Mission Council May 13-15 May 2019

Mission Council three day round up banner pic formattedThe spring meeting of Mission Council, the United Reformed Church’s (URC) executive body of the General Assembly, opened on 13 May at High Leigh Conference Centre, in Hoddesdon.

Session one
It began with worship led by the Revd David Coaker, Chaplain to Derek Estill, Moderator of General Assembly.

The Revd Neil Thorogood, Principal of Westminster College, Cambridge, gave the sermon during the opening Communion Service and preached on the account of the Last Supper.

Using Mark 14 and the painting ‘The Last Supper’ by German Catholic priest and artist Sieger Köder (1925-2015), Mr Thorogood challenged the meeting to continue listening to what God is saying. He quoted the late Christian writer Rachel Held Evans, who wrote: ‘This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy, it’s a kingdom for the hungry. What more is God saying to us through the church?’

He encouraged Mission Council to explore how the place of worship can be strengthened saying: ‘Worship is one of the most profound ways we have of offering ourselves into the presence of God.’

And in his reflection added: ‘Worship creates and sustains the Church. It is one of the most profound ways we have of offering ourselves in the presence of God and opening ourselves up to the word of light.

‘We hear a cacophony of sound: deep faith and faithlessness; laughter and weeping; high hopes and sometime stifling cynicism; we hear all and at times complacency; we hear love and cruelty.

‘We hear from the messy mass of ordinary sinners that we are. Listening to God speaking through the church and we hear ourselves.

‘God says: I give you open hands and reach out to you and say take, this is my body, this is my blood, I trust you. In remembrance and in obedience in all we do today and in all we do this week, to God be the glory.’

Introductions and administration
The Revd Nigel Uden, Moderator of the URC’s General Assembly, led the introductory session of Mission Council. He welcomed individually all those attending Mission Council for the first time and passed on apologies for absence. The General Secretary, the Revd John Proctor, talked Mission Council through practicalities of the meeting. Mission Council approved the minutes of its last meeting in November 2018 and they were signed by the Moderator.

Mr Proctor told Mission Council about the chalice used in that afternoon’s Communion, which had been presented to the URC by the Disciples Ecumenical Consultative Council of the Church of Christ.

Mission Council enthusiastically agreed to send a letter of congratulation to the Revd Dr David Cornick on receiving the Lambeth Cross, from the Most Revd Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, for services to ecumenism.

Paper O1: General secretariat recruitment 
Two members of the United Reformed Church’s General Secretariat retire in 2020 – the General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship). Paper O1 considers the recruitment process for their replacement, and the creation of a denominational strategy for the future. The paper was presented to Mission Council by Geoff Shaw, convenor of the Human Resources Advisory Group (HRAG). He explained that HRAG had reviewed the two posts, looking in particular at three points:

  • Do the present job descriptions and person specifications reflect needs of the URC?
  • Do the two roles fulfil the present and future needs of the denomination?
  • How great a role should the General Secretary play in setting a vision for the future of the URC?

Mr Shaw said that the paper was the result of wide consultation and that there had been a good response to HRAG’s survey. (The responses are set out in appendix three of the paper.) HRAG understood from this consultation that the General Secretariat does not have sole responsibility for the vision of the Church, but nurtures and supports the work of others, facilitates and inspires the thinking of others, and fosters an environment that encourages change.

As a result, said Mr Shaw, the paper sets out a framework for recruitment and to put in place a task group to meet the strategic challenges of the URC in next decade and beyond.

The paper contains two resolutions. The first sets out the new job descriptions and person specifications. Mission Council considered the possibility of a jobshare, and did not rule it out, but agreed that was unlikely to be workable. The resolution was passed by consensus.

The second resolution is to create a task group looking at a denominational strategy for the future. A number of representatives argued that this was a job for the General Secretariat, not for a new group. Mission Council did not make a decision about this resolution, but referred the matter to the General Secretary to be brought back to a later meeting of Mission Council.

Session two:

Paper I3: Carbon targets
The Revd Bernie Collins, convenor of mission committee, presented Paper I3: Carbon targets to Mission Council. The paper argued that the URC’s environmental policy should be updated to endorse a net zero carbon emission (when the amount of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases released on an annual basis is zero or negative) target for the UK.

