A PORT Glasgow minister has accused church leaders of abandoning people living in the poorest parishes - in favour of the rich.

Furious Reverend James Munro hit out after the Church of Scotland's Greenock and Paisley Presbytery took the decision to force a union between his Hamilton Bardrainney parish and a neighbouring church.

The church has faced a turbulent two years after their sanctuary was demolished following thousands of pounds worth of storm damage.

Now they face losing their parish altogether.

Rev Munro, who retires later this year, said: "It is the parishes with the most social deprivation which have been affected by these changes. You have Hamilton Bardrainney in upper Port Glasgow, St Ninian's and St Margaret's in Larkfield and then the east end of Greenock.

"Meanwhile, the rich parishes will continue on their sweet way." The presbytery passed the decision to unite Hamilton Bardrainney with St Martin's Parish, to bring together St Margaret's and St Ninian's in Larkfield, and to link the Greenock East End Parish with the Mount Kirk.

The local churches were instructed to reduce the number of ministers from 56 to 41 as part of a national cost-cutting exercise.

But Rev Munro added: "My congregation has been completely abandoned. I always believed the Presbyterian system meant you did not just look after your own parish, you supported all the parishes.

"My congregation has had no support from the national church or the local presbytery.

"At the meeting the silence was the most disappointing thing of all.

"My congregation feel disillusioned and disheartened. They have to bear more than one church ever should." Hamilton Bardrainney's church sanctuary was bulldozed to the ground following extensive flood and storm damage.

Rev Munro said: "They lost their church building, then they were told it was too expensive to build another one. Then they were told it was too expensive to carry out a refurbishment of the church hall. Meanwhile they have carried on fundraising. There are 120 people in Hamilton Bardrainney who are not happy. I just hope they don't lose heart now." At the end of this year, Rev Munro will call time on a colourful and fulfilling ministry that has spanned 33 years.

He said: "This is a real sad way to leave. I have never had a church building collapse on me and I have never had a church closed." The Presbytery Plan was the culmination of two years of intensive consultation by a committee set up to map out how the presbytery would achieve the reduction in numbers laid down by the General Assembly.