THE Church of Scotland has been urged to parachute in a spin doctor as it prepares to play out potentially one of the most difficult times in its history on the world stage.
The resignation of the current head of communications for personal reasons means the Kirk will have just weeks to find and brief someone for the role before the General Assembly in May when it will take the final vote on gay ordination. The move by one of the key presbyterian churches will be scrutinised by Christians and other denominations around the world.
The call to bring in the communications guru was made by Kirk member Murdo Fraser, MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife .
The Kirk's struggle with gay ordination – sparked by the appointment of the Rev Scott Rennie, who is openly gay, in Aberdeen in 2009 – could lead to its largest schism since the Disruption of 1843 when hundreds of ministers left to form the Free Church.
Grant Hutchison, in the chief communications role since August 2011, took over from Stuart Wilson, who left to become director of communications at NHS Lothian after taking over from Pat Holdgate, who retired in 2010.
A Kirk source said the groundwork for the historic General Assembly nine weeks away had already been done.
It is unclear at this stage how many congregations will leave – many believe the Kirk is already on the trajectory to allowing gay ministers and two congregations have left already – and a schism could result in tussles for buildings and funds.
Mr Fraser called for the Kirk to adopt a more robust approach in media and public relations in an online blog.
He suggested it should follow the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland or the Free Church by having high-profile spokesmen who present their stance on controversial issues in the media.
Mr Fraser said: "There exists already a model as to how such a person could operate in the person of Peter Kearney, director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office. Kearney is an energetic voice on behalf of the Catholic Church, seemingly ever-present on our airwaves, and unafraid to take a robust line on moral issues.
"It helps that he is no shrinking violet. Indeed, he gives the impression of being a man who would cross the road to start a fight when his Church's interests were at stake.
"With him as its public face, the Scottish Catholic establishment enjoys a media profile far in excess of all Scotland's other churches put together.
"On the other end of the theological debate we have the Rev David Robertson of St Peter's Free Church in Dundee and the Solas Centre for Public Christianity. Coming from a conservative evangelical perspective, Robertson is a regular contributor to radio phone-ins and newspaper correspondence columns, with his persuasive, articulate, but uncompromising views.
"The Kirk is in desperate need of a public spokesman in the mould of either of these two gentlemen."
A Kirk spokesman said: "We can confirm Grant Hutchison has resigned as the head of communications for personal reasons. This is a private matter and therefore we shall not make any comment about it."
Mr Hutchison will remain in the post, not yet advertised, until the end of March.
The spokesman added: "Recruitment of his successor will take place in due course."