Ex-Alliance chief David Ford grateful for support in wake of removal as Second Donegore Presbyterian Church elder
MLA speaks of upset for him and family
Former Alliance leader David Ford has thanked those who offered their support to him in the wake of his removal as an elder at Second Donegore Presbyterian Church
Mr Ford was removed as an elder at the church near Templepatrick because of his party's support for same-sex marriage.
However, he remains an ordained elder of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
Following an appeal process, the decision to remove the South Antrim MLA was upheld, something Mr Ford described as a "matter of great sadness".
The decision sparked much discussion.
On Thursday morning David Ford repeated the "upset" caused for him and his family and also thanked all who had offered their support, expressing how grateful he was that they had not been hostile toward the church.
He said there were too many to contact personally.
On Facebook, he said: "Some are political colleagues, personal friends or fellow Presbyterians but many are not.
"I am also grateful that few have engaged in hostility towards the body that has upset me and - far more importantly - my family, who have had a difficult time. I am so proud of and grateful to Anne, Janet, Ruth, Martin and Helen."
He continued: "There are difficult moral issues that this society has not had to deal with over many years. As people from all sections of the community (including public representatives) grapple with them, I hope we can do so in an atmosphere of respect and tolerance of different opinions.
"For those of you of faith, this is an issue that deserves your prayers.
"I will not be making any public response to the official statement from Presbyterian Church House, but I stand over the statement that I issued on Sunday and Monday.
"I will never be able to thank all those who deserve my thanks individually, but your support is appreciated."
A spokeswoman for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said that while Mr Ford had been removed from his role as a ruling elder in Second Donegore, he remained an ordained elder of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland "without charge in good standing."
Showing support to Mr Ford, acting Alliance party leader Naomi Long called it a "sad day for the church".
She said: "As a fellow Presbyterian and someone who believes passionately in freedom of and freedom from religion, who supports the separation of church and state, and who supports equal civil marriage because of my faith, not in spite of it, this is a very sad day for the church and a very painful day for many of us who support David Ford's position.
"His faith is clear to anyone who knows him, a man of principle who respects those who hold different views: that others cannot be so gracious or show humility in disagreement is regrettable to say the least.
"By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another,' John 13:35."
Thanks to those who are far too many to contact personally. pic.twitter.com/DUAYtMYJ02— DavidFord4SAntrim (@DavidFordMLA) October 20, 2016