A gay man who found himself at the centre of controversy in the Presbyterian Church after he was ordained as an elder and appointed to his local church council has said the experience has seriously undermined his health.
The Dublin and Munster Presbytery has claimed the appointment of Steven Smyrl to the Church Council at Christ Church in Sandymount in Dublin has “caused scandal injurious to the purity and peace of the church” because he is in a same-sex marriage.
The Presbytery has threatened to remove the entire church council and its Minister, Rev Katherine Meyer, over the appointment.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, Mr Smyrl said the experience has affected his faith and his health.
“I didn’t go to church for about three or four months after all this began because I was so shocked and overwhelmed but then I came to the decision that this wasn’t the right thing to do because I still have my faith, so I started attending church again,” he said.
“But these things have an incremental way of accruing and building up and in April of this year, I was brought into hospital with a stroke and the doctors simply said in the end that it was caused by stress.
“I was left then thinking about my faith and how this could possibly be part of God’s plan for humanity.”
Mr Smyrl said he was removed as an elder within the church at the end of 2019; however, he remains on the church council because Sandymount is under the joint governance of both the Methodist and Presbyterian churches.
He said the issue is rumbling on because the Presbytery has decided to pursue Rev Meyer and the church council for the support they have shown him.
“Katherine wasn’t even the minister of our congregation when I was ordained as an elder for our congregation,” he said.
“So, she is not in any way responsible for the fact that I, as a gay man and then subsequently as a married gay man to another man, served as an elder in her congregation.”
Despite the upheaval he has faced throughout the controversy, Mr Smyrl said he is “feeling greatly loved by very many ordinary people in both the Presbyterian and the Methodist Church”.
“I have been inundated with messages and emails from people showing solidarity - with people saying they no longer believe people of the same sex should not be married or at the very least, that they shouldn’t have the provision to have a same-sex union of some sort,” he said.
Asked whether he considered walking away, Mr Smyrl said he was concerned about what that might do for other gay men in the church.
“If I walk, away what do they do to some other gay man who may be less strong than me,” he said. “And I am not a particularly strong person. I have been really ground down and overwhelmed by this now for the past two-and-a-bit years.
“So yes, I could walk away but I don’t think that would help others. It has been shocking to be truthful, to be treated in such a way.”