A CHURCH of Scotland minister and 133 members of his congregation have announced they are quitting the Kirk in protest over its departure from Christian teaching.

Rev Ian Watson and the church members at Kirkmuirhill, in South Lanarkshire, said that the Church of Scotland had drifted too far from the teachings of the Bible. The Kirk's decision to consider joining with humanists in backing creating "time for reflection" to replace religious observance in schools was one of the major reasons. Rev Watson had previously lost a vote to quit the Kirk over the issue of allowing gay clergy.

Rev Watson, who has applied to join the Free Church of Scotland, said: "I am really looking forward to this fresh start and would like to place on record my appreciation to my former congregation, for whom I will continue to pray.

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"It would be hypocritical of me to preach the Bible week after week if I'm not prepared to live by its teaching."

A spokesman for the congregation added: "After the immense sadness of the past few years, we are glad to be moving on and look forward to this exciting time as a new congregation.

"We are pleased that our minister Rev Ian Watson has agreed to come with us.

"As people who believe the teaching of the Bible, it makes absolutely no sense to remain in, and to give significant financial support to, a denomination that has people in its pulpits doubting the most fundamental truths of the Christian faith."

Rev Bryan Kerr, Depute Presbytery Clerk for the Presbytery of Lanark, said: "The Rev Ian Watson indicated several months ago his desire to join the Free Church of Scotland.

"The Presbytery notes that out of 280 members, a minority of 133 have chosen to leave the Church of Scotland with Mr Watson and move to a new Free Church congregation within the village, which will operate under the auspices of a congregation in Coatbridge.

"The majority of members who have chosen to remain within the Church of Scotland will continue to worship together in the church buildings and use them as a base for their outreach and care for the communities of Kirkmuirhill and Blackwood.

"The Presbytery feels saddened that anyone should feel that they need to leave the Church of Scotland, but recognise that, for some, this time has come.

"Mr Watson has now indicated to the Presbytery that he will remit his charge and status as a minister of the Church of Scotland on 28th February 2014.

"The Presbytery has sought to ensure that due process has been followed throughout the process to ensure that every member had correct and accurate information regarding their membership of the Church of Scotland.

"With the majority of members choosing to stay within the Church of Scotland, this brings a close to many months of discussion and upset within the congregation of Kirkmuirhill Parish Church (Church of Scotland).

"It is the hope and prayer of the Presbytery that the members of Kirkmuirhill Parish Church can now continue in the long tradition of worship, care and evangelism within the communities it serves.