CHURCH leaders are facing an unprecedented insurrection amongst their own ministry over their gay marriage ban, with signals some clergy will not carry out any weddings until the matter is resolved.
In what has been described as the biggest crisis to engulf it in living memory, over 50 Scottish Episcopalian Church (SEC) clergy - around one in six - have signed a letter condemning the stance of their bishops over same-sex marriage.
Amongst the signatories are some of the SEC's most prominent figures, including current and former deans of three dioceses, essentially bishops' deputies and the equivalent of an archdeacon in the Church of England, and two provosts, the senior priests in Episcopalian cathedrals.
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While unhappy over the general stance of the SEC on gay marriage, the ire is focused primarily on the ban on the clergy and trainees turning their civil partnerships into marriage.
The letter also contains a veiled warning some members of the SEC clergy could refuse to conduct any weddings while the row rumbles on.
It states: "Some of us are now uncomfortable about solemnising marriages at all until such time as all can be treated equally, and all of us will continue to feel morally compromised in our ministries, and wish to make clear our continuing commitment to affirm and support all people in our church, and to recognise and rejoice in all marriages, of whatever sexual orientation, as true signs of the love of God in Christ."
One senior source said: "This is an unprecedented crisis in the Scottish Episcopalian Church. There is an urgent need for change of tone from the bishops and a new and accelerated timetable for resolving this matter."
It emerged earlier this week that SEC clergy had been threatened with disciplinary action if they enter a same-sex marriage, which the church's bishop said would put them "outwith doctrinal understanding".
The edict was issued several days before same-sex marriage became legal and a fortnight after a visit to Scotland by the figurehead of the Anglican churches, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, where it is understood the matter was discussed.
Sources said sanctions facing priests who enter a same-sex marriage include seeing their licence revoked, effectively making them homeless and stripping them of their livelihood.
It is understood members of the clergy in Edinburgh and the east of Scotland were behind the letter, thrusting the church into what one source called "unchartered territory".
The letter states: "We were especially dismayed by the section of the document which refers to clergy, lay readers, and ordinands, should they be in a same-sex relationship and wish to be married.
"In particular, we find the warnings to ordinands, both currently training and those who might be training in the future, to be unrepresentative of the generous and communal characteristics of the SEC.
"Even though our church has not yet agreed to solemnise same-sex marriages, they will nevertheless become a civil institution which we will recognise like everyone else under the law. It is our firm belief therefore that any prohibition on obtaining a civil marriage is outwith the moral and canonical authority of a bishop."
The move has sparked both praise and criticism from those within the Anglican faith. One cleric, Father Ron Smith, based in New Zealand, said: "A very brave, but also much-needed moral stance. Let's hope your voices are heard by the bishops of SEC."
Ipswich-based Rev Ali Chesworth said: "I was saddened and dismayed to read this guidance from a province which has in the past taught so much about an inclusivity unparalleled by the other Anglicans in the UK."
An SEC spokeswoman said the remarks expressed personal opinions and the church could not comment on every view publicly expressed by members of its clergy.