General Assembly Day two round-up – Saturday 7 July 2018

big speak outBusiness Session two

'Charter for children’ sparks lively discussion
On Saturday 7 July, the United Reformed Church General Assembly was asked to consider the relevance of the 'charter for children' – a set of ten statements affirmed by the 1990 Assembly on the place of children within worship and church life. After a short presentation, the Revd Jenny Mills, convenor of the URC’s children's and youth work (CYW) committee, moved Resolution 22, which asked the Assembly to recommit implementing the charter for children. The issue sparked a lively debate on the floor of Assembly; comments ranged from linguistic concerns about the resolution’s wording and whether the existing charter is written in child-friendly language, to whether the charter needs significant new work.

The mood of Assembly changed markedly after Hannah Jones, URC Youth Assembly Moderator, gave an impassioned speech in favour of an amendment to the resolution; she said: Out of the 18 young people in this room, only two had heard of the charter for children … however, what the charter stands for and what it means is incredibly important and should be kept.’ Citing young people’s concerns, Ms Jones asked: ‘Who is the charter for children targeted at? We believe it is unclear. … The language used within this document is not at all inclusive. Many of us were confused by it ... If the charter for children is for everyone – young and old, it certainly isn’t engaging everyone, and we believe this needs to be changed.’ Ms Jones also raised concerns about the definition of children with regards to age range.

Ms Jones’ amendment called for the charter to be revaluated and brought to the 2020 Assembly after full consultation with the wider Church, including children and young people of all ages. Members of Assembly greatly warmed to this proposal, with one URC Youth representative noting that changes to the charter for children should come from them (the children). Assembly voted to carry the amendment by consensus. The substantive motion was then carried by consensus, which was heartily applauded.

‘Audacious journey of hope’: Collin Cowan of CWM addresses Assembly
The Revd Dr Collin Cowan, General Secretary of the Council for World Mission (CWM) addressed General Assembly on Saturday morning.

Dr Cowan began by recognising that the United Reformed Church was meeting during times of difficulty for the UK. The response to which the church is called, he said ‘telling and living the story of God’s interest in the wellbeing of the world’. He commended the URC on its emphasis on ‘Walking the way: Living the life of Jesus today’, which he said resonated with CWM.

Dr Cowan then gave Assembly an introduction to the work of CWM, which he described as ‘a community of narratives, where every narrative matters’. CWM began 40 years ago, incorporating three older missionary societies. Its 32-member organisations from across the world enjoy equal representation, equal access to resources and equal opportunity to send and receive mission partners.

In 2010, said Dr Cowan, CWM issued a theology statement, saying that all our mission happens against a background of empire, a destructive and self-destructive cultural and economic system. CWM aims to support its members ‘in reading the signs of the times and responding to God’s cry at the broken humanity and the groaning creation’. CWM’s present priorities have been developed in the light of this theology.

Dr Cowan then shared some highlights of CWM’s initiatives. They included:

  • Legacies of Slavery: A series of hearings, facing the truths of the Transatlantic slave trade.
  • Dare Global Forum: Dare (Discernment and Radical Engagement) encourages churches and theological colleges to engage more in difficult issues related to justice and peace. 
  • A More Able Church: Pilot projects in the UK, Taiwan, South India and Madagascar, working with people living with disability.
  • Nifea (New International Financial and Economic Architecture): An exploration of alternative economic structures.
  • The Rohingya Response: CWM has started conversations with both the Presbyterian Church of Myanmar and Church of Bangladesh about the crisis facing the Rohingya people of Myanmar, in which both churches are involved in different ways.
  • Sharing of People: ‘A tremendous success story for CWM.’ In the last year, churches have provided 87 people for CWM’s governance structure alone. The URC alone has offered ten people in the present decade.

Dr Cowan said CWM is looking ahead to 2020 and beyond. The URC’s General Secretary John Proctor is part of the strategic planning group.

In conclusion, Dr Cowan said CWM is on a ‘journey of hope in which we are audacious’, and he invited the URC ‘to persist together with the CWM family on this journey’.

The full script of Dr Cowan’s speech is available here.

The election of the Assembly moderators 2020-22. The election was held during business session two. The results will be announced tomorrow (Sunday 8 July).

The election of Assembly Moderators – Resolution four
Resolution four, which proposes to change the way in which Assembly Moderators are elected with effect from the end of the 2018 meeting of Assembly, was presented by Ms Hannah Jones, Youth Assembly Moderator. Ms Jones believes that the process being proposed in resolution four will not only being clarity and additional fairness to the process, but will also remove flaws inherent in the current process (which shows bias towards nominees who are incumbent members of Assembly and does little to keep members of Assembly discern who may be best suited for the role.

