Mission Council round-up day two 17 November 2018

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David and Nigel 2Day two of Mission Council opened with worship led by the Revd Elaine Colechin, Chaplain to the Revd Nigel Uden, Moderator of the General Assembly. The Revd Dr Susan Durber led the second of three Bible studies from Philippians, about cultivating the virtue of humility, imitating Christ’s self-emptying grace and seeing oneself made in the image of God.

Session four

The Revd David Salsbury was welcomed into the role of Stepwise Programme Manager by the Revd Nigel Uden who thanked Mr Salsbury for ‘hearing the call’.

Paper R1-R3: United Reformed Church Past Case Review – Findings and recommendations of the learning group
The Revd Richard Church, Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship) of the URC, and Mr Ioannis Athanasiou, URC Safeguarding Adviser, presented three reports to the Mission Council to encourage and improve the safeguarding ethos in the URC, and to advance its culture of safeguarding.

The main report offered the key learnings and main themes that came up as a result of the Past Case Review (PCR) Learning Group report. The other addressed vetting, disclosure and barring (DBS) checks with clearer guidance for local churches on safer recruitment checks.

Mission Council expressed its heartful gratitude to those who approached the United Reformed Church to voice and share their experiences and stories as part of the PCR.

The report stated that safeguarding is a responsibility for everyone in every congregation, synod, institution and office of the United Reformed Church.

The Safeguarding Advisory Group (SAG) was tasked to take the PCR Learning Group report's recommendations and implement them through a comprehensive strategic safeguarding plan from 2019 to 2024.

Mr Athanasiou reminded the council about the significant work that had already been undertaken along with the ongoing commitment of synod safeguarding leads and church safeguarding coordinators. Work with committees, trustee bodies, reference groups and local ecumenical partnerships would continue to further improve safeguarding policies and practices.

The SAG identified six broad areas for consideration in taking forward a safeguarding strategic plan for the next five years: pastoral care and support, to ensure a lasting, healing process; a safeguarding culture, recognising that safeguarding is at the heart of the church; training, to ensure that ministers, staff and volunteers have the right safeguarding training and skills; policy and governance, to get the right foundations; recording systems, to protect the rights of individuals; and ecumenical and other partnerships.

Ioannis Athanasiou said: ‘Safeguarding is a journey. We have to go on it together at all levels of URC.’

Subject to a factual correction being made, report R1 was received.

Session five

Paper T1: MIND (ministerial incapacity and disciple advisory group)
This paper was taken out of en bloc and introduced by the Revd John Proctor, General Secretary. The Revd Jacky Embrey had asked to speak about it. Ms Embrey said she was pleased with the direction of travel the group was taking in addressing concerns about the ministerial disciplinary process – known as ‘Section O’. In noting the concerns, MIND is considering whether to initiate changes to the process or to produce a new process. Ms Embrey suggested that a new process, rather than a revised process, would be more suitable. Members of Mission Council, when asked for an informal expression of opinion, were warm to this.

Paper H2: Non-stipendiary ministry of Word and Sacraments
Mission Council authorised a fourth model of non-stipendiary ministry. This followed the work of a group which looked at non-stipendiary ministry and made recommendations about how this form of ministry could be better supported and used.

At a previous Mission Council the ministries committee was requested to develop a fourth model of non-stipendiary ministry, based in a local church or mission project, whose training is locally focussed to meet the needs of the congregation and community. General Assembly ran out of time to discuss the matter and remitted it to Mission Council. This new model was developed so it would complement existing models. 

The committee felt that the fourth model was needed to add to the current range of varied and flexible ministry. The new model would be determined in the same way as other calls to ministry of word and sacraments through the synod candidating process and the Assembly’s assessment conference.

Each synod would determine the boundaries of model four NSM according to the needs in planning for mission.

In presenting the resolutions, the Revd Paul Whittle, Convenor of the ministries committee convenor, said that the new model would add missional value to the life of the URC as it sought to build God’s kingdom, without losing what the URC already enjoys with existing models of non-stipendiary ministry. Instead, it would offer even more possibilities of providing what’s needed, sitting alongside the ministry of elders.

As part of a detailed debate, the Revd Simon Walkling, moderator of the URC National Synod of Wales, agreed with members from the South Western Synod by saying that are places where this model of ministry would be useful and warmly welcomed.

Resolution one was passed recognising some disagreement. Resolutions two, three and four were passed by consensus.

Session seven

En bloc business
The following resolutions were passed en bloc on Saturday afternoon. En bloc resolutions are voted on without debate, having been deemed uncontroversial. This has no reflection on their importance.

I1: Mission committee update
A report on the recent work of the committee, including Commitment for Life partnership agreement.

J1: Nominations
Amendments to the nominations list agreed by General Assembly in July.

L1: URC Trust: Windermere and Church House
An update on developments concerning the two buildings.

M3 and U2: The General Secretariat
A timeline for recruitment following the retirement of the General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship) in 2020, and a proposal to lift two-term cap on the tenure of the General Secretary.

M4: Record of an Assembly commission
A report of an appeal to the General Assembly against a decision of the ministries committee.

N1: Task group on General Assembly
Notice that no report will be made until made until Mission Council of May 2019.

O1 and O2: Human resources advisory group
A report on the recent work of the group, and a revision to its terms of reference.

P1: Marriage in Jersey
Bringing rules for the marriage of same-sex couples in Jersey into line with those elsewhere in the United Reformed Church, following the change in Jersey law.

Z1: Church House management group
Changes to the group’s terms of reference, including end of service dates for members.

