Yesterday the News Letter reported that several evangelical Church of Ireland churches are to write to their bishops about the civil partnership of Dean Tom Gordon amid threats of a financial backlash from congregations which oppose the move.
The report continued:
The Very Rev Gordon’s same-sex union, the first involving a serving Church of Ireland minister, has opened up deep divisions which had been just beneath the surface for years in the largest Protestant denomination on the island of Ireland.
Those within the church who support the right of clergy to enter civil partnerships have welcomed the development and called for the church to move further by allowing such couples to receive a church blessing for their relationship.
But those who describe themselves as “orthodox” and “evangelical”, particularly in Northern Ireland, have strenuously opposed the move, which they argue is “provocative” as the church has never discussed whether it would accept clergy in civil partnerships.
It is understood that the church’s bishops have planned several ‘away days’ next month to discuss the issue.
At least one Church of Ireland church discussed the Rev Gordon’s civil partnership during its main service on Sunday and voiced opposition to the move.
A church source said: “Many parishes, including some of the biggest parishes in the Church of Ireland, have spoken with their select vestries and parishioners and several have handed out letters to their congregations expressing their opposition to this action.
“At least one northern bishop has agreed to meet a delegation of concerned clergy from his diocese.”
The News Letter has also been told that some northern evangelical parishes will consider withholding their ‘diocesan quota’, the central fund which effectively subsidises much of the church’s work in the Republic.
The move indicates an escalation of the dispute, which last week saw four evangelical groups release a strongly-worded statement.
The membership of those groups is understood to include at least three bishops and the statement warned that the “divisiveness and legal battles” which have been seen in other parts of the Anglican Communion over the issue could happen in Ireland.
On Sunday Archbishop Alan Harper accepted criticism from both sides in the dispute that there had been a lack of leadership from the church’s bishops on the issue.
But the archbishop, who is attempting to prevent a split in the church, made clear that he would not be giving his own view on whether clergy should be allowed to enter civil partnerships.
However, he added that the church had a “very clear view” that sexual relationships were only appropriate within marriage, adding that civil partnerships are not recognised by either the church or by UK or Irish governments as a form of marriage.