Presbyterian Church in Ireland loosens ties with the URC

PIC Assembly Hall credit Google mapsThe Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly, has expressed sadness after the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) voted to loosen its ties with the United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland.

On Wednesday 6 June, during its meeting in Belfast, the PCI General Assembly voted 255 to 171 to accept the recommendation of the doctrine committee’s ‘Relationships with other denominations’ task group which was to ‘… no longer accept invitations to the Moderator of the General Assembly, or any other formal delegation, to attend the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church and no longer issue invitations to those two denominations to attend the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’.

During the week the PCI also adopted a new policy that means anyone in a same-sex relationship cannot become a full member of its denomination and their children cannot be baptised.

The Revd Kevin Watson, Moderator of the General Assembly of the URC, represented the Church at the PCI Assembly. He said: ‘Although we know that this is a difficult issue for many people, including some in our own congregations, we are saddened that the Presbyterian Church in Ireland have reached the decision that they have. We endeavour to treat all members of the United Reformed Church, and people within in our local communities, equally, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, economic status or sexual orientation.’

In the PCI’s ‘Annual Report 2018’ the task group informed members that in November 2017, a delegation had met with URC colleagues for ‘full and frank discussions held in a cordial and gracious manner’ around the issue of same-sex relationships.

The report recognised that: ‘The United Reformed Church had taken a similar line to the Church of Scotland in adopting a revisionist trajectory in relation to decisions about [same-sex relationships] … [and that the URC] was significantly further down that road.’

In 2016, the URC became the largest UK denomination to open the way to the celebration and registration of marriages of same-sex couples in its churches. Mr Watson added: ‘Our Church’s decision was reached through a careful and open process, and reminds us that Jesus called us to not only love God with all our hearts, but to also to love our neighbour.’

In a statement, the Revd Trevor Gribben, General Secretary of the PCI, called the events of Friday, a ‘sad day’ for ‘many on both sides of the debate’ in respect of the historical relationship between the three Churches which dates back to 1843. But he added: ‘The decision today was taken by a clear majority after a full and respectful debate.’

In separate resolutions, the PCI General Assembly agreed that where there were areas in which the Presbyterian Church in Ireland could collaborate with the URC or the Church of Scotland for mutual benefit, then such collaboration should continue or could be considered.

Mr Watson continued: ‘We are pleased that the Presbyterian Church in Ireland remains open to informal opportunities for collaboration with the URC, and although we do not work extensively with them, we have enough in common to believe that continuing contact is important.

‘There are many people within our congregation, and some in our ministry, who have moved from Ireland to the lands that we serve. We value these people highly and shall continue to welcome members of the PCI who wish to worship with us, either as occasional visitors or after moving to settle here.’


Picture: Presbyterian Church in Ireland Assembly Buildings: Google Maps