AS they prepared to leave their beloved church, the 500-strong congregation of St George's Tron in Glasgow city centre sang out in unison the defiant words of a hymn by Martin Luther.

"These things shall vanish all; the City of God remaineth," were the words that echoed as their last Sunday service ended.

There were hugs and tears as the congregation closed the doors of the church from which they have been evicted, despite contributing £2.6 million to its refurbishment.

It is the first full congregation to split from the Church of Scotland in protest at its moves towards allowing the ordination of gay and lesbian ministers,

The organ was replaced by a piano after it and the Bibles and hymn books were removed to 25 Bath Street, the new home of the congregation which will now be known as the Tron Church.

A controversial attempt by the Kirk to take possession of them during a prayer meeting last Wednesday highlighted the bitter wrangle over assets.

St George's Tron minister Rev Dr William Philip is fearful he and his family will now be evicted from the manse after law officers served legal papers on his wife at home last Friday. Ownership of the manse is disputed, and Mr Philip yesterday said litigation may be the only way forward.

Parishioner Said Savidoghchi, an asylum seeker from Iran, said: "This behaviour by the Kirk reminds me of the persecution experienced by Christians at the hands of the government of my country, which I left in order to convert to Christianity.

"Under Sharia law, Muslims who convert risk being put to death, so Christians have to worship in secret. I have been struck by the freedom Christians have to worship here in Scotland, but am alarmed at this turn of events."

Asked why he thought the Kirk had acted as it had, Mr Philip said: "They want to make an example of us, to scare other congregations out of doing as we have. But I know there are dozens who would leave the Kirk tomorrow over this issue.

"We said 18 months ago that we wanted to break away peacefully and quietly, but that has not happened."

Mr Philip believes that in approving the appointment of ordained ministers in same-sex relationships the Kirk is abandoning the "unchanging eternal message" of the worldwide Christian church.

His sermon yesterday focused on persecution, separation and the need to suffer for eternal reward.

"The heart of the matter is what it means to follow Jesus. It means struggling against sin, taking up your cross and leaving behind the material desires of this world," he said. "It's not a call to asceticism, but Jesus must come first."

Asked whether a homosexual would be welcome in his secessionist church, he replied: "We're all in recovery from our addiction to sin. It doesn't help an addict to be told: 'Don't worry, your sin doesn't really matter, just carry on'."

Parishioner Rupert Hunt-Taylor, 28, believes gay ministry to be a symptom of the Kirk's "drift away from the message of the Bible".

He said: "All of us have desires that aren't right. God's not a killjoy but he does ask us to change because he wants people to look like Him. It appears that the Kirk is saying the Bible's wrong, sin doesn't matter - The more the church tries to align itself with secular society the more it will weaken itself."

He added: "Who does the Kirk think will fill this church now we're gone? The congregation they imagine will replace us is fictional."