Hundreds of worshippers from one of the Church of Scotland’s biggest congregations have left the Kirk en masse to join the Free Church.
The 250-strong group from Stornoway High, including the entire Kirk Session, left the Church of Scotland. Stornoway High was previously the Kirk’s biggest congregation on the Western Isles.
The development comes at the beginning of the Free Church General Assembly in Edinburgh, which starts today (Monday 19 May).
Former Stornoway High Session Clerk Christopher Martin explained: “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.
“We have felt very encouraged and grateful for the support of the Free Church here in the islands and beyond as well, with that relationship dating back to the time of our previous minister (Rev Willie Black) – there was an attitude that there was nothing we couldn’t do together.
“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.”
Rev Iver Martin, minister of Stornoway Free Church on the Isle of Lewis, commented: “No one is pleased with the current situation in the Scottish churches but I am glad that the High fellowship has joined our denomination.
“I know that the High fellowship is a vibrant and enthusiastic Christian group with a long commitment to the gospel in our island. This is an encouraging development.”
Free Church minister in Inverness and former Moderator Rev David Meredith has been chairing a working group set up to deal with various requests from congregations seeking to join the Free Church.
Mr Meredith 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.
“In particular we are pleased that the move will not mean the presence of yet another Presbyterian denomination in Stornoway.
“Over the last few years the proliferation of denominations in Scotland in general, and Stornoway in particular, has become a source of embarrassment.”
The new Free Church congregation – who are without a minister – are currently worshipping in a local primary school in Stornoway.