Highlands & Islands

Stornoway group of 250 quits the Church of Scotland

A group of 250 worshippers has left what was the Church of Scotland's biggest congregation on the Western Isles to join the Free Church.

Stornoway High consulted on a split after the General Assembly voted last May for a proposal that would allow gay men and women to become ministers.

The issue has caused divisions in some congregations, with opponents arguing that it goes against the word of God.

About 100 people will continue to worship at Stornoway High on Lewis.

The group of 250 includes the entire kirk session.

The new Free Church congregation - who are without a minister - is worshipping in a primary school in Stornoway.

Former Stornoway High session clerk Christopher Martin said: "We have always said we wanted to continue in a Presbyterian setting, and having looked at a number of possibilities it became clear that the most favourable and accommodating was to join the Free Church."

He added: "Sadly our congregation could simply not identify with the general direction of the Church of Scotland is headed in, and the sensible option was to leave."

'Sense of peace'

Reverend David Meredith, a Free Church minister in Inverness and a former moderator, has been leading a working group set up to handle requests from congregations seeking to join the Free Church.

He said: "The High fellowship is well known as a lively and forward looking group and we are delighted to welcome them into the denomination.

"We are conscious that the process of disengagement from the Church of Scotland has been a painful experience for them but we hope we can offer a home which presents a Biblical vision for contemporary Scotland."

The Church of Scotland said it was "saddened" by the group's decision to leave the Kirk.

John Cunningham, interim session clerk at Stornoway High Church of Scotland and also Moderator of Presbytery of Lewis, said: "We still regard them as our brothers and sisters in Christ and wish them well in the path they have chosen.

"Almost 100 will continue to worship in Stornoway High Church where services have been held since 1909. There is a sense of peace among those who remain."

The Very Reverend David Arnott who is acting coordinator of the office of principal clerk in the Church of Scotland, added: "There is a sadness that these members have left but we are happy that they have found another home."

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