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Tron congregation privileged to be able to worship freely

Ever since the days of its inspirational minister in the 1960s, Rev Tom Allan, St George's Tron Church in the heart of Glasgow has had a wonderful record of outreach to the many in need of help and support for a variety of reasons – alcoholism, drugs addiction, poverty, broken families, and so on – and has helped many hundreds get their lives back in order.

The church has also been a welcome haven for students, newcomers and visitors to the city, with its open door policy, daily cafe and regular worship not just on Sundays but every day. It has been a shining beacon of practical Christianity in the city centre and a true symbol of Glasgow's friendliness.

It is a great shame that this church is now the centre of a storm and the subject of newspaper headlines, but much of the problem is of its own making ("Out of tune with the Kirk, a defiant departure hymn", The Herald, December 10 & Letters, December 10).

Its protest against the Kirk's attitude to gay ministers is at least premature as no final decision has been taken yet, apart from accepting the position of one minister already inducted to an Aberdeen parish on the invitation of the congregation and with the support of the presbytery. The final decision on whether openly gay men and women can be ordained as ministers of the Church of Scotland will be made by the General Assembly of 2013, and as yet it is by no means certain which way that decision will go.

So the decision of the St George's Tron congregation (whether unanimous or by majority is not clear) to withhold its monthly contributions to the Church of Scotland's Mission and Service Fund was premature and unwise. That fund supports all the church's missionary work abroad and at home, including the support of poorer congregations which cannot afford to support a minister and pay their way without financial help.

Better-off congregations pay for this essential work on a formula based on their membership numbers and financial givings, and St George's Tron stopped paying its due share two years ago. Yet it boasts of having raised and spent £2.6 million on refurbishing and refurnishing its own building, and has also received a loan from the Church of Scotland to meet some of the work.

Its minister and members believe they are being persecuted for their actions, but compared to the real persecution of Christians today in many parts of the world they are privileged to be able to worship freely and to express their protests without hindrance.

They should also recognise that gay people and other minorities have been criminalised, persecuted and discriminated against for centuries, including until very recently in our own civilised country. Whatever happened to Jesus's call to love your neighbour?

Iain AD Mann (Church of Scotland elder),

7 Kelvin Court, Glasgow.

Three points should be borne in mind if one wishes to understand the Kirk's actions.

First, congregations cannot resign from the Kirk; only individuals can. If the majority of a congregation choose to resign then they do so as individuals, leaving behind those who disagreed or abstained.

Secondly, church buildings and assets are owned by the Kirk. Even if they are held in trust locally the elders acting as trustees resign from that position when they leave the Kirk and they have no right to control any assets.

A new congregation would require registration as a new charity, not under the parent charity of the Kirk. This new body couldn't claim any of the assets of the previous congregation, regardless of who had donated them originally.

There is no provision for trustees to simply change the name, status and purpose of a charity so that they can retain assets. Any attempt by trustees to set up such a transition before resigning would be a clear failure to act in the interests of the old charity.

Finally, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) has delegated responsibility to the Kirk as a Designated Religious Charity (DRC) to govern its own affairs in accordance with charity law and the Kirk's laws.

If the Kirk fails in its responsibilities then it will lose DRC status and OSCR would directly involve itself with the activities of individual congregations. The elders of individual churches would be answerable to the regulator. Giving away assets would expose individuals to legal action and make it extremely difficult for the Kirk to justify its position as a DRC. The Kirk could even lose its charitable status.

On the face of it the Kirk's case looks convincing and the Tron's stance seems to be that Glasgow presbytery and the wider Kirk should nobly suffer the consequences of the Tron's indifference to charity law.

The Kirk's action is far from shameful. It has no responsible option but to fulfil its legal obligations. It is sad they are being vilified for doing so.

James Christie,

2 Dryburgh Crescent,

Perth.

Contextual targeting label: 
Charity

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