Congregation declines to follow minister to Free Church

A minister, who last year revealed plans to join the Free Church, has been unsuccessful in an attempt to persuade the majority of his congregation to join him.

When Rev Ian Watson invited members of Kirkmuirhill Parish Church to resign their membership of the Church of Scotland and join the Free Church of Scotland, only 133 out of 280 chose to do so.

The failed bid came despite efforts by Mr Watson to recruit members of the Church of Scotland through the distribution of pre-written declarations to be signed by members who wished to leave for the Free Church.

Kirkmuirhill Parish Church, built in 1869, will continue as an important base for outreach programmes supporting the local community.

Rev Bryan Kerr, depute presbytery clerk for the Presbytery of Lanark, said: "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.

"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.

"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.

"Over the past few months the Presbytery has been aware of a great deal of misinformation being shared about the future of the Church of Scotland congregation. However, it is business as usual for the congregation of Kirkmuirhill Parish Church.

"Through prayer and ongoing practical support, the Presbytery will continue to ensure that the remaining congregation are able to face the future with renewed strength and optimism as they undergo a transition to a new ministry.

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

Mr Watson said in a statement released by the Free Church of Scotland: "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.

"It would be hypocritical of me to preach the Bible week after week if I'm not prepared to live by its teaching, and as a family we have been amazed at the doors that God has opened for us over the last couple of weeks."

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