Gay ministers row: Breakaways put Kirk in turmoil

Breakaway members of the New Restalrig Parish Church have held their first service. Picture: Greg Macvean
Breakaway members of the New Restalrig Parish Church have held their first service. Picture: Greg Macvean
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THE row over gay ministers in the Church of Scotland has plunged the future of the Kirk in one part of the Capital into turmoil. Breakaway members of New Restalrig Parish Church in Willowbrae Road held their first service yesterday in a ­mission hall in Craigentinny, led by their minister the Rev David Court.

Around 90 of the congregation are said to have quit the Kirk, along with Mr Court, over the vote by the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly earlier this year in favour of allowing gay ministers.

New Restalrig is the first Edinburgh congregation to split over the issue.

But nearby Holyrood Abbey Parish Church, in London Road, is expected to be the next to go. The congregation has already declared its intention to leave and it is expected most members would quit the Kirk, along with minister the Rev Philip Hare.

It means two neighbouring parishes will have seen the majority of their Church of Scotland worshippers walk away from the Kirk.

And the future of the church buildings is uncertain.

While the breakaway group from New Restalrig has use of the Craigentinny mission hall, the members who quit Holyrood Abbey may bid to rent the current church building so they could carry on using it – though the Church of Scotland may decide it wants to continue holding services there despite the departure of most of the congregation.

The Rev Dr George Whyte, clerk of the Kirk’s Edinburgh presbytery, conducted yesterday’s service at New Restalrig for those staying with the Church of Scotland.

And the Rev Peter Nelson has been appointed locum ­minister to take services and look after the parish until its future is decided.

Dr Whyte said the split had been “amicable” and the breakaway group had made no claim on the building.

He said: “The congregation that are staying said they had no animosity towards the ­people leaving, but they are sorry to be losing contact with their friends through the church.”

Mr Court has now joined the Free Church of Scotland, though he is expected to remain in the New Restalrig manse for a few months. He said: “I am excited to be ­joining the Free Church of Scotland, a denomination that is known to honour the ­Scriptures and to have a passion for the work of the gospel here in Scotland.”

It is understood the breakaway congregation from New Restalrig is operating as an offshoot of St Columba’s Free Church in Johnston Terrace.