Presbyterian leaders vote to maintain split with Scotland
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) has voted overwhelming not to revisit its controversial decision from last year to end high-profile exchange visits with its Scottish 'mother' church.
In 2018, the General Assembly in Belfast decided that the tradition of the Irish Moderator visiting the Church of Scotland's General Assembly, and vice versa, would stop.
This was because of the Scots' more liberal stance on same-sex issues.
After a short debate yesterday, the Irish General Assembly decided by 353 votes to 187 not to accept a request from the South Belfast Presbytery to rescind last year's decision, and to allow a full debate next year in the hope that such visits would be resumed from 2021.
Former Moderator Rev Dr John Dunlop said afterwards: "It is disappointing in a world which is fractured with division, suffering and hurt that the PCI has not taken the opportunity to take a step to heal our relationships with the Scots and become a sign of the generosity that lies at the heart of the love of God which has touched our world in the love of Jesus."
A spokesperson in Edinburgh said that the Scottish Church noted "with regret" yesterday's decision in Belfast, "but continued to value the informal contact we have and appreciate the work we can do together".
Senior Scottish Church figures, including last year's Moderator, Rev Susan Brown, were not available for comment.
She walked out of the General Assembly in Belfast, reportedly in tears, after last year's vote.
Yesterday, Rev Morris Gault, clerk of the South Belfast Presbytery, said that he had watched her leaving "obviously heartbroken".
He added that the decision taken last year meant that "part of our family was no longer welcome in our house". He said: "We have been encouraging the political parties in Northern Ireland to talk and to work together in the Assembly even though they disagree profoundly on important issues.
"Have we not lost the moral high ground with our own attitude and actions towards the Church of Scotland?"
Cecil Graham from the South Belfast Presbytery said that the Scots must have seen this decision "as a red card - but we must not forget that it is God who is the judge of all our actions".
However, Rev Jonathan Boyd of Hydepark and Lylehill said: "I don't see how it does our denomination any good to keep revisiting an idea that has been so clearly been rejected on four successive votes.
"Surely not even Theresa May would go so far as to put the same issue to the fifth vote?"
Presbyterian Clerk Rev Trevor Gribben said that some people in the Church were disappointed but that democracy was "one of the strengths and hallmarks" of Presbyterianism.
Even though moderatorial visits will not take place, there is ongoing co-operation between the two Churches on issues of general interest.