THE Church of Scotland now looks certain to approve the ordination of gay ministers after the proposal cleared its biggest hurdle.
A majority of the Kirk’s 45 presbyteries has voted in favour of allowing congregations to choose a minister who is in a civil partnership if they want to. The proposal was backed by 28 presbyteries, with 11 so far against and six yet to decide.
The General Assembly earlier this year voted in favour of the change of policy, while also reaffirming the church’s traditional teaching on marriage.
But it was seeking endorsement at local level which was the toughest test. Having secured majority backing from presbyteries, the proposal will now go to next year’s Assembly for final approval.
The issue has been a long-running controversy inside the Kirk, with tensions running high and speculation that allowing gay ministers could lead to a split.
The compromise of reaffirming the church’s traditional teaching while allowing individual congregations to “opt out” and choose a gay minister was an attempt to keep the two sides together.
A majority of members at three Edinburgh churches – Holyrood Abbey, New Restalrig and St Catherine’s Argyle – have quit the Kirk over the issue. But the Rev Dr George Whyte, acting principal clerk to the Assembly, said the numbers leaving was “a trickle, not a flood”.
It is understood that 18 out of 795 ministers have chosen to leave the church.
“I don’t foresee any great schism,” said Dr Whyte.
“Some ministers have left as a result of the issue; for some the discussion itself was too far. It is clear to all that civil law and public opinion is changing much quicker than the church.
“Many ministers already allow and conduct the blessing of civil partnerships and people who have decided to commit to one another.
“However, this is not happening in a more, let’s say Hebridean setting, but each time we have voted, the gap has grown wider in favour of the proposal.”
The controversy over gay ministers dates back to the decision of the General Assembly to uphold the appointment of the openly gay Rev Scott Rennie to Aberdeen’s Queen’s Cross Church in 2009.
The debate, however, has only ever referred to ministers in civil partnership.
The question of gay marriage has not been aired at the Assembly.
The Kirk’s announcement that a majority of presbyteries had voted in favour of allowing gay ministers came on the first day it became legal for same-sex Scots couples to convert civil partnerships into marriages.
The Rev Bob Brown, of gay rights Christian group Affirmation Scotland, said: “We are very optimistic in relation to the General Assembly vote. From our point of view, this is just a stage in the road which will eventually lead to the church’s acceptance of same-sex marriage.”