THREE rebel Church of Scotland congregations in Edinburgh are being wooed by the Free Church after they announced plans to quit the Kirk over gay ministers.
The Free Church, which takes a strong traditionalist stance, has set up a special working group to hold talks with congregations and ministers across the country who are unhappy with the decision to allow gay ordination.
Two city Kirk congregations – Holyrood Abbey Church in London Road and St Catherine’s Argyle in the Grange – have declared they are leaving the Church of Scotland. A third, New Restalrig in Willowbrae Road, has held talks with local Kirk officials about leaving.
The Free Church would not comment on any discussions, but said it had much in common with the three churches and expressed “high regard” for their ministers.
It said: “Holyrood Abbey, New Restalrig and St Catherine’s Argyle are all well-respected and vibrant churches which combine a robust Biblical ministry with an awareness of the needs of contemporary Scotland.
“We know the ministers of these congregations well and they are very highly regarded in our denomination. The doctrine, worship and practice in these churches would be indistinguishable from many Free Church congregations.”
The Rev David Court, minister at New Restalrig, said if his congregation left the Kirk he expected it would seek to affiliate to another Presbyterian denomination. But he said: “We are not in any formal negotiation.”
The Rev Dr Robin Sydserff, of St Catherine’s Argyle, said he had not had any contact with the Free Church. He said: “We are right at the beginning of a process.”
The Rev Philip Hair, of Holyrood Abbey Church, has said he did not want to comment ahead of a meeting of his congregation in a couple of weeks.
The Free Church claimed a significant number of Church of Scotland members had switched membership in the last few months. A spokesman said: “It is never a pleasure to experience growth because of troubled theological waters in the national church, but given the chosen trajectory of the Kirk it is not surprising.”
A Kirk spokesman said fewer than ten of its 1400 congregations across the country were having talks about leaving. “While we would be saddened by the departure of any of our ministers and members, the Church is not in crisis. The present situation is nothing like the historical event in 1843 known as the Disruption, when a third of ministers – nearly 500 – left,” he said.
“However, it is not surprising that a small number of ministers and members reacted immediately to decisions taken at the General Assembly.
“There has always been a variety of views on the matter of same-sex relationships and the ministry and we are aware that some of our ministers and members feel that a compromise is not possible.”