Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) “to seize back” evangelical church building and assets

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This has been coming for a while – a sign that  liberal power structures and power holders in other denominations are reading from the TEC playbook.

THE Church of Scotland is to seize back one of the most prominent churches in Glasgow – and potentially thousands of pounds in collection money – after its congregation quit the main body of the Kirk for allowing gay ministers in its pulpits.

It says it will “take all necessary steps to recover all property and assets, including the church and manse buildings, and all monies belonging to the Church of Scotland congregation of St George’s Tron”.

The move comes after the 500 worshippers became the first entire congregation in Scotland to leave the Kirk in June over gay ordination, with plans to join a more strict denomination.

Kirk lawyers have already moved to freeze the congregation’s bank accounts as each faction claims ownership of the historic property.

Worshippers could now find themselves locked out of the 17th-century church.

The Kirk says a Transitional Ministry will be established to lead a team to “work together with others to re-establish the Church of Scotland congregation of St George’s Tron and make effective use of the buildings in support of this aim”.

The legal test case will set the scene for what could be one of the largest land and property wrangles in Scotland as evangelical congregations prepare to challenge the Kirk’s stance on gay ordination at the next General Assembly.

St. George’s Tron may be familiar to many readers. The senior minister Willie Philip is well-respected amongst evangelicals in the UK, not least through organisations like the Proclamation Trust. I had the privilege of studying under him while at the Cornhill Training Course in London. He has recently set up Cornhill Scotland to serve the church north of the border.

Willie was also a recent observer at the GAFCON leader’s conference.


The seizing of the building and assets is a big deal:

The sums involved in the Tron case are significant. The market value of the church is not known but it recently had a £3 million refurbishment, with members of the congregation raising most of the money for the project.

The congregation – which has been a beacon to worshippers like former motorbike racer-turned-evangelist Alex Bedford who was drawn to the parish to preach – raises much of its £500,000 annual income. Tron should put a percentage – based on its average – towards the £46m pay pot for ministers, but it has halted payments.

The current structure is 200 years old but the church has a Presbyterian history dating back to 1687.

As part of the revamp the church organ, which was never used but which blocked views of the church’s two stained glass windows, was removed. Plasma screens were put on either side of the cherry wood, glass and steel pulpit to show films, notices and the words of hymns.

Sound familiar? Church members pour money generation after generation into ministry, the denomination moves far from it’s conservative foundations, church decides not to go with them and denomination thinks it has a right to the cash. But they are, of course, terribly distressed about it…

A special committee headed by the Very Reverend David Lunan decided on the legal move. He said: “It gave us little joy to bring this report to [Glasgow] Presbytery; there are no winners in this and all we can do is approximate to that which honours our Lord.

“While I am not filled with joy, I am content, I am at peace, that this is the only outcome that will bring closure, and by the grace of God bring healing.”

Mr Philip said the church had done everything it could to seek a constructive way forward, and criticised the “hostile response from the Church of Scotland”.

Indeed. Willie addressed the church a few weeks back.

On Wednesday evening at the prayer meeting we were asking you to pray for the forthcoming meeting of the Presbytery of Glasgow which will take place on Tuesday night, and for the expected report of the special committee, under the convenorship of David Lunan, which will be reporting with recommendations about the future of our building here; and I do want to ask you all to pray for that meeting.

Since Wednesday, we have now seen the report which will go before Presbytery on Tuesday, and I’m afraid I have to say to you it is very disappointing indeed. It’s a report marked by falsehood, fantasy and enmity. Falsehood – repeating all kinds of evil against us falsely. Fantasy – making the grandiose claims to what wonderful, vibrant ministry will be able to flourish in this building if only we are removed from it. And enmity. We sang a hymn last Sunday morning about “smiling foes” and this report waxes eloquent about how greatly they respect the tradition of conservative evangelical preaching at St George’s Tron and yet concludes that the only way of preserving such a tradition is to eject this congregation from that building. They adore the idea of having a vibrant, living evangelical ministry here within the Church of Scotland but when faced with a real ministry and congregation like that in practice, it seems like they are determined to destroy it— like the religious leaders that Jesus spoke of who venerated the tombs of the prophets but flogged and murdered the living prophets.

