Talks to avert gay minister breakaways

The Rev Philip Hair. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
The Rev Philip Hair. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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CRISIS talks were under way today in a bid to persuade two Edinburgh congregations not to leave the Church of Scotland over its move to accept gay ministers.

Statements have been read at both Holyrood Abbey Church in Meadowbank and St Catherine’s Argyle Church in the Grange announcing that they have begun the process of quitting the Kirk over the issue.

Holyrood Abbey Church. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Holyrood Abbey Church. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Both congregations are seen as well-off and able to fund themselves if they go ahead with the split.

But the Rev Dr George Whyte, clerk to the Church of Scotland’s Edinburgh presbytery, said he would be having discussions to point out the General Assembly vote last month in favour of allowing gay ordination was not final and any change in Kirk law would include a conscience clause.

The Rev Philip Hair, minister at Holyrood Abbey Church, London Road, told his congregation on Sunday that the elders had unanimously agreed “with great sadness and sorrow” to begin the process of leaving the Church of Scotland following the General Assembly’s decision on same-sex relationships and the ministry.

Today he said it would be unfair to comment further before a meeting of the congregation in a couple of weeks. But he said: “We are just beginning what will probably be quite a lengthy process.”

A statement read at St Catherine’s Argyle said the decision to allow gay ministers was “a clear rejection of the Gospel” and added: “It is with great sadness, therefore, that our minister and Kirk Session have come to the decision that we now need to begin to consider how we might leave the Church of Scotland.”

Dr Whyte said he was talking to Mr Hair today and would be speaking to the Rev Dr Robin Sydserff, minister of St Catherine’s Argyle, in the near future.

He said: “I still hope in some way they would find a way to stay. We are two years away from any final decision. But clearly if their minds are made up, in a voluntary organisation you can’t stop people leaving.

“Congregations cannot leave as a group. They can only leave one by one and re-form themselves or go to another denomination.”

Last month’s Assembly reached a compromise decision to affirm the Kirk’s traditional stance – that all sex outside marriage is wrong – but to allow individual congregations to choose gay ministers, provided they are either celibate or in a civil partnership.

Kirk leaders had hoped the compromise would stop any more churches or ministers leaving.

The latest presbytery report on St Catherine’s Argyle, in 2010, described it as “a resource-rich congregation, with lots of leaders and gifted people”. It said numbers were increasing and the building was becoming too small for the Sunday morning service.

A report the same year described Holyrood Abbey Church as “fairly self-sufficient in terms of resources” and added: “The congregation has no money issues.”