New bid to stop Church of Scotland gay ministers

Prince Edward, Lord High Commissioner to the Assembly, arrives at Holyrood. Picture: Esme Allen
Prince Edward, Lord High Commissioner to the Assembly, arrives at Holyrood. Picture: Esme Allen
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A CITY minister is to launch a fresh bid to block the acceptance of gay ministers in the Church of Scotland.

The Kirk’s General Assembly is due to debate the issue again next week to take forward the compromise agreed last year, which reaffirmed traditional teaching but allowed individual congregations to opt out.

However, a motion from the Rev Jeremy Middleton of Davidson’s Mains Parish Church could put the discussion back to square one.

He will ask the Assembly to declare that heterosexual marriage is the only acceptable context for sex and that all church policy must reflect that view.

The row over gay ministers is expected to dominate the week-long gathering on The Mound, which opened today with the installation of new Moderator, the Rev John Chalmers, above, former minister of Palmerston Place Church in Edinburgh.

The Assembly is being asked to approve detailed proposals to implement the compromise on gay ministers agreed last year.

These lay down that the decision on whether an individual congregation was open to having a gay minister would only be taken when a vacancy arose.

And the Kirk session, the congregation’s governing body, would be required to hold two separate votes by secret ballot before a decision to “depart from” the traditional stance could take effect.

If the proposals are approved on Tuesday, they would still have to go down to presbyteries for grassroots endorsement and then face a final vote at next year’s Assembly.

But Mr Middleton’s motion would reverse the move and ban gay ministers in any circumstances.

The issue has been high on the Kirk’s agenda for the past five years amid predictions of a dramatic split.

But senior figures take comfort from the fact that relatively few ministers and congregations have quit.

One insider said: “This is not an issue for most congregations. In the past year we have had five ministers leave, giving this as the reason. Overall we have lost 13 ministers since 2009. That’s less than two per cent of our ministers.”

In Edinburgh, the Rev David Court resigned as minister of New Restalrig Church, in 
Willowbrae Road, in October and a majority of the congregation left too.

St Catherine’s Argyle in the Grange has also quit the Church of Scotland, along with minister the Rev Robin Sydserff.

And Holyrood Abbey Church in London Road has declared its intention to leave, but has not yet formally made the break.

Kirk sources predicted that the Assembly would decide to press ahead with the compromise scheme.

One said: “There is a feeling this has all gone on long enough and the compromise is something people on both sides can live with.

“The evangelicals don’t have to have a gay minister, but liberal congregations are free to make that choice.”

Tomorrow, around 5000 church people from all over Scotland are expected to attend an event in Princes Street Gardens. Heart and Soul 2014 will feature singing, stalls and children’s activities, culminating in an open-air service.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com