Minister tearfully steps down over Presbyterian church’s rejection of same-sex couples

Reverend Ian Carton of Whitehead Presbyterian Church

A long-time Presbyterian minister in Northern Ireland has stepped down in protest against the church’s rejection of same-sex couples.

Reverend Ian Carton, of Whitehead Presbyterian in County Antrim, said that the Presbyterian church’s decision to prohibit same-sex couples from accessing full church membership meant his congregation was forced into “excluding people we’d like to welcome”.

In 2018, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s General Assembly decided that people in same-sex marriages should not be recognised as full members of the church, and that their children could not be baptised.

In an address to his congregation on Sunday (30 May), Carton explained that while the decision “to leave the church of my birth, the church that I’ve grown up in” was “incredibly difficult” make, he was planning to step down in September.

He said: “I am informing you that I intend to ask the Presbytery of Carrickfergus to release me from my charge as minister of Whitehead on the 30 September this year.
“I wanted you to hear from me first and not after I have made the request.

“I just have found it incredibly difficult.”

Carton explained that his wife had stopped going to Presbyterian church in October 2020, because she “felt if it was a church that was saying to anybody that you’re not welcome, that you’re not invited on the basis of gender, on the basis of your sexual orientation, that wasn’t a place that she could be”.

Becoming tearful, he said: “I’ve tried to keep going, but it’s become a bit like trying to ride two horses at the same time that are going in two different directions.”

Explaining how he came to the decision to step away from the church after 14 years as a minister, he said that since the General Assembly’s decision he had felt “far from comfortable with the current direction that the Presbyterian Church seems to be going in”.

Carton said he had studied and prayed, but added: “What I hear is God calling me, calling me to those who certainly feel cast out, who feel rejected, who feel unloved.

“The decisions taken by our denomination mean that they can never belong.”