An entire congregation has quit the Church of Scotland in the Bahamas after its minister resigned over the issue of the first gay ordination.

Around 800 members of the Kirk will hear at its annual General Assembly in Edinburgh this week that after the Reverend John MacLeod resigned from St Andrew’s in Nassau, the capital of the islands, his congregation has opted to leave the Church.

It is also expected that the 200-year-old parish will be followed by another in the Bahamas, Lucaya Kirk at Freeport, at a time when the Church of Scotland faces potentially its greatest schism in its 450-year history – over the issue of gay ordination.

The World Mission Council of the Kirk will reveal that the congregation in Nassau voted in favour of leaving the Kirk, almost immediately after approval of the assembly to join the fundamentalist Evangelical Presbyterian Church of America, which takes the position homosexuality is against the Scriptures and is opposed to women being ordained.

Under the evangelicals, the congregation will seek to create a new Presbyterian Church of the Bahamas. A spokesman for the Kirk insisted the split in the Bahamas had been planned for some time, but one source said the trigger came with MacLeod’s principled departure.

The Herald revealed that MacLeod, a married father of two, originally from Harris, was the first to leave the Kirk altogether when he gave notice of his resignation after the General Assembly last year.

The 2009 gathering in the capital was dominated by painful divisions across the Kirk over its first openly gay minister, Reverend Scott Rennie, who was then confirmed in charge of Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen.

Macleod, who has accepted a post at Allander Evangelical Church, said he resigned because of the controversy over the posting of Rennie in Aberdeen, the ban on public discussion of human sexuality and the Church’s move “away from Biblical orthodoxy”.

He said: “It wasn’t just the Scott Rennie thing, it was the general tenor of the General Assembly that I don’t think is the way a church should do business. I think it is a shame that the Church of Scotland has tried to stifle the debate.

“I have had misgivings over the Church of Scotland for a number of years. I believe there is a general drift away from Biblical orthodoxy.”

The move to hold a two-year moratorium on appointing any more gay ministers or gay theological students, and public discussion on the issue, has angered many.

The debate may be broached again this week despite the Special Commission investigating the issue being just halfway through its task.

More than 50 Scottish churches have publicly backed Evangelism and said they will not accept gay ordination under any circumstances, putting them on collision course with the Kirk ahead of the critical 2011 General Assembly when the commission reports back.

The Nassau congregation voted 32 to 16 in favour of abandoning the Kirk and moved that it “go through the process of being released from the Church of Scotland” It also said: “We will also provide intensive training and teaching for members and elders regarding our faith.”

The Lucaya congregation said it was having “cordial discussions” with the Church of Scotland Papers to go before the assembly will show even greater support for change at Lucaya, where they voted 40 to three in favour of leaving the Kirk.

The Reverend Scott Kirkland is expected to stay as a Kirk mission partner with the Presbyterian Church of the Bahamas but be paid by the Bahamas congregation.

Reverend Colin Renwick, convener of the World Mission Council, said: “It has been the long-held ambition of the Church of Scotland congregations in the Bahamas to form their own denomination.

“This is an ambition the World Mission Council supports, and which follows the example of many other churches throughout the world which began their life under the wing of the Church of Scotland.”

Long history of Bahamas ‘dissenters’

  • The Bahamas already had a strong “dissenter” presence by the 18th century.
  • The Reformed community increased by the end of the century and a substantial number of Scottish Presbyterians settled in the Bahamas in 1783 because of the US War of Independence.
  • In 1798 they formed the St Andrew’s Society, and in 1810 the foundation stone of St Andrew’s church was laid in Nassau. Its “daughter church” at Lucaya was set up in 1968 in Freeport in North Bahama.
  • Both Sessions have agreed to: withdraw from the Church of Scotland by May 2010 and that as the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in the US does not have full-time overseas charges that a new Independent Presbyterian Church of the Bahamas be the long-term goal.
  • In recent years the US Church has struggled with issues including ordination of women and it supports that “the Old and New Testaments consistently condemn homosexual practice and repeatedly affirm that God forgives the repentant sinner”.