Whitehead Presbyterian Minister to leave over same-sex couples rule

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI

Published
Media caption,
Presbyterian minister: 'I just couldn't live with it'

A Presbyterian minister in County Antrim is to step down over the church's decision to deny same-sex couples full membership.

Rev Ian Carton, of Whitehead Presbyterian, is thought to be the first minister to leave over the move.

Rev Carton said it was "excluding people we'd like to welcome".

In an address to his congregation on Sunday, he said: "The decisions taken by our denomination mean that they can never belong."

At their general assembly in Belfast in 2018, the PCI adopted a new policy denying full membership to anyone in a same-sex relationship.

It also meant their children could no longer be baptised.

The PCI also decided to cut its ceremonial ties to the Church of Scotland due to its more liberal attitude to same-sex relationships.

Image source, Google
Image caption,
Rev Carton has been the minister at Whitehead Presbyterian for more than a decade

Rev Carton has been the minister at Whitehead Presbyterian for about 14 years.

He told his congregation he had asked to be released from his ministry as he was "far from comfortable with the current direction that the Presbyterian Church seems to be going in".

He said he and his wife had found the church's position "painful and hard".

"To our mind, it seems to be excluding people we'd like to welcome," he said.

"I am informing you that I intend to ask the Presbytery of Carrickfergus to release me from my charge as minister of Whitehead on the 30 September this year.

"I wanted you to hear from me first and not after I have made the request.

"I just have found it incredibly difficult."

Image source, Getty Images/Lisafx
Image caption,
Religious same-sex wedding ceremonies in NI were given the go-ahead by Westminster in 2020

Rev Carton said his wife, June, decided in October that she did not "feel comfortable" coming to a Presbyterian church any more.

"She felt if it was a church that was saying to anybody that you're not welcome, that you're not invited on the basis of gender, on the basis of your sexual orientation, that wasn't a place that she could be," he said.

"I've tried to keep going. But it's become a bit like trying to ride two horses at the same time that are going in two different directions."

In an often emotional address, Rev Carton said he had prayed and read, and studied the stories of Moses, Joshua, Jeremiah and David from the Old Testament.

"It's a call to leave the church of my birth, the church that I've grown up in," he said.

"What I hear is God calling me, calling me to those who certainly feel cast out, who feel rejected, who feel unloved.

"The decisions taken by our denomination mean that they can never belong."

'Privilege of my life'

He said God was telling him to be strong and courageous but he and his family had "no idea what our next steps are going to be".

He said being minister of Whitehead had been "the great privilege of my life".

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland said it was aware Rev Carton had indicated he would be seeking to leave his role.

"When that point comes, we would want to wish Ian well for the future and thank him for the service he has given, particularly to our congregation in Whitehead over these past years," a spokesperson said.

In 2019, following the decision taken by the general assembly in Belfast, the PCI dismissed an elder at Christ Church Sandymount for being in a same-sex marriage.