Now friends, none of this should surprise us. Since the day that most of you were faced here with the delegation from Presbytery and from 121 George Street, you have seen and you know what we’ve been dealing with – a perpetual enmity that rails against the living Gospel of the real Jesus Christ and his true Church. We only need to open Bibles and read to recognise that.

Read it all to get the full force of quite how, well, evil this whole action by the presbytery is. And also note Willie’s response – very telling….

We truly believe that this opposition is God’s opportunity for the next stage of our corporate mission together as a fellowship. It was the persecution, do you remember, against the Church in Jerusalem in Acts Chapter 7 that was the birth of the spreading missionary Church. “Saul was ravaging the Church” we read, “therefore those who were scattered went about proclaiming the Word.” And it was through that the Kingdom of God advanced and grew mightily.

So “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the Kingdom” – that is what the Lord Jesus said (Luke 12:32). We don’t need to be anxious about what we are to eat or drink or where we are to live or indeed where we are to meet. Our Heavenly Father knows that we need these things. Instead, “Seek first His Kingdom and these things will be added to you” says the Lord Jesus (Luke 12:31). And we know, don’t we, that we can trust Him.

So let’s draw near to Him now in the quietness of this moment and just lift our hearts, together, to Him – our Lord and our Saviour and our King – in prayer.

You can listen to Willie’s address here or on the player below.


Other evangelicals have spoken up about this.

The leadership of the Tron visited the Chairman and Secretary of the General Trustees of the Church of Scotland to assure them of their desire to have a peaceable and reasonable settlement of outstanding issues.  As an act of good faith they handed over a cheque for the then outstanding loan repayment.  They made contact with the Presbytery committee set up to investigate the matter and met with the convener several times.  They also invited this committee to attend the Sunday and Wednesday services to see how the congregation was getting on(an invitation which interestingly enough was not taken up). Whatever one thinks of the decision to leave surely no one could deny that these actions were in the best interest of the church and the cause of Christ?

And yet it was met immediately with a heavy handed and brutal response. The bank accounts of the Tron were frozen, despite a proper court order not being obtained.

David Robertson is massively wise when he turns to examine the evangelical response around him,

Two of those named on the summons the Tron received, as pursuers are ‘evangelicals’ in the presbytery.  It is interesting that we have been told for years that once evangelicals were in positions of power then things would change.   Here are a couple of evangelicals in power and they are the ones taking the Tron to court!  There have been those who have criticized evangelicals within the C of S as being evangelical second, denomination first.  I have always felt that was an unfair and over sweeping generalisation. I still do.  But I am beginning to have my doubts. Now is the time for evangelicals within the Church of Scotland (whether they agree with what the Tron have done or not) to make a stand against the hard and vindictive behaviour of their denomination.  Surely it cannot be right that they are taking this church to court, seeking to remove their building and their manse from them.  And they cannot hide behind..’it is the lawyers’.  No – the lawyers are acting on behalf of the denomination to which they belong and which they serve as office bearers.  Surely now would be a good time to speak up in defence of those who are not allowed to speak for themselves?  At this point I should point out that there were those on the presbytery who spoke up for the Tron and made a good case.  They even included one man who could not be described as an evangelical but just had that quality which seems to be in such short supply, a sense of fairness!

This whole business is a really sad mess that makes me want to pull out whatever hair I have left.   I am intrigued at the number of ‘evangelical’ brothers who keep silent in public and/or are not slow to ‘diss’ the Tron in private.  ‘Willie is an empire builder’, ‘they did it all wrong’, ’an unfortunate manner you know’ etc.  Let us suppose for the sake of argument that all of this were true and thatThe Tron had got things wrong and that we did not like the leadership or their manner.  Would that justify us keeping silent when such a manifest injustice is being done?

Indeed. There is much to be learned in all this. First, evangelical Anglicans outside North America ought not to think that they are immune to these sorts of actions. Sooner or later we are going to see them in the Church of England and perhaps in the Anglican Church of Australia, as well as other places. How will we respond? How will those who call themselves “evangelical” respond?

We’ll keep you updated as we get more news.