The proposed process is based on the procedure for electing the Youth Moderator; each candidate will be expected to attend General Assembly, to read out their ‘pen portrait’ and answered a question posed by the current Moderator. For this process to be adopted, significant changes are required to be made to the Rules of Procedure.

There was a request made to tidy up the grammar of the resolution, this was done and the wording below was agreed as the resolution to be put.

Resolution four was moved in an amended four as below:

General Assembly agrees that the following principles shall be written into the Rules of Procedure for the election of its Moderators:

a) All synods should supply a brief biography and reasons for nomination of any nominees;
b) The nominees will each be given up to three minutes in the Assembly to present their biography;
c) The nominees will each be given up to three minutes in the Assembly to respond to a question from the Moderator;

General Assembly instructs the Clerk and General Secretary to redraft the appropriate section of the Rules of Procedure, incorporating these principles, and bring the new draft to Mission Council for approval, not later than spring 2019 – thus in time for a new procedure to be used at the 2020 meeting of General Assembly.

There were several questions for clarification, including one on whether each candidate would answer the same question – the answer to which was a clear yes!

There was a short time of further discussion, as members spoke in favour of the and against the proposal. Opposing the resolution, Peter Macintosh, a former moderator of Assembly, was concerned that this more formal process would limit the number of candidates willing to be put forward, while Paul Whittle expressed concerns that the issues of discernment and call could not flourish in such a process. On the other side of the debate, Jacky Embrey, who’d had the privilege of being at Youth Assembly in January, commented that she’d felt ‘comfortable that young people discern the mind of Christ’ whereas, at General Assembly, members ‘don’t always know who they’re voting for – indeed might never have heard of them!’. This point was followed by Rosalind Selby who noted that the proposal, like the call process followed in local churches, allowed members of Assembly to get to know people they are voting for just a little – and that can only be a good thing.

The resolution was passed by consensus, recognising disagreement. The matter is now in a process to be passed by MC and be used from GA 2020.

The ordination promises made by elders, resolution office, was remaindered.

The Big Speak Out
Lorraine Webb, the Children's and Youth Work Programme Officer took great delight in presenting to General Assembly, 44 young people from synods across the country to introduce the topics that were important to them.

Members of Assembly were asked to show whether they agreed, with the young people, that the topical issues were important by a show of cards.

Representing 11 and 12-year-olds, Shameer and Megan discussed education, and refugees around the world, and the platform children were not being given to raise their concerns. They said: ‘[Children] might be children but they do have their own opinions and it’s equally important [as adults].’

Kyla and Philippa represented 13 and 14-year-olds highlighted: homelessness; bullying; peer pressure; and the mistreatment of women. They said: ‘Church is supposed to be a refuge for those in need and those who are suffering.’

Kai, who represented those aged 14-19, highlighted global warming, world hunger, war and conflict, and American gun laws.

Members of the Assembly agreed that all the topics presented were important issues and praised the young people for their presentation.

Ms Webb said: ‘I think we will all agree that our young people have some very strong advocates.’

crcwAssembly honours 30 years of CRCW ministry
Members of the United Reformed Church General Assembly commemorated its affirmation of community work ministry, on Saturday (7 July). The URC's first church related community work (CRCW) project began in 1981, but today's presentation, and the lunch party that followed, honoured the 30th anniversary of the 1987 General Assembly, at which a resolution was taken that 'duly recognised' the role and ministry of church related community workers (CRCWs). General Assembly is the URC's key decision-making body.

'We are celebrating 30 years and counting,' said Simon Loveitt, convenor of the CRCW programme subcommittee, as part of a presentation showcasing the transformative effect of CRCW throughout the country. 'The process of community development is an empowering and enabling way to express beliefs in action. [Churches] do so with the knowledge that engaging in this ministry will change not only the community but also the congregation. They also understand that this journey is not one that can be neatly pre-planned but that it will certainly be Spirit-filled and exciting.'

Mr Loveitt's presentation included a short and vibrant film about church related community work in different contexts. The presentation ended with Mr Loveitt lighting candles on a birthday cake, then inviting Mr Derek Estill, Moderator of General Assembly, to blow out those candles with him. Before the candlelight was extinguished, the Assembly sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to CRCW. The cake was then cut and shared with members of Assembly. Mr Estill expressed his delight at participating in this celebration, and gave his good wishes for CRCW to continue.

Over the past 30 years, 44 CRCWs have been involved in 57 Church and community settings within the UK. To view the two-minute film about CRCW that was shown during the Assembly presentation, click here.

Ministerial and Incapacity Disciplinary Report: The General Secretary, the Revd John Proctor, presented the report of Assembly Commissions held under the Disciplinary Process on ‘some difficult and sensitive work’, reminding Assembly that this report is traditionally received without comment and that the matters are considered in a general way. Mr Proctor said that, since July 2016, three disciplinary cases have concluded; and in none of those cases were ministers removed from the roll. No cases have been dealt with under the Incapacity Procedure.

