LEADERS of the Church of Scotland have been accused of heavy-handed tactics after law officers disrupted a prayer meeting to demand the return of bibles, hymn books and an organ.
The serving of a writ was the latest move in an increasingly bitter wrangle between Kirk leaders and the congregation of one of Scotland's best-known churches, St George's Tron in Glasgow.
The congregation has been threatened with eviction from the premises after it split from the Kirk in opposition to the ordination of gay ministers.
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As the Kirk intensified its efforts to reclaim property, more than 100 church members were left stunned when Messengers-at-Arms arrived to serve legal papers demanding the return of a number of key items.
The church minister, Rev Dr William Philip, described the arrival of the law officers as frightening and humiliating. He said: "To disrupt a prayer meeting in that way and demand the organ and other key items that were gifted to the congregation, just weeks before Christmas, truly beggars belief.
"Not content to evict us, it seems they are determined to publicly humiliate our leaders and frighten our members, some of whom are vulnerable people.
"It is shameful. Having law officers disrupt a church meeting and intimidate a church is something we associate with China or former Soviet dictatorships but is the last thing we expected from the so-called national Church.
"We have sought to avoid going to the courts at every opportunity which is why we took the decision to vacate the building rather than fight for it, trusting God as we enter this new phase of ministry to which he has called us. But to do this we need resources like our hymn books, organ and bibles, so we have been left with no other option but to contest this petty and ridiculous action."
The incident comes after The Herald revealed the congregation and minister clashed with the Church of Scotland over ownership of church buildings when it quit the main body of the Kirk over its stance on allowing gay ministers.
Mr Philip added: "My family is now living in fear that the manse will be stormed in the same way to force us out of our home on to the street before Christmas. It is horrible."
The Kirk said it was moving to protect charitable assets and had a duty to provide a ministry at the Tron and maintain stewardship of the buildings. A spokesman said offers to negotiate had been rejected
It has now written to the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator to intervene.
A Kirk source denied law officers had stormed the meeting, saying they waited until the minister had come out of the meeting.
Legal action to recover church documents had been started earlier by the Kirk, which threatened further litigation if the congregation refused to quit the buildings.
A spokesman for the Tron said its 500-strong congregation had planned to leave the building early next year to allow a presence to be maintained at the site over Christmas, but they would now hold the last service at the Tron on Sunday before moving to rented rooms at the Bath Street Halls religious training centre that evening.
In June, the Tron became the first full congregation to quit the Kirk over gay ordination as it believes the Church is on a trajectory towards accepting homosexual ministers in the wake of the appointment of Rev Scott Rennie – who is in a same-sex relationship – to a post in Aberdeen.
The Tron will be a test case for others planning to leave over the issue.
A Kirk spokesman said two interim interdicts, granted by the Court of Session, had been served in a bid to prevent the removal of heritable fixtures and fittings and moveable items from the St George's Tron building and to prevent those already removed from being disposed.
The Very Reverend William Hewitt, session clerk of the on-going Kirk congregation, said: "It is regrettable that we are again forced to take action like this to protect our charitable assets. However, we are left with no alternative given the on-going lack of open co-operation from the leaders of the former congregation."