Mr Collins said: ‘The concern for urgent action to reduce climate change and its harmful effects has been increasingly on the news in recent weeks. This resolution is not written as a response but as part of the movement to take action urgently.’

Although the URC worked with the Baptist Union of GB and the Methodist Church in 2009 to publish Hope in God’s Future – that set out a Christian understand of the challenges facing our global ecology and their theological and ethical implications – which endorsed the UK government’s target for reductions in greenhouse gases (emission reductions of 80% relative to 1990 levels by 2050), new scientific evidence presents a need for urgent action to tackle climate change.

Mr Collins explained that in Scotland, the goal is to reach net zero by 2045 and in Wales also 2050 because of the relative ability of those areas.

He added that a net zero target is achievable with modern technology and if people took steps to make changes in their daily lives. However, the committee felt all this was only possible through clear stable policies to reduce emissions further without delay.

Mr Collins said: ‘The proposal is to campaign and work for net zero well before 2050 to fulfil our responsibility and ability to work for life as God intends for all peoples and all creation as part of our mission.’

A lively discussion was then held which included this question from the floor: ‘What activity counts as acting urgently?’ Mr Collins was then joined at the podium by Simeon Mitchell, URC Secretary for Church and Society, who explained that the environmental policy passed by General Assembly in 2016 was an excellent report. 

Mr Mitchell said: ‘It sets out, with a good degree of detail, a whole host of actions recommended to the Church at every level, local and national. It’s a statement of the church and agreed by the church. If we put even part of it [into action], it would go a long way.”

After a minor amendment, the resolutions passed by consensus.

Session three:

Fossil fuels - Paper Z1: URC investment policy and Paper X1: Creating a climate of change – a new approach to ethical investment
The Revd John Proctor, General Secretary of the URC, introduced papers X1 and Z1.

He asked Mission Council to lift standing orders to deal with the two papers concurrently rather than separately and the process adopted would then allow a consensus to be sought. This was agreed by Mission Council.

The Revd Dick Gray then presented Paper Z1 on behalf of the Investment Committee and outlined two arguments: whether it is more effective to disinvest from fossil fuel companies or to keep the investments in order to better engage with them.

Referring to 2015’s Paris Agreement, Mr Gray said it was clear something needed to be done and both papers affirmed this, but the best way forward was not agreed.

He explained that it was perfectly possible for the URC to invest or divest without making any significant impact on the URC’s investment returns.

Mr Gray added on the one hand no divestment, either from individual investors or from groups of church investors has yet made any significant impact in the companies where divestment has been made. 

He clarified: ‘It’s mainly us [people] that’s the problem and how we use things in our daily lives that demand the use of fossil fuels. These companies are simply responding to that demand. For example, the fuel we use for our cars.’

Explaining the argument for retaining investments in fossil fuel companies, he explained that the primary reason was not monetary, but as a means for engagement.

He added: ‘The disadvantages of divesting is that we lose our seat with the board. It works to have a seat with them and be respected and heard because of your investment.’

Mr Gray put to Mission Council: ‘Do we appease our consciences by divestment and let companies do what they want or engage with them strongly by retaining a seat at the table?’

The Revd Dr David Pickering, Moderator of the National Synod of Scotland, then presented Paper X1 and reiterated just how much climate change has been featuring in the news recently: the Extinction Rebellion protests in central London, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Greta Thunberg, David Attenborough’s programme Climate Change: the facts and the UK government’s declaration of a climate emergency.

Summarising the papers, Dr Pickering said the URC was well behind the curve of many of its sister denominations, science made clear that action was needed now, the URC’s engagement policy with fossil fuel companies was too little too late, and profiting from harming God’s creation was immoral.

Through a series of slides, Dr Pickering said the URC was at a juncture to either maintain the status quo and persuade some companies to change direction over time or take heed of Attenborough’s warning and act with determination and urgency.

Dr Pickering explained that the URC’s management company’s statement, in paragraph 4.5 which refers to Shell and Total, both fossil fuel companies, aligning with the Paris Agreement is disingenuous.

He explained that pledges made by the two companies is about carbon intensity rather than overall emissions, so their overall emissions could remain the same if they produce double the amount of energy in 2050.