Resolution 43: Tidying up a 2014 resolution
Resolution 43, which aims to amend resolution 17, from General Assembly 2014, was proposed by John Proctor and seconded by Jane Baird. Mr Proctor, in introducing the resolution, said ‘this is a technical amendment to a resolution that was ageing in principle four years ago. Certain posts at Church House are open to people who are members of churches that have a constructive, ordered and accountable relationship with an ecumenical body or international, to which the URC belongs. And we find that the list of bodies have been drawn up in too restrictive a way. … we are simply asking … if those four ecumenical bodies [Action of Churches Together in Scotland, Churches Together in England, Churches Together in Wales and the Free Churches Group] can be included in the guidance given to appointment of these posts.’ After a short discussion the matter was passed by majority vote.

Four community projects make awards history
In a first for the United Reformed Church’s community project awards, four initiatives were declared joint winners: the Ask Centre, a poverty advice service linked to Rhyl United Church in north Wales; Northallerton URC's 'secret garden', North Yorkshire; The Meeting Place, a social cafe for lonely or isolated people in Stocksbridge, South Yorkshire; and Trinity Learning, which provides workshops for school leaders, pupils and staff in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. The awards scheme is proudly sponsored by Congregational, a leading provider of church insurance, which granted £2,000 to each project as well as a commemorative plaque. The four winning projects were revealed on Saturday 7 July at the URC’s key decision making body, General Assembly.

In the Assembly hall, four creative films were shown to members, before two representatives from each project took to the stage to be congratulated and given a commemorative plaque. Eunice Parry, who received the award on behalf of the Ask Centre, described winning the award as ‘a tremendous privilege’ and the experience of being on stage at Assembly ‘very exciting’. John Cornell, representing The Meeting Place, said that he was ‘affirmed and humbled’ to be one o the 2018 award winners, adding: ‘I am delighted to accept this award on behalf of all our volunteers and the church’s commitment to this project.’

The Revd Kevin Watson and Mr Alan Yates, Immediate-past Moderators of the URC General Assembly, who helped judge this year’s award entries, said: 'In a break with tradition, we have chosen four very different projects as joint winners. We are very grateful to Congregational for sponsoring these awards which enable us to showcase the projects which demonstrate our churches' love for their community. We are confident that the cash prizes will make a positive difference to their work. In presenting these fantastic and diverse projects from across our nations, we hope that other churches, in any location, are inspired to do likewise.'

To view the video showcasing the work of the four winning projects, click here.

Business session three

Greetings of newly ordained ministers and CRCWs
The thirty newly-ordained Ministers, Church-Related Community Workers, and Assembly-accredited lay preachers (ordained since the close of General Assembly 2016) were acknowledged by Assembly, and those present introduced to Assembly by their synod moderator and warmly greeted by both moderators of General Assembly.

Those present were Nick Jones, Sally Bateman, Vicky Longbone, Liz Adams, Angela Rigby, Andy Braunston, David Scott and Daleen Ten Cate.

jubilee ministersAssembly honours 73 'jubilee ministers' – and a special birthday
United Reformed Church ministers who have dedicated more than 50, 60 or 70 years of service to the denomination since its Assembly last met, 'jubilee ministers', were given fervent applause on Saturday (7 July). Seventy-three ministers were honoured in an 11-minute slideshow presentation listing their achievements, which for one minister, the Revd Norman Jenkinson, was 70 years of service. The presentation was shown at the 2018 URC General Assembly, which is the Church's key decision-making body. Three of the 73 ministers honoured attended the Assembly, humorously pretending to hobble to the stage, holding their backs, when greeted by Mr Derek Estill, General Assembly Moderator. Mr Estill then led a prayer ‘for all willing people working in [God’s] service’, new and older, asking for blessings on their future lives.

After the Assembly had thanked its jubilee minsters, the presentation ended by noting the Revd Geoffrey Beck's 100th birthday on 16 June. Mr Beck served the URC for 38 years before retiring in 1984. He was awarded the Cross of the Order of Merit – the highest tribute that Germany gives to individuals for services to the nation – in 2014, for being part of the team that successfully established memorials honouring Adam von Trott, a key figure of the German resistance to Nazism.

To view the jubilee minister presentation, click here (this is a download link).

Faith and order committee – resolution 25
The Revd Dr Alan Spence, convenor of the faith and order committee, presented to General Assembly resolution 25 on new forms of church membership. The committee, he explained, was instructed by the 2016 Assembly to look at possible changes in membership rules to include those who are no longer able to attend a local church. The committee brought proposals to Mission Council in May 2017. Mission Council asked for more work to be done, so the committee consulted with the law and polity advisory group and synod moderators. As a result the committee is proposing that each synod identify one or more local churches to hold the membership of such people, who would be received by the Church Meeting.

