mr. Gibson stated:
“It breaches our religious liberties. They have banned the playing of Christian hymns in the UK and that is one of the points we will be raising with the Secretary of State. It’s tantamount to the Taliban religious police telling us what to do.”
Mr Gibson claimed the Parades Commission had a grudge against his district.
He said: “In my opinion there’s a vendetta against Number 6 District. The Parades Commission made this determination without talking to the unionist community. I believe it’s a vindictive decision.”
At the time the Parades Commission defended its decision claiming: “It is easily recognisable and people can’t confuse it with any other tune. It takes away any ambiguity.” It is a little odd that the Parades Commission could only think of one hymn tune which has no ambiguity: As examples, I can think of few controversial political connotations to Nearer My God to Thee (as an aside in reality the tune played as the Titanic sank was probably Horbury not Bethany as in Cameron’s film), What a friend we have in Jesus both of which are easily recognisable marches. I am sure others can think of multiple examples of non controversial hymn tunes. Hence, the Parades Commission decision not to allow several different apolitical hymn tunes does seem somewhat odd to say the least. As Mr. Gibson said: “What have the Mullahs of the Parades Commission got against other hymn tunes?”
After Mervyn Gibson’s comments, the Parades Commission wrote to the Presbyterian Church complaining in turn about the Orange Order’s Press Release. The Clerk of the General Assembly Donald Watts wrote back saying (from the BBC):
(the) “highly emotive vocabulary of Islamic fundamentalism” could really only be used “with the intention of causing offence…..It is therefore unhelpful and unacceptable. It may also give offence to our Islamic neighbours.”
Mr. Gibson’s response in turn has been that he was not “overly impressed” by the church response adding “they failed to discuss the matter with me when it was about me”.
“However, I don’t wish to make any further comment.”
He also said he had submitted a Freedom of Information request in an attempt to obtain any correspondence or emails from the Parades Commission in which he was mentioned.
It is not clear whether or not the clerk of the General Assembly took the decision to write on his own authority or after consultation with others (though clearly not Mr. Gibson). If Dr. Watts took the decision on his own it has very little validity as a position of the Presbyterian Church (he its not its leader). If, however, it was taken after consultation it seems bizarre not to discuss the complaint with the one against whom it was made.
Once again over the issue the Parades Commission seems to misunderstand: the Presbyterian Church has very little control over Mr. Gibson or indeed any other minister (or anyone else) within its own ranks. As such writing to the Presbyterian Church to complain about a Presbyterian minister is essentially pointless. As part of an ongoing feud between the Parades Commission and Orange Order District No. 6 it makes a little more sense.