A LANDMARK city church is to close next year in a merger with a nearby congregation which lost most of its members over the Church of Scotland’s acceptance of gay ministers.
London Road Church at the top of Easter Road will unite with Holyrood Abbey Church on February 1 to form a new congregation to be known as Meadowbank Parish Church.
But the merger comes only after determined resistance from members at London Road who took their case to the highest level in the Kirk but lost their appeal.
Holyrood Abbey lost 90 per cent of its membership when minister the Rev Phil Hair quit the Church of Scotland over its recognition of gay ministers and took most of the congregation with him.
Mr Hair now leads an independent congregation, Holyrood Evangelical Church, which recently bought the Calton Centre in Montgomery Street as its new base.
But despite the exodus from Holyrood Abbey, it is the London Road church which will now have to give up its building as part of the merger and move to the other congregation’s premises.
The office-bearers at London Road opposed the union by 16-4 and appealed against it to the Kirk’s council of assembly.
Even after the appeal was rejected, the members still voted 56-14 against the merger, but the plan to unite the two churches was approved by the Kirk’s Edinburgh presbytery.
Presbytery clerk the Rev Dr George Whyte said: “London Road is a very large building, which could seat perhaps 1000 people, and you might have about 60 people on a Sunday.
“The Holyrood Abbey building was refurbished ten years ago, it’s about 500 yards away, and has flexible seating. It seems a good use of resources.”
The church and halls at London Road are to be sold – with interest expected from housing developers – and a “transition” minister will be appointed to serve the merged congregation for up to five years.
London Road session clerk Janet McKenzie said: “It’s quite an emotional time.
“It’s clear the church cannot sustain all the ministries it currently has, and we just have to accept the fact there will be unions and mergers.”
It follows a similar merger between two other churches, also sparked by a walkout in protest at gay ministers.
The Rev David Court quit as minister of New Restalrig Church in Willowbrae Road in 2013, in protest at the Kirk’s acceptance of gay ministers, and joined the Free Church of Scotland. He took more than half the congregation with him to form Christ Church in Britwell Crescent, Craigentinny.
The remainder of the New Restalrig congregation merged with St Christopher’s in Craigentinny in September to become Willowbrae Parish Church, based in the New Restalrig building.