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This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Lucy Browne

    I was speaking with a presbyterian minister in Melbourne at the weekend who like me comes from Glasgow. He told me about what was happening at the Tron. This is really sad indeed. I am certain that many people in Glasgow even those who do not attend the services there appreciate the openness of this church and the work that they do with vulnerable people in the city centre. Most people that I know who are Church of Scotland would not support what is happening in Aberdeen. The Kirk need reminding – Let Glasgow Flourish by the preaching of his Word.

  2. Mike Taylor

    I have no idea what the right response to all this is but maybe there’s something to be said in fleeing from GREED (as well as sexual immorality).

    1. David Ould

      hi Mike,

      I think you may have something there, if only to guard us against an overly possessive attitude to our church buildings and assets. I’m sure you’re not suggesting that that’s what the Tron might have, but then I also know that your context is very different and gives you a helpful perspective on our own views about possessions.

      1. Mike Taylor

        yes Dave — I stand in awe of what that congregation have done, and know too many of us would be too weak to follow them. I wonder if its a way that conservative evangelicals can have ‘a win’ in the public debate.
        also try here: for our new website.
        (and greed is a big pastoral concern here, even if possessions aren’t).

  3. Mike Taylor

    not that anyone is a ‘winner’ in these cases of church in-fighting, and ‘homophobic but not greedy’ isn’t much. But their graciousness and strength speaks pretty loudly.

  4. Lucy Browne

    This is of course different circumstances- but when the Presbyterian church here in Australia joined with the other denominations to form the Uniting Church did the ones who were not in agreement still get to keep their buildings?

    1. David Ould

      hi Lucy. As I understand it, there was a well-ordered split. Presbyterians who wished to remain presbyterian did so. And those who wished to join the Methodists to form the Uniting Church also did so.

      What we’re seeing here is something wholly different.

      1. Hi David and Lucy,

        The situation with the PCA and the Uniting church was indeed something quite different. It was well-ordered, and well planned. No congregations own their own buildings, but the various Presbyterian property trusts that remained in existence, even as some of their properties were transferred to the Uniting Church.

        The difficulty in that situation – apart from the obvious difficulty of having hundreds of notionally reformed congregations opting to join a theologically liberal, arminian denomination – was what to do with non-congregational assets such as theological colleges, schools and mission agencies. This problem was dealt with in different ways in the different states, but the consequence is messy arrangements in some places.

  5. Hi David,

    Perhaps as we ask those questions – How will we respond? How will those who call themselves “evangelical” respond? – we should also be thinking about what we respond to.

    In the case of St George’s Tron (and I think this is the case for most similar situations from the “TEC playbook”!), the line in the sand has been homosexual ordinations, rather than, say, the rejection of the orthodox doctrine of the authority and inspiration of Scripture which happened decades ago

    I understand – although I profoundly disagree with – Anglicans having an attachment to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the unity that he creates (although Anglican unity doesn’t seem to be the unity that the Bible commends). But orthodox Scottish Presbyterians hanging on to the CoS? Really? It’s a pretty pathetic image, especially when there have been other legitimately presbyterian denominations around for ages. The Free Church of Scotland even removed its strongly held prohibition on uninspired hymns and accompaniment to allow for CoS churches to join!

    I am deeply thankful for Willie Phillip’s ministry (including here in Australia), and I am aware of the wonderful and faithful gospel work of St George’s Tron (in various forms and under various names) over two centuries. But the company we keep, and the purity of the church, matters to God and has the power to adorn or confuse the gospel witness.

    1. David Ould

      hi Chris

      Great questions/points. You’re entirely right to observe that this line in the sand appears, perhaps, somewhat arbitrary.

      I think, however, that it’s not. There’s a couple of reasons for that but the primary one is this – this step in the CoS (and similar ones in TEC et. al.) officially move our liturgy and liturgical activity into a position where we officially do something that the Scriptures tell us sends someone to damnation.

      So while you’re entirely correct in stating that leadership and others have been holding heretical positions for years, this line is important because it crystallises the issue into liturgical practice.

      I think that’s one of the main reasons why we’re standing fast at this point. Nevertheless, the rot set in a long long time ago.

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