HUNDREDS of worshippers from one of the Church of Scotland’s biggest congregations have left the Kirk en masse to join the Free Church.
Around 250 people from Stornoway High Church have moved in protest over differences with the Church of Scotland, particularly the contentious issue of the ordination of gay ministers.
The move comes at the beginning of the Free Church General Assembly which starts today, running alongside the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, both being held in Edinburgh.
The departure of around 80 per cent of the church’s congregation, previously the Kirk’s biggest congregation in the Western Isles, to the Free Church follows others by several congregations and ministers throughout Scotland over the issue sparked by the appointment of openly gay Rev Scott Rennie to an Aberdeen church in 2009.
Most recent Church of Scotland defections include the Rev David Court from New Restalrig Church in Edinburgh and St George’s-Tron Parish Church in Glasgow.
Christopher Martin, former Stornoway High Church session clerk said members of the congregation had grown unhappy about decisions taken by the Church of Scotland. “We have always said we wanted to continue in a Presbyterian setting, and having looked at a number of possibilities it became clear that the most favourable and accommodating was to join the Free Church.
“We have felt very encouraged and grateful for the support of the Free Church here in the islands and beyond as well, with that relationship dating back to the time of our previous minister [Rev Willie Black] – there was an attitude that there was nothing we couldn’t do together.
“Sadly our congregation could simply not identify with the general direction of the Church of Scotland is headed in, and the sensible option was to leave.”
The Rev Iver Martin, minister of Stornoway Free Church on the Isle of Lewis, said he was delighted to welcome the newcomers. “No one is pleased with the current situation in the Scottish churches but I am glad that the High fellowship has joined our denomination.
“But I feel a sadness at the whole situation and that decisions at the General Assembly which ought to bring people together and maintain harmony have had the opposite effect.”
At a Gaelic service yesterday attended by the new Moderator the Rt Rev John Chalmers, in Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, the Rev Roddy MacLeod referred to congregations leaving the Kirk in his sermon.
“It is sad to see divisions in our day in the family of the Church in our own country. Since General Assembly met last year ministers, congregations and individual members have felt they must part company with the Church of Scotland. But this is not a new situation for even in Paul’s time there were divisions in the church in Corinth.”