Members of a historic church in Glasgow, Scotland, met for the last time in their centuries-old sanctuary on Sunday. The congregation of St. George’s Tron voted earlier this year to split from the Church of Scotland because of its increasingly liberal stance—including its acceptance of gay clergy.
Pastor Willie Philip preached from the pulpit once occupied by Sinclair Ferguson to about 500 worshipers, some who had spent their whole lives attending services in the building. He spoke about standing firm during trials and the cost of discipleship.
“The real temple of the Lord is where He himself dwells,” Philip said. “And He dwells not among dead and empty edifice but in the midst of the living stones, His own people, whom He loves and has promised never to leave nor forsake.”
Many of the congregants are upset with the church’s negotiations with the Church of Scotland—also known as the Kirk—since the vote to split. Even though St. George’s Tron congregants donated more than $4 million to the renovate the 200-year-old church, the Kirk insisted it has no right to the building, the minister’s house, or its contents.
“Some of our older people have been here all their life, and some of them in the past five years have given all their life savings into refurbishing this building,” Philip told The Scotsman.
“You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel angry, and it would be very, very easy to become bitter. But we don’t want to become bitter people. We want to focus on the future, draw a line under things and put the past behind us.”
Last week, the Kirk sent officers into the church during a prayer meeting and served interim interdicts forbidding the congregation to remove any of the fixtures or fittings in the church and claiming the items already taken
The Kirk also claims the congregation owes more than $1.5 million in unpaid contributions and loans. It claims the congregation has not cooperated in allowing officials to carry out an inventory or in handing over congregational records.
The church’s troubles began in June when it left the Church of Scotland because “the General Assembly failed to reverse the stance taken in 2009 approving the appointment of ordained ministers in same-sex relationships. Instead, it clearly and deliberately chose to set an opposite trajectory towards normalizing such relationships,” Philip said in a statement.
He also took issue with the fact that the General Assembly refused to affirm churches should be marked out for the unique and exclusive worship of Jesus Christ.
While the Kirk was once dominant in Scottish life, now less than 10 percent of the population claim membership or attend worship regularly. Membership has dropped by a half since the 1960s.
Congregations in the United States also have been kicked out of churches for breaking with their denominations. More than 100 churches have left the liberal Episcopal Church and many are losing their property as well, including historic The Falls Church in Virginia.
St. George’s Tron will meet at a rented hall near the old church, starting next week. At the last service in the building, the congregation sang the hymns “In the Hour of Trial,” “A Safe Stronghold our God Is Still,” and “The Son of God Rides Out to War.” Afterward the members took a group photo outside the building.
“My whole family are here, daughters and grandchildren, so it’s been an emotional time for us,” Norrie Miller, 76, told The Scotsman. Miller has attended the church for 57 years.
“I’ve been a life time in the Church of Scotland, and we’re really appalled at their aggressive tactics," she said. "But we move on with great anticipation for new beginnings and a great sense of unity, young and old, and 99 percent support.”