Paper J2: Nominations
A report of changes to the nominations list since July 2018 was presented to Mission Council, which was asked to note and approve changes listed in section A – including the addition of Alan Yates who will serve as Chair of the education and learning finance committee until 30 June 2019 – and appoint according to the list of nominations in section B. Both resolutions were passed by consensus.

Paper G2: URC ministers’ retirement costs – making best use of our shared financial resources
On Saturday afternoon, a proposal to encourage synod-based financial contributions to the URC ministers’ pension fund was passed by the Mission Council.

Several synods already give financial support to the pension fund by setting aside a percentage of the sale proceeds of redundant (non-manse) buildings. The proposal encouraged other synods to consider giving 10% of the net proceeds of sales of similar properties so the church could meet the required contributions to the pension fund.

The finance committee also encouraged synods to accept that this form of giving should have priority over similar giving by synods to other central URC bodies.

Paper G1: Budget 2019
The budget for 2019 was passed. Ian Hardie, Treasurer for the URC, reported that the income and expenditure would both be in the region of £20.1m. The ministry and mission giving for 2019 is forecast to be around 1.6% lower than the 2018 budget figure, but overall expenditure is expected to be marginally less than this year largely as a result of a reduction in the costs of ministry.

Looking ahead, the position for 2020 is ‘reasonably satisfactory’ at this stage, despite a projected deficit. Ministry and mission giving is expected to further reduce, and there will be some additional costs in 2021.

Paper A1: Arrangements for General Assembly 2020
The General Secretary, the Revd John Proctor, and the convenor of the Assembly arrangements committee, the Revd James Breslin, presented paper A1 on Friday, dealing with a recent complication to the arrangements for General Assembly 2020.

Assembly’s decision to hold the 2020 Assembly at Aston University, Birmingham, from 10 to 13 July, was based on a quotation which the University is now unable to fulfil. The University can accommodate half of Assembly’s members on that date, or all of them at the end of July. Mission Council was therefore asked to choose between three options, acknowledging that none was ideal:

  1. Accommodate almost half of the members in hotels three miles from the venue;
  2. Move the date of Assembly to 31 July till 3 August; or
  3. Look for an alternative venue on the original date.

Answering questions for clarification, Mr Breslin said that the University has undertaken to provide a shuttle service but it would have to go through the centre of Birmingham. Work in the city centre on the HS2 train line is due to be complete by then, but this cannot be guaranteed. Mr Proctor said that initial enquiries suggested it was getting late for finding an alternative venue.

When Mission Council debated the question on Saturday, a fourth option was also considered: the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick would be available from 6 July, but this would be a midweek Assembly.

Members of Mission Council expressed concerns, personal and in principle, with the various options. Option (b) would be in school holidays and (d) would be bad timing for URC Youth. Option (a) emerged as the most workable. Mr Proctor pointed out that most of the shuttle journeys involved would be at night and or the weekend; only Monday morning’s was likely to be delayed and Assembly would work around that.

Consensus was reached that the committee should pursue option (a) but also try to book accommodation closer to the venue.

D1 group 1Paper D1: Education and learning: Honouring the Windermere Centre’s legacy through the discipleship development strategy
The Revd Professor Neil Messer, Convenor of the education and learning committee, presented paper D1 and explained that, at this point, Mission Council was not being asked to make a decision. Instead, it was being asked for feedback, and a steer in the right direction, on proposals about what to do with the proceeds of the sale of the Windermere Centre – which will be decided upon in 2019. Professor Messer advised, that in order for the committee to suggest proposals, it would be helpful for Mission Council to break into discussion groups to answer questions on the three main options presented in the paper: spending interest only, spending a combination of interest and capital, spending capital only. And to explore other ways of the using the funds.

Session eight

Paper M2: Acting with strategic intent – back office/front office, what next?
Alan Yates, Immediate-past Moderator of General Assembly, introduced a discussion about changing the priorities and focus of the denomination’s work. Recapping on his presentation to Mission Council 2018, he said that the United Reformed Church faces an urgent need for change – it is not on a ‘burning platform’ yet but needs to make profound changes now before they become too urgent ‘and the only option will be drastic surgery’.

Suggesting we need to think about our existing work in terms of ‘front office’ and ‘back office’, Mr Yates explained that front office work focusses on dealing directly with – and delighting – customers; back office work focusses on providing exactly what front office need in order to do that (no more and no less). The denomination’s immediate customers are church leaders, whose customers are their congregations, whose customers are their communities.

The aim of this change in priorities is to keep our focus on the needs of local church.

The goal is to reduce the administrative burden on congregations and synods and to release more resources for them.

The strategy is to identify the 20% of processes that cause 80% of burden; to combine 14 trusts into one and invest, say, 5% of liquid assets a year in people. ‘We are a rich church which behaves as if we are poor,’ said Mr Yates, challenging Mission Council to change that behaviour.

The outcome envisaged is that back office processes become more centralised, so that there will be more resource and energy for the Church’s mission.

Mr Yates suggested that the first step towards this change in priorities is to establish a task group of twelve people, drawn from synod moderators, Assembly moderators, trusts, local churches and the General Secretariat. He invited Mission Council members to discuss these proposals.

Reporting by: Steve Tomkins, Editor of Reform magazine; Ann-Marie Abbasah, Communications Officer; and Andy Jackson, Head of Communications.

Picture 1: The Revd David Salsbury after being welcomed into the role of Stepwise Programme Manager by the Revd Nigel Uden.

Picture 2: A group discussion questions about the legacy of the Windermere Centre.

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