Belfast Telegraph

Couple resign from Presbyterian Church as same-sex ruling row escalates

By David Young

A high-profile couple have quit the Presbyterian Church after it voted not to accept people in same-sex relationships as full members.

Portstewart's Tony and Lesley Macaulay, whose daughter Beth (24) has been in a relationship with her fiancee for three years, have resigned in the wake of the controversial vote.

Management consultant Mr Macaulay is a well-known writer, peace-builder and contributor to BBC Radio Ulster's Thought For The Day.

His wife Lesley is a consultant and charity fundraiser for Guide Dogs NI who stood for the Ulster Unionist and Conservative Party in the 2010 general election.

The family has been left devastated after the Presbyterian General Assembly last week decided same-sex partners could not receive communion and their children could not be baptised in the Church.

Writing exclusively in today's Belfast Telegraph, Ms Macaulay - who yesterday worshipped at All Souls, a Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church on Belfast's Elmwood Avenue - said: "Like me, Beth grew up in the Presbyterian Church.

"She went to Sunday School, to the Girls' Brigade and to Bible class. As a teenager she professed faith and became a communicant member of the Church.

"I was delighted when, as a young woman, she lived out her faith by volunteering in Church summer schemes, children's clubs, Christian conferences and camps.

"However, as a result of the vote last week she has been excommunicated from her Church because of her God-given sexual orientation.

"I am deeply hurt my daughter has been targeted in this way."

Ms Macaulay, who has worshipped at her local church in Portstewart for more than 15 years, added: "On Friday I wrote to my minister, who is a good man, to resign and explained that I could not remain a member of a Church where I could no longer share communion with my daughter."

Beth, a videographer with a UK-wide client list, said the Church's decision was not just upsetting for her, but also all the other families it will affect.

She said: "I feel sadness that the Presbyterian Church cannot find the strength to accept LGBT+ members of society and allow me to continue going to the church I have attended all my life.

"I believe the Church will lose many members and support through this decision, but we have found happiness in the fact that we can now find a new Church that is willing to accept us and our family with open arms.

"The world is becoming more accepting every day and our rights are slowly changing. On Friday night my best friend texted me words of support, ending the message with the most important thing to remember: 'This decision is not a reflection of God'.

"This vote will not stop me from being who I am, nor will it stop me from having a relationship with God."

The Macaulays' decision comes as former Speaker of the Stormont Assembly Lord Alderdice launched at stinging attack on fundamentalism within the Presbyterian Church here, suggesting that it was on course to become indistinguishable from the Free Presbyterian Church founded by the late Ian Paisley.

In a social media post written in the wake of last week's divisive vote, Lord Alderdice suggested that the Presbyterian Church was no longer the "spiritual heir" of the 16th century Protestant martyrs, and has become more like the people who burned them at the stake.

He saw last week's General Assembly decisions as isolating the Irish Church from the rest of the Presbyterian family.

Lord Alderdice, the son of a Presbyterian clergyman, said his Church "has now effectively indicated its withdrawal, not only from the global family of Reformed Churches, but has even broken its ties with its closest sister churches, the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church representing historic Presbyterianism in the rest of the United Kingdom".

"Arguably it is no longer the Presbyterian Church in Ireland because that name suggests that it is the Irish branch of the global Presbyterian family, and this is no longer the case," he added.

Lord Alderdice suggested the Church was moving closer to Free Presbyterianism.

"In theological terms it will soon be difficult to make any differentiation between the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and Ian Paisley's Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, a measure of the withdrawal into a narrow ground that is far from the courageous, radical commitment to the search for liberty and truth that characterised the Protestant Reformers," he said.

"The Presbyterian Church in Ireland is no longer the spiritual heir of the Protestant Martyrs of the 16th century, and is instead becoming more like a present day representation of those who lit the fires that burnt them."

Last night a Presbyterian spokesman rejected Lord Alderdice's criticisms, describing them as "ungracious, unbecoming and deeply regrettable". "Much of what Lord Alderdice says is inaccurate and on occasions factually incorrect," he said.

"Suffice to say the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has not, 'effectively indicated its withdrawal… from the global family of Reformed Churches'.

"Last year at our General Assembly we decided the opposite, confirming our ongoing membership of World Communion of Reformed Churches, the world Presbyterian body.

"As a Presbyterian, Lord Alderdice should be familiar with the following phrase that is said at all significant services of ordination and installations: 'The Church alone has the right to interpret and explain her standards under the guidance of the Holy Spirit'.

"When the Church meets in General Assembly, as it did last week, it is doing just that - coming to decisions following much prayerful consideration, discussion and open debate.

"It is regrettable on occasions when some who differ with those decisions chose to ridicule not only the decisions but also by implication the integrity of the General Assembly itself."

Elsewhere, Gavin Walker, an Alliance councillor in Bangor, tweeted his disappointment.

"I was baptised Presbyterian and have found love anywhere I have worshipped," he wrote.

  • "I am heartbroken at the Assembly decision on same-sex couples and don't believe it reflects the feeling of members many of whom - like me - are a parent, brother or sister of gay men and women."

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