THE Church of Scotland is being urged to think again about plans to force a merger between two city congregations amid warnings that most members will vote with their feet and refuse to take part in the union.
Lawrence Marshall, joint session clerk at London Road Church, predicted very few of his fellow members would move along the road to Holyrood Abbey Church, where the two congregations are due to unite to become Meadowbank Parish Church from February 1.
Holyrood Abbey lost all but a fraction of its members when minister the Rev Phil Hair quit the Kirk in protest at gay ministers and took 90 per cent of the congregation with him to form an independent church.
But it is the nearby London Road congregation – which backed recognition of gay ministers – which is being required to give up its building as part of the merger.
In a letter to the Evening News today, Mr Marshall says even at this late stage, the Church of Scotland’s Edinburgh presbytery should suspend its “disastrous” plan.
He argues the Kirk has acted “ungraciously” in refusing to sell or lease the Holyrood Abbey building to those who had paid for it to be refurbished about ten years ago.
He said: “London Road members have no wish to move into premises whose original congregation has effectively found itself expelled from its home of many, many years.”
And he claims the London Road building, at the top of Easter Road, is in any case better located to serve the densely populated tenemented area.
Mr Marshall says only three of the 30 office-bearers at London Road are likely to move.
He said: “So, whereas at the moment we can count on an attendance of around 60-80 on Sunday mornings (with around 120 at our recent evening carol concert) we anticipate that the new merged congregation will number not much more than a dozen. It is unlikely to succeed – and as collateral damage, the London Road church family will have been eliminated.”
Urging a last-minute U-turn he says: “When the iceberg ahead is clearly in view, the moral imperative of those on the bridge is to change course.”
He told the News most members did not know what they would do once London Road shut. “A lot of people are scunnered with the Church of Scotland. Some will go elsewhere, but I suspect many will drift away from the church.”
He said London Road was well used by many community groups.
London Road is also one of the church halls across the city used as a shelter for homeless people in the winter, sleeping up to 60. Mr Marshall said: “Last year they were having to turn people away. There’s no way Holyrood Abbey with its smaller hall could accommodate that number.”
The Rev Dr George Whyte, clerk to Edinburgh presbytery, has said London Road is a very large building, able to seat perhaps 1000 people, while Holyrood Abbey is about 500 yards away and has flexible seating. He said it seemed “a good use of resources” to unite the two congregations there.
Letters – Page 18