Dr Pickering added that Shell and Total’s current spend on low-carbon investments is a negligible 3% which was dwarfed by their spending on misleading branding and lobbying, just as tobacco manufacturers had done previously.

He commented: ‘The reality is that their strategy is Paris defiant, not Paris compliant.’

With reference to retaining a seat at the engagement table, Dr Pickering said the Methodists have £1.4bn invested and the Church of England £12bn, dwarfing the URC’s £100m.

‘We bring relatively little to the engagement table,’ he added. ‘But strategically, if we went fossil free it could lead to the formation, by our demand, of a fossil free ethical fund, encouraging and enabling our partners to follow and strengthening their engagement hand. We can move from behind the curve to blazing the trail.’

But Dr Pickering painted a picture of intergenerational hope when he referred Greta Thunberg, a Swedish schoolgirl who sparked global climate action among young people, saying: ‘We must listen to the voice of the youth.’

He went onto to outline the significant proportion of local URCs engaged with Eco-church and how Thames North, South Western and the National Synod of Scotland passed resolutions relating to divestment from fossil fuel companies, and Yorkshire announced their divestment.

Dr Pickering ending his presentation by saying: ‘Mission Council – we should hear what our grassroots are saying and respond.’

Paul Robinson news storyGuest speaker: Paul Rochester
The Revd Paul Rochester, General Secretary of Free Churches Group (FCG), spoke to Mission Council on the first evening of its meeting. Outlining the work of the group, he said that the FCG aimed to promote the voice of free churches in the public square, to make a difference to the lives of most vulnerable and to raise the profile of the group.

The core area of the group’s work, Mr Rochester said, was chaplaincy in prison, healthcare and education. There are 7,200 prisoners in England and Wales who are registered as free church, and they are ministered to by 260 free church chaplains. This work is particularly important, he said, because people become Christians in prison, which raises the challenge ‘of how to connect church within prison with church on outside’. Sixty congregations are part of the FCG directory of churches that welcome former prisoners; Mr Rochester asked Mission Council representatives to consider whether their local churches could take part.

While FCG healthcare chaplains work with NHS patients of all denominations, particularly Free Churches, they are working on support for people coming out of hospital as well as in-patients.

The FCG’s education chaplaincy has expanded from focusing on schools to newer work in higher and further education. Mr Rochester said that there is more to be done here: there are three million people in further education in England and Wales, but churches offer them much less support than schools.

Another area of work that Mr Rochester outlined is social cohesion. The FCG has set up a commission with the thinktank Theos looking at Churches’ contribution to social cohesion and is working on a series of case studies.

Mr Rochester said that the FCG was keen to develop its work with local churches. He left Mission Council with the thought: ‘God’s grace is sufficient for everything we need, which means we can do things that are humanly impossible.’

Day two of the spring meeting of Mission Council opened with worship. The theme of the Revd Neil Thorogood’s Tuesday morning Bible study was ‘listening to God speaking to us through each other.’

Using a reading from the Gospel of John about Jesus meeting a Samaritan woman at the well, along with the painting ‘Insight’ by German Catholic priest and artist, Sieger Köder (1925-2015), Mr Thorogood asked: ‘What have we heard through each other?’

He then shared his love of the Gospel of John saying: ‘It gives Jesus a cosmic context.’

Mr Thorogood, Principal of Westminster College, Cambridge, one of the URC’s Resource Centres for Learning, explained that what he felt was the most profound part of John 4:4–26, saying: ‘We can each bear witness to what we know to be encountered and to encounter the word made flesh. We can each put ourselves into Köder’s painting, look down and at our reflection in the well and see Jesus’ reflection looking back at us.

‘The encounter between the woman and Jesus turns to salvation and offers a larger understanding of the gift that is on offer – the gift of eternal life. We must ask: “As I listen to those I will encounter today, in what ways am I hearing the generous flow of the water of life? Also, what’s damming it up and what’s ignoring it?”

‘The woman is collecting water alone as she’s shunned by the community that collects water together. Despite this, Jesus loves her. In Jesus, the barriers tumble and fall and flee away.

