Ian Paisley opens his first church in Wales

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The Independent Online
THE REV Ian Paisley yesterday expanded into Wales, hours after reports that his territory in Northern Ireland was under direct threat from the British government.

Opening Wales's first Free Presbyterian church, in Burry Port, a village near Swansea, he delivered a brief prayer from the tiny pulpit.

Among a small crowd in the street where the new church - a former British Telecom building - is located, a man waved an Irish tricolour. Although he turned out to be a local Plaid Cymru member, his appearance introduced a familiar touch to the proceedings.

In six weeks' time, the Free Presbyterians of Ulster will open a Scottish church - a further territorial expansion in the face of 'treachery' at home.

The Welsh congregation of the 'big man' is not large. There are blue plastic chairs for 100 in the little church, but only 12 worshippers to occupy them.

'This is pioneer work,' said Douglas Thomas, 61. 'We want to hear the gospel. The old Presbyterian churches are closing down right, left and centre.'

It is uncertain that the Paisleyites will succeed in converting many of Burry Port's residents, nearly half of whom are descended from Catholic fugitives from the Irish famine of 1845-46. Most of the others are members of the Anglican Church of Wales.

Next week, Mr Paisley travels to Toronto to open a Free Presbyterian establishment there. Further openings are planned in Calgary, Alberta, and Vancouver, British Columbia.

The Church already has branches in the United States, Australia, Germany, Spain - and Cameroon. There are three in England.

Burry Port was, Mr Paisley noted, similar to the Northern Irish village of Crossgar where the Free Presbyterian Church began in 1951. The faith would spread in the principality as it had in the province, he said.

The eruptive rhetoric for which he is famous came only once yesterday. Asked how Unionists back home felt about the latest political development, he roared: 'There is absolute anger]'

A local journalist was disappointed. 'On Saturday nights around here, things get fiercer than that,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)