Presbyterian Moderator to snub General Assembly over same-sex relationships split
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has decided for the second year running not to send its Moderator to the General Assembly in Edinburgh next year because of the Scots' more liberal views on same-sex relationships.
In an extremely close vote at the end of this year's General Assembly in Belfast yesterday, the Irish Presbyterians decided by 83 votes to 78 not to send the Rt Rev Dr Frank Sellar to Edinburgh next year.
This follows a vote last year not to send the outgoing Moderator, the Very Rev Dr Ian McNie, to Edinburgh either. This is because the Scottish Assembly Church voted last year to allow its clerics in same-sex relationships to serve as ministers and deacons. In a statement following yesterday's vote in Belfast a spokesman for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said: "This vote shows the great sense of disappointment and real concern felt by the majority of members of the Irish General Assembly at decisions taken by their Scottish counterparts over the last two years.
"It should be noted that the General Assembly earlier this week decided that the natural ongoing contacts and collaboration between the councils, convenors and staff of the two churches be maintained where appropriate."
While the ban on the Moderator going to Edinburgh is seen as largely symbolic, there was a sombre air hanging over yesterday's debate, which was the last during the five-day Assembly.
The attendance was sparse at the end of a long week and only 161 votes were cast out of a total of nearly 1,000 delegates who were entitled to attend. It is felt that yesterday's voting reflected the deep split within the Presbyterian Church on the issue.
Senior figures from both sides of the argument spoke in the debate. Former Moderator, the Very Rev Dr John Lockington, said: "It breaks my heart to vote against our Moderator going to Edinburgh next year because I wish circumstances were different.
"However, one of the most symbolic things that we can do is to say to the Church of Scotland 'We don't think that you are on the right track'. This is the only way that we have to try to make the Church of Scotland see sense."
Another former Moderator, the Very Rev Dr Roy Patton, took the opposite view. He said: "I have a great deal of pain that we find ourselves in this situation.
"However, the correct response is not to walk away from the Church of Scotland. We need to engage with them and to talk with them. We would like to see things move in a totally different direction."