Kirk to appoint first female moderator

The Church of Scotland is to appoint its first ever woman moderator after choosing two female candidates for the post.

The historic move follows growing pressure from church members for a woman to lead the kirk.

The two nominees are Dr Alison Elliott, 54, an elder at Greyfriars Tolbooth & Highland Kirk in Edinburgh and director of the centre for theology and public issues at Edinburgh University, and the Reverend Valerie Watson, 54, a minister from the Borders.

The successful candidate will be chosen by a committee of church officials later this month. She will then go before the general assembly of the church next May, where the appointment should be automatically ratified.

Church officials said it was a significant development that was long overdue. "It is a symbolic moment," said the former moderator, the Very Reverend Dr Finlay McDonald. "The moderatorship has been seen as the final breaking of the stained glass ceiling.

"We have always resisted the notion of appointing a woman for the sake of going for a woman. The two candidates are excellent people, both experienced. Both of them would make a splendid moderator."

The decision to appoint a woman to lead the 440-year-old church is in stark contrast to the Church of England, which is still wrestling with the notion of women bishops.

The successful candidate faces a challenging year. A report by the church's board of national mission last year revealed that the kirk, which is losing 17,000 members a year, could run out of money within 10 years. There are now 600,000 Church of Scotland members, compared with almost 1.3 million 40 years ago.