THE Church of Scotland faces a wave of land-grab litigation cases with another dozen congregations planning to quit over gay ordination in the wake of a ground-breaking test case.
Sources close to the evangelical movement in Scotland say 12 ministers and their flocks are expected to follow St George's Tron in Glasgow – the congregation which seceded from the Kirk over the issue in June.
The 500 members and their minister, the Rev William Philip, face eviction from their place of worship after the Kirk started a court action against them.
But now the Moderator of the General Assembly of Church of Scotland has been urged to intervene in the fight for ownership of the landmark church after it became clear other congregations could also leave over the issue of gay ministers.
Most traditionalist congregations plan to decide on their next step after the General Assembly in May – when a report on how gay ordination could be implemented is due. But The Herald understands others may secede from the Kirk before then.
They feel the Kirk is already on a trajectory towards accepting gay ministers, prompted by the appointment of openly gay Rev Scott Rennie in Aberdeen.
Two senior figures outwith the Tron test case – who declined to be named – have called for a decisive process of mediation.
A cooling off period has been called for because of the magnitude of the implications – of one congregation potentially moving out and another in – and the prospect of further clashes.
Church ministers also want a special commission, headed by the Moderator, to be set up.
This would set a template that would end legal action to evict congregations from their place of worship and ministers from their manse, while acknowledging the Kirk's stewardship role over the country's 1400 parishes. Those backing a commission want a closer examination of the rights of a long-standing congregation in a building it believes to be its own.
Ownership of church buildings varies according to individual deeds.
One minister said the stand-off has attracted "a global interest" and added the Moderator "should be seen to be doing something when a Christian congregation faced eviction".
Another said: "There has to be an independent mediator. With a special commission it would usually be an ex-moderator, but this is such a major step.
"St George's Tron might not be the only congregation thinking along these lines."
In an earlier statement, the Kirk said: "There are at least two sides to every story and the other side of this one is that, whatever our differences, no-one in the Church of Scotland forced Mr Philip or his congregation to leave, and no-one asked them to modify the message that they preached.
"A great deal of effort was put in trying to persuade them to stay within our denomination."