The Church of Scotland has been criticised for refusing to let an unmarried minister who is believed to be living with his partner take up a post in Fife.
Congregations in Freuchie and Falkand had been looking forward to welcoming former NHS hospital chaplain Rev Sandy Young as their new minister at the beginning of the month.
It is understood he was prevented from taking up the post because of church rules requiring ministers who are living with a partner to be married or in a civil partnership.
But Mr Young stepped down at the last minute, citing personal reasons.
One parishioner, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “The Church of Scotland have to get a grip.
“We’re not living in the 19th century anymore.
“The joint kirk session unanimously voted to approve the appointment of the new minister.
“It’s appalling that Church of Scotland rules are so old fashioned that he now feels he can’t take up the role and live with his partner without being married.
“We have gay ministers, why can we have unmarried ministers living with their partners?”
Another church member said: “In this day and age it seems ridiculous.
“These days most people live together before they are married. The Church of Scotland must update its rules.”
In a newsletter to parishioners, Freuchie and Falkland interim moderator David Murdoch said: “During my sermon I spoke of the great sense of anticipation which we all had as we looked forward to a new ministry beginning in Falkland and Freuchie and I urged the congregations that day to look to the future in faith, to move forward with hope and to support and love their new minister and their fellow members in the linked charges.
“Sadly that latter point was rendered impossible after I received an email from Rev Sandy Young while in Tenerife withdrawing his acceptance of our call for personal reasons.
“How saddened I was and I know that those of you who heard him preach as sole nominee will feel the same.”
Mr Murdoch, who has been in post for three years, has since stood down.
It was recently decided in Freuchie and Falkland that interim moderators should serve for shorter periods because of the workload involved.
Rev Young who was formerly lead chaplain at the Lothian University Hospitals NHS Trust has been unable to be contacted for a comment.
St Andrews Presbytery would not comment on Mr Young’s reasons for withdrawing his application.
A Church of Scotland spokesperson said: “There was an applicant for this part-time position who during the process decided to withdraw. The congregation wishes the person well.”
Clarifying the church’s stance on unmarried ministers, the spokesperson added: “The Church of Scotland requires its parish ministers to adhere to church common law, tradition and practice.
“A parish minister who plans to live with a partner should either be married, or in the case of same-sex relationships in a civil partnership.
“Under church common law, unmarried parish ministers are expected to remain celibate unless and until the relationship is regularised.”