‘And there is my hope. There is your hope. There is the hope of the world.’

Session four

Mission Council opens formattedFossil fuels - Paper Z1: URC investment policy and Paper X1: Creating a climate of change – a new approach to ethical investment (continued from session three)
The Revd Nigel Uden reminded Mission Council where things left off in session three.

The Revd Dr David Pickering, Moderator of the URC National Synod of Scotland took to the podium. Answering questions about how URC trusts would be expected to respond to resolution X1, Dr Pickering said: ‘This is a matter where we are a competent body but cannot instruct our independent trustees what to do. They need to know our will and wishes and that’s what we are trying to convey to them.’

The Revd John Proctor, URC General Secretary, explained to Mission Council who the two national investment bodies were: The Ministers Pensions Fund (MPF), and the URC Trust. Mr Proctor said the MPF is always interested in the views and judgements of the central councils of the Church but that they are not bound to the decision these councils make. It is bound to law and its responsibility to the fund members. He added that the URC Trust, the second body, is also keen to be mindful of the wishes of the Council, but they are also not bound to the authority and direction of the Council. Mission Council can ask the two bodies to consider its will, but it cannot instruct them.

This led to a lively debate that explored the aims of the two papers: how critical success could be measured; how much influence a £100m investment gives the URC over a global company as large as Shell or Total and whether that percentage enables sufficient lobbying power against fossil fuels while encouraging a company to seek alternatives; what people can do in their daily lives to limit the demand for oil and gas so fossil fuel companies stop producing them; being a prophetic voice in the public sphere.

During this debate views for and against divestment were made.

One member said: ‘Engagement that delivers even small changes is better than divestment that achieves very little or nothing.’

Another said: ‘When I look at the resolutions, I can see the resolution in Paper X1 might help us to feel better about ourselves, but they do nothing to help the planet,’ adding that the resolution in Paper Z1 might not have the immediate impact of a moral crusade, but enables the URC to work with and join other denominations at the same juncture to push fossil fuel companies further towards alternatives forms of energy.

Natalie Gibbs, URC Youth Assembly Moderator, then made a statement on behalf of URC Youth Executive, which strongly supported Paper X1.

Natalie asked Mission Council: ‘Why as God’s people, stewards of his good creation, have we still not prevented or fixed the problem?’ She then referred to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report saying: ‘In just 40 years’ time the planet will no longer be able to cope with the effects of climate change … [things] would have spiralled out of control.

‘Our youngest member of URC Youth Executive will be just 59 when this occurs. This means it will be URC Youth members that have to live through and deal with this volatile future planet if change does not happen now.’

After a show of cards as to what direction Mission Council was warming to, a break was then held in the proceedings for information to be processed.

Paper M2: Listening – follow up from November’s Mission Council
The Revd Nigel Uden, Moderator of the General Assembly, took to the podium and said ‘We do not need a formal listening project, but listening is vital. It is a practice to cultivate and pursue.’ So began the presentation of Paper M2, a report offering feedback to a paper presented at the November 2018 meeting by the Moderators of the General Assembly.

Rather than a new, dedicated, programme of listening, there was a sense for a heightened commitment to listening as part of the lifestyle of the URC, especially when proposals and initiatives are being advanced. Better listening will prevent some in the URC from feeling ignored and will lead to greater unity within the Church.

When looking at radical, strategic actions, such as discussions about the URC Trust and the coordination of various services, then better listening becomes even more important.

Session five

Paper D1: The discipleship development fund and Paper D2: Education and learning committee – marks of ministry
The Revd Professor Neil Messer presented papers D1 and D2 on behalf of the education and learning committee.

Paper D2 is an outline of the marks of ministry that the United Reformed Church looks for in Ministers of Word and Sacrament. The committee created the document to help the Church discern the suitability and readiness of candidates for ministry.

Mission Council welcomed the document, but expressed concern that the marks might hold people to unrealistically high standards, and could be misused. Professor Messer assured Mission Council that the document was intended to offer decision-makers some indications of the kind of qualities to look for in a minister, not to be exclusive or restrictive. He undertook that the committee would make this point clear in the document, and bring the revised version to a future meeting of Mission Council. On that understanding, Mission Council passed the resolutions.

