Church of Scotland minister steps down over gay row

Kirkmuirhill Church. Picture: Johnston Press
Kirkmuirhill Church. Picture: Johnston Press
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THE CHURCH of Scotland has suffered a further blow in the row over openly gay clergy when another parish minister announced he was quitting, along with half the congregation.

The Rev Ian Watson said yesterday he would resign from the Kirkmuirhill parish, near Lanark in South Lanarkshire, at the end of the month.

It is understood to be the seventh such departure since the controversy erupted following the appointment of gay minister the Rev Scott Rennie to an Aberdeen church in 2009.

The Kirkmuirhill decision comes two months after the Rev Watson failed to win sufficient backing in a Lanark Presbytery-organised vote for his 280-member church to quit the Kirk over the issue.

A total of 133 of the congregation will also now leave.

The minister said he and members of the congregation were unhappy with the Kirk over a range of issues, but openly gay ministers had been the “trigger issue” for their departure.

He said the Church of Scotland’s decision to work with the Humanist Society over religious education in schools had “confirmed our unhappiness”.

He has applied to become a minister of the stricter Free Church of Scotland.

The Rev Watson said 133 members of Kirkmuirhill church would be leaving after they voted to leave in the congregation’s own ballot. He said the other 147 members had all voted to stay.

New premises

He said new premises were under negotiation and the new church would be launched next month.

The minister said: “It would be hypocritical of me to preach the Bible week after week if I’m not prepared to live by its teaching, and as a family we have been amazed at the doors that God has opened for us over the last couple of weeks.”

In a statement issued by the Free Church on behalf of the departing congregation said: “As people who believe the teaching of the Bible, it makes absolutely no sense to remain in, and to give significant financial support to, a denomination that has people in its pulpits doubting the most fundamental truths of the Christian faith.

“Last week was a classic example – even the man in the street couldn’t work out why the Church of Scotland would wish to team up with the Humanist Society regarding religious education in schools.

“We have had enough, and there are many more in our position who are deeply concerned at how things are going in the national church.”

In December, the Rev Watson failed to win the required two-thirds majority in a ballot of the congregation over leaving the Kirk. A total of 114 wanted to leave, while 104 were in favour of staying.

Six congregations have since voted to leave the Kirk over the openly gay clergy issue, including in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee.

The Rev Bryan Kerr, depute clerk for the Kirk’s Lanark Presbytery, said: “The Rev Ian Watson indicated several months ago of his desire to join the Free Church of Scotland.

“The majority of members have chosen to remain within the Church of Scotland. They will continue to worship together in the church buildings.

“The Presbytery feels saddened that anyone should feel that they need to leave the Church of Scotland but recognises that for some this time has come.

“With the majority of members choosing to stay within the Church of Scotland, this brings a close to many months of discussion and upset within the congregation of Kirkmuirhill Parish Church.”