A KIRK congregation has become the first to split from the Church of Scotland over the issue of gay clergy.
The 500-strong congregation of the iconic St George’s Tron church in Glasgow’s Buchanan Street took the momentous decision following a meeting on Monday night.
In a statement, the church’s minister the Rev Dr William Philip said that the secession was as a result of the Kirk’s move towards allowing gay clergy at the General Assembly in 2011.
He said that in doing so, the Assembly had “marginalised the Bible”.
“We believe the Church of Scotland is choosing to walk away from the biblical gospel, and to walk apart from the faith of the worldwide Christian Church,” he said.
Dr Philip added that the Assembly’s refusal to rule that Kirk properties should only be used for Christian worship had cemented their belief that it had moved away from biblical teaching.
He said: “We are saddened that the Church of Scotland has departed so dramatically and decisively from its moorings in the historic, reformed and biblical faith.”
The minister had been among the most outspoken critics of the decision by last year’s General Assembly to consider the ordination of openly-gay clergy and to allow ministers and deacons in same-sex relationships ordained before 2009 to be inducted into pastoral charges.
He had said at the time that the Assembly had given itself over to “self-destructive folly” and the “inevitably of self-inflicted disaster”.
The controversy, which has created a deep division within the church between traditionalists and reforming liberals, was sparked by the appointment of Scott Rennie, an openly-gay minister in a long-term relationship, to Queen’s Cross church in Aberdeen in 2009.
Despite such harsh criticisms, the church maintained its membership of the Kirk, although it continued to express its disapproval.
Steven Reid, former head of the evangelical Forward Together group, which has campaigned against the Assembly’s 2011 decision, said he had great sympathy for St George’s congregation’s move.
The controversy deepened when the Rev Ian Watson accused Queen’s Cross Church of encouraging “the worship of false idols” by allowing a Hindu group to hold meetings in its church hall.
The congregation of St George’s Tron is expected to align itself with another denomination, possibly the International Presbyterian Church.
For the time being, the church will continue to support Dr Philip financially.
Dr Philip said that above all else, the congregation wanted to continue its work in Glasgow city centre: “To this end, although we are no longer part of the Church of Scotland, the leaders of our congregation remain in positive and constructive engagement with the denomination.”
A Kirk spokesman last night confirmed that they had been informed by the minister and session clerk of Glasgow St George’s Tron that the congregation wished to leave the Church of Scotland “because of the decisions taken by the 2011 General Assembly”.
He added: “The Presbytery of Glasgow and the Church of Scotland general trustees are saddened at the decision of the minister and members of Glasgow St George’s Tron to leave the Church of Scotland. Discussions will take place with representatives of the Tron over the coming weeks to clarify the situation and determine the best way of preserving a Church of Scotland ministry presence in Glasgow.”