Ex-Moderator's pain as Presbyterians cut ties with Church of Scotland - It's 'enough to make you cry'
A former leader of Ireland's Presbyterians has said that a decision by its General Assembly to loosen links with the Church of Scotland was "enough to make you cry".
The Church is distancing itself from its Scottish counterpart because of its more liberal attitude to same-sex partnerships.
In the wake of Wednesday's decisive vote of 255-171 to stop inviting Scottish Moderators to the Irish General Assembly in Belfast, the Rt Revd Dr John Dunlop said it was "utterly sad to see the severing of relations at that level".
The General Assembly also decided not to send the Irish Moderator to Scottish assemblies.
"The New Testament is full of messages of greetings between Churches and individuals, so we should follow the example of the New Testament," said Dr Dunlop.
"It is enough to make you cry."
Some time ago the Scots agreed that a partner in a same-sex relationship could serve as a minister or deacon in a Scottish church with the approval of the local congregation.
Meanwhile, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long weighed into the debate with a comment on Facebook to a retired Anglican cleric.
Rev Elizabeth Hanna had asked: "How can open-minded Presbyterians remain within this very narrow and bigoted Church?"
Mrs Long replied: "I guess, in part, because for most of us our experience of 'church' is our own congregation, many of which are warm and welcoming, full of love and respect.
"And also we don't want to be guilty of the same lack of grace and self-righteous exclusivism by severing those relationships over differences of opinion." Last night Rev Hanna told the Belfast Telegraph: "I was brought up in the Presbyterian Church from birth, but left for a more liturgically-structured form of worship in the Church of Ireland, and was subsequently ordained priest.
"There is heartbreaking sadness that it appears that Christian folk cannot be accepting of, and gracious towards, one another while disagreeing on certain issues.
"The hypocrisy of asking politicians to set aside differences rings out clearly from this year's decision regarding the Church of Scotland."
Colin Flinn, a retired solicitor, posted: "Last year some senior clergy in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) said that it looked closer to the Free Church than to the Church of Scotland.
"The trajectory is in the direction of officially inviting the Moderator of the Free Church to the General Assembly, not next year maybe, but that's a strong possibility within a few years."
The Irish Presbyterian Church also voted not to send its Moderator to the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church in England, or to invite its Moderator to come to the Irish General Assembly next year.
Speaking after the vote, the Presbyterian clerk of the General Assembly Rev Trevor Gribben said: "For many on both sides of our debate, this will be a sad day.
"The decision was taken by a clear majority after a full and respectful debate, but it is also fair to say that a significant number of ministers and elders felt that the formal issuing and receiving of invitations should continue, and no doubt that they will be greatly disappointed by the decision taken by the General Assembly."
After the vote, 82 delegates who had voted to retain the links formally recorded their dissent at the outcome.