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Presbyterians in Scottish gay ministers boycott

By Alf McCreary

Published 11/06/2015

The Scottish Presbyterian Assembly voted to allow gay people to serve as ministers
The Scottish Presbyterian Assembly voted to allow gay people to serve as ministers
Rev Gribben says boycott of Scottish Assembly will apply for a year

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has delivered a resounding snub to its Scottish brethren by boycotting their Assembly in protest over a controversial gay clergy vote.

The Scottish Church voted last month to allow people in same-sex civil partnerships to serve as ministers and deacons, a move that angered many leaders of Presbyterianism here.

And now, in an unprecedented sign of the split between the regions, the Irish General Assembly has voted not to send a representative to the Scottish Assembly next year, thus breaking a long-standing tradition between the two sister Churches.

The Scottish Church historically has close links with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, which has some 230,000 members.

Last month Church leaders here said their Scottish counterparts had "moved away from the historic and biblical position".

The vote to boycott the Scottish Assembly, which is bound to further sour relations, was passed by 99 votes to 84.

Before the vote was taken the clerk of the General Assembly, the Reverend Trevor Gribben, said it would apply for one year and would not affect any invitation to the Church of Scotland to send a representative to the General Assembly in Belfast next year.

But a spokesman for the Irish Presbyterian Church told the Belfast Telegraph: "While we have not taken a formal stance on the Scottish vote, as we said at the time, many would have felt a sense of sorrow and deep regret at the Church of Scotland's decision to allow the ordination of ministers who are in a same-sex marriage.

"In a heartfelt and finely balanced debate at the General Assembly last week, members judged that they would express this deep regret by taking a symbolic step not to appoint representatives on this occasion to go to Edinburgh in 2016."

The decision by the General Assembly to boycott next year's meeting in Edinburgh is at odds with the plea by the incoming Irish Moderator, the Rt Reverend Dr McNie, who appealed in his opening address for greater toleration by society of the Church's views."

He added: "Toleration is a two-way street."

The position taken by the Church of Scotland means it maintains a traditional view of marriage between a man and woman, but allows individual congregations to "opt out" if they wish to appoint a minister or a deacon in a same-sex civil partnership.

Meanwhile, the Belfast Telegraph understands that the Armagh Presbytery is setting up a special commission to consider the views of the Portadown minister the Reverend Christina Bradley, who publicly expressed support for same-sex marriage at the time of the Irish referendum.

This is thought to be because the Presbyterian Church teaching opposes same-sex marriage.

A spokesman for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday: "Ultimately, a minister or an elder is answerable to their Presbytery for matters of life and doctrine.

"This is an internal matter for the Church, and the Armagh Presbytery has indicated it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time."

The vote in the Irish referendum was overwhelmingly in favour of gay marriage and resulted in calls for a change to the law in Northern Ireland, with several high-profile peeople joining the campaign.

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