Senior Presbyterians in Northern Ireland have taken the unusual step of issuing public opposition to their leadership’s decision to sever ties with the Church of Scotland over its stance on same-sex marriage.

Some 232 senior members of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland signed a letter standing against their church's recent decision to take a raft of measures against people in same-sex relationships, expressing their "profound sense of hurt, dismay and anger" at their church's actions.

The largest Protestant church in Northern Ireland, it last month took the decision not to allow those in same-sex relationships to be full members, which also means denying baptism to the children of gay couples.

The assembly also voted to sever ties with the Church of Scotland because of its more liberal attitude to same-sex relationships.

The move by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland means the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will no longer be invited to the annual meeting of the church's General Assembly in Belfast, and the PCI will no longer accept any Kirk invitations.

The Right Rev Susan Brown, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, failed in her appeal to the sister church for no change to the relationship ahead of the move last month and at the time expressed "sadness" at the decision.

Now the Northern Ireland elders have written: "This level of feeling is unprecedented in our pastoral experience.

"We are committed to doing all we can to ensure that the decisions which have prompted such a level of concern will be subject to the urgent attention they deserve, and for which many in the church are calling.

"We gladly acknowledge that we ourselves have been constantly enriched and challenged by the diversity of views found in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

"Therefore, as we participate in this work of critical engagement and discernment, we hold that any unnecessary narrowing of the range of acceptable theological perspectives within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland will damage our credibility and limit our future."

The Kirk declined to comment on this occasion but a spokesman said last month that "Right Rev Brown recognised that the differences which might exist between the two churches on the matter of same sex relationships posed a challenge for how we communicate the Gospel in a way that the people around us in 2018 and beyond, who really are in need of hearing its call, can feel God’s touch upon their lives".

The Kirk last year paved the way to allowing same-sex marriage in church after a historic debate that also backed a formal apology to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people for years of discrimination.

That move came after almost a decade of often painful public debate on same sex marriage and the Kirk.

The issue was catapulted to the top of the agenda by the appointment Rev Scott Rennie, the first openly gay minister, to an Aberdeen church in 2009.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland, which has more than 200,000 members in Northern Ireland and the Republic, voted on the links with the Church of Scotland, which has around 340,000 members, after debate last month at the decision-making General Assembly in Belfast.