A summary of Mission Council

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This paper is written particularly with those new to Mission Council in mind but is offered as a helpful summary for all Mission Council members.

The original vision

This was set out in the reports to the Assembly of 1992.

The purpose of the Mission Council is to enable the Church, in its General Assembly, to take a more comprehensive view of the activity and the policy of the Church, to decide more carefully about priorities and to encourage the outreach of the Church to the community.

Its service is directly towards the Assembly, but its concern is with the whole Church and all its members, so it will seek to be aware of the pains and joys, the adventures and hopes of the whole body. As the Assembly is representative of the whole Church, so the Mission Council will listen to and will serve the local churches, to help them in their missionary vocation.

It is a Mission Council and so the aim it will have in mind is to ensure that all we undertake centrally and all we are as a denomination is directed towards the mission of God in the world, towards that Kingdom of justice, peace, forgiveness and hope which is true life and which Christ brings in his person.

They will ask, is this programme, this appointment, this budget, this grant, this statement designed to further the overall mission, or simply to maintain our human structures of institutional life? It is by such criteria that priorities will have to be assessed, not only when new work is proposed but as the existing work of the Church is reviewed.

The members

Each of the 13 synods is represented by four people, including its moderator. These 52 people form the main body of the membership. The other significant group of members is the conveners of Assembly standing committees (apart from the Pastoral Reference and Welfare committee), plus the chair of the URC Trust, eleven people in total. URC Youth has three representatives. The Assembly officers (the current moderators of General Assembly, general secretary, deputy general secretary, clerk, treasurer, and Assembly Arrangements convenor) are members, as are the two immediate past Assembly moderators, the two moderators-elect and the legal adviser. Others in attendance include the moderators’ chaplains, a consensus adviser, observers from ecumenical partner Churches, and Church House staff members. The number attending Mission Council is usually around 90 people.

Mission Council Advisory Group

The Mission Council Advisory Group (MCAG) plans the agenda and necessary follow up and provides support for the Assembly moderators, the general secretary and the deputy general secretary. Its members are the five General Assembly Moderators (immediate past, present and Moderators-elect), General Secretary, Deputy General Secretary, Treasurer, and three members-at-large elected by Mission Council, one of whom is a committee convenor. The current members-at-large are Derrick Dzandu-Hedidor, Nicola Furley-Smith and Elizabeth Nash.


There are normally two mailings before each Mission Council. The first contains practical information about the meeting and may include other reports if they are ready. The second contains the agenda and timetable and (as far as possible) all other papers to be considered. You need to build reading time into your diary in the week before every meeting.


Mission Council meets residentially for 48 hours twice per year. In an Assembly year it meets in March and October/November and in alternate years it meets in May and November/December. The meetings relate very much to the Assembly, responding to its requests, preparing business for its consideration, and acting on its behalf. Input to the Mission Council may come from the Assembly or its committees, a synod or from Mission Council task groups or advisory groups.

Style of meeting

Worship and Bible study are central to our meeting. They are the responsibility of the Assembly moderators and their chaplains. Much of the time we meet in plenary session, with a moderator in the chair and the clerk keeping us in order. The standing orders are the same as those used by Assembly. It helps if people identify themselves when they ask to speak. We use small groups in a variety of ways, both fixed groups and informal buzz groups. The conversation at coffee breaks and over meals is also generally very lively.

Mission Council operates according to the standing orders of the Assembly. These can be found here. A particular feature of our proceedings is the use of consensus decision making. There is a pattern to the discussion of any issue, beginning with a presentation followed by an information session in which questions for clarity may be asked. This is followed by the discussion session in which you are free to express any point you wish to make. You will be issued with orange and blue cards and the moderator will ask at various points whether you feel “warm” or “cool” towards a point that has been made. You will also use your cards to show whether you are in agreement with a proposal that is formally before the Council. If you are confused at any point by the consensus process, the Revd Pauline Barnes, consensus adviser, will be happy to explain how it works.

Very occasionally Mission Council goes into “closed session”. In a closed session, only voting members of the Council are present. Closed sessions are Mission Council’s way of dealing with sensitive, confidential business. Strict rules of confidentiality apply and these will be explained.

In general, because we are seeking the mind of Christ together, each member of Mission Council is asked to strive for the highest standard of listening and engagement.

  • I will listen carefully before responding, checking out what I am hearing.
  • I will express myself with courtesy, and respect to every sister/brother who participates in these conversations, especially toward those with whom I disagree.
  • I will express my disagreements and critical engagement with others without insulting, making fun of or slandering anyone personally.
  • I will not exaggerate others’ convictions or perspectives, nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes.
  • I will always work towards extending the benefit of the doubt in the spirit of generosity.
  • I will allow myself and others to change as a result of our conversations.
  • We will hold each other accountable for keeping to the above principles, based not on what ideas are expressed but on how they are expressed.
  • I will honour my own discomfort at things said or done in our conversations.


The United Reformed Church thrives when its people feel involved in what is going on, participate robustly in our discernment and decision making, and share a sense of ownership of the directions we travel together. Good communication is vital to this. It is the responsibility of the communications department to keep people up to date with United Reformed Church news via social media (specifically facebook and twitter), the URC website and news releases distributed to appropriate publications.

The communications team, working in the hall during all open sessions of Mission Council, will follow the debates and discussions and report on the decisions made. Major newsworthy decisions will be communicated by them as soon as possible. Particularly complicated or sensitive issues are not reported without checking the accuracy and wording with one of the Mission Council/Assembly officers. It is essential that all others present refrain from circulating information from, or opinions about, Mission Council/General Assembly on social networking sites, or by any other means which have potential for widespread dissemination, until reports have been communicated by the communications team.

Although Mission Council meetings take place in wi-fi enabled rooms and many attending will have access to social media sites during business sessions, their primary responsibility is to attend to the business and participate in the decision making. They must refrain from posting on social media sites during business sessions. This restriction is only in place when Mission Council is in session; those attending are free to join in the online debates during breaks and after the close of business.

Those using social media at any time should note that everything written and shared on social media sites is the responsibility of the author and subject to the same libel laws as any other form of written communication. The points made above in relation to the style of meeting also outline the standards of generous courtesy that are expected of Mission Council members in all their social media posts.


Advice is welcome from all quarters, but Mission Council has several standing advisory groups in addition to the Mission Council Advisory Group described above. The Human Resources Advisory Group (HRAG) reviews all the key staff posts on a regular basis, and considers imminent vacancies and proposals for new posts. The Law and Polity Advisory Group (LPAG) advises on matters of polity and government legislation. The Ministerial Incapacity and Discipline Advisory Group (MIND) oversees the processes for discipline and incapacity and brings proposals to amend them as necessary. A !---->Listed Buildings Advisory Group!----> reports annually.

Mission Council also appoints short term task groups to undertake specific pieces of work.

Making connections

All of this is about what happens at Mission Council. Whilst at their best our meetings are “aware of the pains and joys, the adventures and hopes of the whole body”, to many in the Church, Mission Council seems very remote. Therefore a key role of the synod representatives in particular is to act as channels of communication, before and after meetings, and in both directions.


The administration and planning of Mission Council is the responsibility of the general secretariat, to whom all reasonable comments and questions may be addressed.

Revised March 2013

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