Asked how the synod and the church would be selected, Dr Spence said that the committee did not want to legislate, rather it was a question of finding churches with a heart for providing this service.

Assembly responded warmly to the proposal, though concerns were expressed about how to maintain pastoral care, whether the term ‘isolated member’ might reinforce the feeling of isolation, and whether the scheme could undermine ecumenism. Dr Spence said that the committee originally attempted a scheme that did everything but ran into insurmountable problems with the URC’s law and polity advisory group, so it was necessary to attempt something less ambitious.

The resolution was passed with consensus, noting that there would be further conversation.

The ‘hostile environment’
Ms Francis Brienen, Deputy General Secretary (Mission), and the Revd Steve Faber, Moderator of West Midlands Synod, who are both members of the Joint Public Issues Team’s Strategy and Policy Group (SPG), presented ‘The hostile environment’ which includes resolution 39.

Resolution 39 says:
In the light of recent revelations about the treatment of some members of the ‘Windrush Generation’ and other migrants, General Assembly:

a) expresses its deep concern that the government’s ‘hostile environment’ policies (now being referred to as the ‘compliant environment’) are leading to destitution, discrimination and distrust in society;
b) calls for an approach to immigration that treats every individual, whatever their status, with humanity, dignity, respect and fairness;
c) encourages church members to study the Joint Public Issues Team’s new report on this subject, and consider taking the actions outlined in the report;
d) directs the Mission Committee to work with others to make appropriate representations to government, to make the Church’s concerns known.

Ms Brienen said: ‘Recently we have witnessed, with shame, the treatment of members of the “Windrush generation” who have lost their homes, jobs and access to NHS treatment because of these policies.

'Their treatment is just the tip of the iceberg,' she said.

The Deputy General Secretary (Mission) then went onto explain how the policies used the threat of destitution as a tool to encourage people to leave the country; how people were prevented from accessing community services and healthcare we all need to live; and how ordinary members of the community were being turned into de facto ‘border guards’.

She continued: ‘We shouldn’t live in a suspicion of our neighbour.’

Mr Faber said that the policies must be challenged so that people of any nationality or background could live freely.

Ms Brienen also drew attention to the Joint Public Issues Hostile Environment campaign, and encouraged members of Assembly to read its report and take the action it advised to support the issue; such as members writing to local MPs asking for a full and independent review of the policies.

During the subsequent discussion members of Assembly expressed their support for the resolution and shared examples of local church congregations supporting asylum seekers.

The resolution was passed by consensus.

Ministries committee: Discerning God’s Call – Resolution 28
The Revd Paul Whittle, in his capacity as convenor of the ministries committee, presented this paper which encourages a flexible approach to the issuing of ministerial calls. He reminded the Assembly that ministers are, and can be, called in a variety of ways and said the ministries committee has been asked to explore whether the locus of call should move away from the traditional way of issuing calls via the local church process – specifically where calls are/could be issued by a group of churches.

‘I value the way in which we most often do call – it’s deeply affirming … however, it would be nonsense to pretend that call can only happen in that one way’ said Mr Whittle. He added that, while the draft resolution does not offer radical change it does remind us of a range of options to allow the denomination to work more creatively and flexibility than it currently does. Mr Whittle concluded his presentation by urging Assembly to ‘do something different [that would make it easier to] to be creative, flexible, easier to be a team … let us adopt this resolution and make use of all the options.’

An engaging debate followed, with speakers posing a variety of questions and points of view: ‘How will this leave student and ordinands?’ and ‘Will the resolution cover emerging situations?’ The answer to both was yes. There was also a short discussion on the extent of this flexibility – did it, for example, extend to, calls to hospital and prison chaplaincies? Mr Whittle confirmed it could, saying ‘call is not limited to call from a local congregation, but there does need to be a URC element [in the call]’.

The Revd Professor David Thompson argued that this resolution does not do anything new. In response, Mr Whittle urged Assembly to pass the resolution, arguing that it marked the significant work done by the committee, and would bring the existence of flexibility of call to the forefront. The resolution was passed by consensus, recognising disagreement.

The planned business, from the ministries committee, on resolutions 29, 30, 37 and 38 was remaindered and will return to Assembly in a later session.

The debate on the future of General Assembly was started but not finished; we will report in it when it has concluded.

Saturday night worship at General Assembly was led by URC Youth on the theme of pilgrimage. In a lively, creative service, the worship leaders got members to make paper aeroplanes to cast away things they were sorry for.