Northern Ireland

Presbyterian Church keeps Scottish distance

Presbyterian Assembly Buildings in Belfast
Image caption The Presbyterian Church's annual gathering took place in Belfast on Thursday

Divisions within the Presbyterian Church have resurfaced over its approach to the same-sex marriage debate.

The church's annual gathering took place in Belfast on Wednesday.

Presbyterian ministers from south Belfast failed to persuade the church to rethink its decision to cut ceremonial ties with the Church of Scotland.

The Church of Scotland has a more liberal stance on same-sex marriage.

In May last year, the Scottish Church moved a step closer to allowing ministers to conduct same-sex marriages by tasking a committee with drafting church law on the issue.

Shortly afterwards, at the decision-making General Assembly in Belfast, Presbyterians voted by 255 votes to 171 to no longer invite the head of the Church of Scotland (moderator) to their annual meeting.

Although it was a symbolic move, rather than a formal split between the churches, it was a significant step given their long shared history.

Following that vote, the Church of Scotland's moderator Rev Susan Brown said she was saddened by the vote and added that agreeing on everything was not what Jesus required of Christians.

Image copyright PAul Campbell/Church of Scotland
Image caption Rev Susan Brown said she was saddened by the initial vote in June 2018

On Wednesday, the issue of restoring the Presbyterian Church's ties with the Church of Scotland was brought to another vote at it's annual gathering.

However, 187 voted in favour of considering a rethink, but 353 voted against.

Speaking before the vote, the Rev Ken Newell, a former head of the Presbyterian Church said: "We have wounded a very dear life-long friend (Church of Scotland)."

However, another minister, the Rev Jonathan Boyd, said the church should stick to its original decision and stop debating the same issue year after year.

He compared it to Prime Minister Theresa May repeatedly bringing her Brexit deal back to parliament and hoping for a different result.

If Wednesday's vote had passed, nothing would have changed immediately.

It would simply have meant a full debate on the issue at next year's general assembly.

In spite of the cut to ceremonial ties, the Scottish and Irish churches maintain other links.

The Presbyterian Church is the largest Protestant denomination in Northern Ireland.

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