It is claimed up to 50 congregations may leave the Church of Scotland if the General Assembly votes next month to allow the ordination of ministers who are in same-sex sexual relationships.

The Church of Scotland ordains lesbian and gay ministers – although they have to be celibate – whereas ministers who are in married mixed-sex sexual relationships can be ordained without the same requirement.

Following a 2011 report on the issue of gay relationships and the ministry, the General Assembly has been considering whether the church should ease the restrictions on lesbian and gay ministers.

The Scotsman reports up to 50 congregations may leave the Church of Scotland if it chooses to do so.

Although the Church of Scotland has more than 1,400 congregations, such an exodus would represent the biggest split in its ranks since the 19th-century schism which led to the Free Church of Scotland’s formation.

Commenting on the reports of a possible exodus, a Church of Scotland spokesman said: “We regret and are saddened that any ministers or individuals feel they are obliged to, or feel the need to, leave over this issue but no-one knows how the General Assembly will vote or what it will decide until the day of the debate.”

In February, the Rev Dominic Smart and his congregation of 300 at Gilcomston South in Aberdeen left the Church of Scotland.

The congregation took issue with the General Assembly approving the appointment of the openly gay minister Scott Rennie to Queen’s Cross church in Aberdeen in 2009.

Last month, the Aberdeen presbytery agreed to let Rev Smart and his congregation use their old church on a temporary basis.