By Melissa Clark
A SCOTTISH minister and his wife have been ordered to quit their manse because of a dispute sparked by gay clergy.
The Church of Scotland has started legal proceedings against Rev Dr William Philip to take back St George’s Tron Church in Glasgow and its manse.
Legal proceedings began after the minister and his congregation left the Kirk over its strong views on allowing a homosexual clergy.
The minster’s 500-strong flock, who left the kirk in June with plans to join a more strict denomination, believe that the church buildings belong to them, not the Church of Scotland.
The Glasgow church is the first entire congregation in Scotland to have left the Kirk over gay ordination.
However, the Church of Scotland will go to court to fight for the 17th-century buildings.
Mr Philip, who has been a minister in the Drumbreck area for seven years, lives with his wife in another building which is also involved in this contention.
He explained that the congregation was seeking legal advice but “the minister, elders and members of St George’s Tron Church remain absolutely committed to maintaining our ministry and building Christ’s Kingdom in the city centre of Glasgow.”
Richard Henry, the St George’s Tron session clerk and the treasurer are also involved with the legal action.
Mr Henry wrote a letter to the Glasgow presbytery saying: “Our minister and his wife received a letter at home stating that he and his family now had no right to remain in the manse, even though the manse clearly belongs to the congregation, not the denomination, and Dr Philip remains the minister of the congregation.
“More recently, court proceedings have now also been launched personally against our minister, our treasurer and myself by the new ‘Interim Moderator’ and ‘Kirk Session of St George’s Tron Church of Scotland.’
“The Summons we received claims that the action is raised with ‘the full concurrence of the Presbytery of Glasgow.’
“All of these things have been very stressful, as you can imagine, and also very disappointing since we have sought to make clear at every stage that we hoped our situation could be resolved amicably, away from public dispute in the courts.”
At the next General Assembly, Evangelical congregations are preparing to challenge the Kirk’s stance on gay ordination.
This court battle over St George’s Tron is the first one in response to the stance of the Kirk which allowed Rev Scott Rennie to take up a position in Aberdeen whilst being openly gay.
The Kirk’s General Assembly voted for the acceptance of gay clergy if the minister declared their sexuality and were ordained before 2009.
Next year a new outline of how it will implement this decision on a wider basis will be made.
The Church of Scotland would not comment on the letter.
However, an unnamed source claimed the letter contained “a tacit admission that they haven’t exactly been co-operating fully with the (presbytery) special committee in sharing congregational records.”
The Church earlier explained that St George’s Tron “is seen to have a place within the presbytery plan for Glasgow.”
In a statement it said: “Its evangelical tradition and its buildings are essential and integral to the life of the Church of Scotland in Glasgow, which the Presbytery of Glasgow and others will seek to rebuild.
“Glasgow Presbytery believes that a vibrant congregation can rise again, integrated within the Church of Scotland and ministering to the needs of that part of Glasgow city centre.”
St George’s Tron is one of the most prominent churches in the city and is located just off of Buchanan Street.