Paper D1 proposes to establish a discipleship development fund managed by the resource-sharing task group. Professor Messer presented it with small changes to the wording of the resolutions. The principles on which the fund will function, he said, are that it will be equitable, enduring, driven by the discipleship development strategy, steered by the fund policy and operated by synods.

In response to questions, Fiona Thomas, Secretary for Education and Learning, clarified that payments from the fund would normally be restricted to £200 a year for each applicant, and she agreed to change the wording of the policy to reflect that. Mission Council also voted to reword the policy to allow Assembly-accredited lay preachers to have access to the fund.

The resolutions were passed noting disagreement.

Session six

Paper R1: Good practice standards on child and adult protection and Paper R2: URC’s safeguarding strategic plan 2019-2023
The URC’s Safeguarding Advisory Group reported to the Mission Council that the completion of the past case review (PCR) set off a range of developments and initiatives to standardise good practice in all aspects of child and adult protection procedures.

In introducing the paper, the Revd Richard Church, Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship), said that they will ensure that: “Every local congregation of the URC is practising respectful and safe relationships.”

Since the November Mission Council, the group has:

  • created a reference group of adult survivors of historical abuse;
  • consulted with synod moderators and safeguarding officers to draft a strategic safeguarding plan so that the URC can implement the recommendations of the PCR (see report on Paper R2);
  • started the next edition of the Church’s safeguarding policy, Good Practice 5, which will be produced by the end of the year;
  • set up a group to review the Church’s safeguarding policies;
  • agreed that Due Diligence Checking Ltd (DDC) will shortly be the URC’s provider to process criminal checks for all paid and voluntary roles and positions within the Church;
  • issued guidance for safeguarding training to ensure that all individuals working in URC affiliated churches, groups, offices and institutions understand the URC’s safeguarding processes and policies;
  • introduced a modular framework to assist synods in resourcing and developing high quality training for local churches and delivering it consistently. Other specialist modules will be will follow.

Mission Council recognised the draft safeguarding strategic plan as the next step for the realisation of the recommendations from the Past Case Review Learning Group. The six objectives of the plan aim to effect culture change within the URC by improving its safeguarding policies, practices and procedures.

Each of the objectives includes actions, key tasks, rationale, success indicators, deadlines for completion, the staff involved and wider implications, such as the potential of collaboration with ecumenical partners and resources that are already available.

The differences between synods in relation to safeguarding were discussed and further work about the development, resourcing, budget, implementation and monitoring of the plan between now and 2023 was agreed with a desire that the plan would quickly become substantive.

The six objectives are:

  1. Instil a safeguarding ethos of care and service within all local congregations, synods and bodies of the URC.
  2. Ensure initial and ongoing pastoral care and support to those who were impacted by safeguarding incidents and concerns.
  3. Set up secure and appropriate systems and processes of data and information handling and reporting safeguarding.
  4. Ensure the safeguarding policies and procedures are updated, reviewed and implemented in practice throughout the URC.
  5. Provide appropriate and accessible safeguarding training for all those who are accountable for and working with children, young people and adults.
  6. Encourage and build constructive partnerships with statutory, non-statutory bodies, other denomination and faith-based communities.

The report to the Mission Council and the strategic plan can be read here.

Session seven

Nigel and RuthThe seventh session of Mission Council began with Mr Uden welcoming the reappointment of the Revd Ruth Whitehead as Moderator of the URC South Western Synod.

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

 

A1 Plans for Assembly 2020
A brief report from the Assembly arrangements committee on its progress in making arrangements for General Assembly 2020.

B1 Children’s and youth work update
A report on the work of the children’s and youth work committee.

G1 Financial outcome 2018
A report on the financial position of the URC at the end of 2018 – which was better than expected.

H1 Ministries update
A report on the recent work of the ministries committee, with guidelines appended on conduct for lay preachers.

I1 Mission update
A report on the recent work of the mission committee.

I2 Mission: Terms of reference for environmental task group

A revised remit for the environmental task group.

J1 List of nominations
Amendments to the list of nominations approved by Mission Council in November 2018.

J2: Nominations supplementary report
Changes set out in section A of the report and appoints according to the list of nominations in section B.

L1 URC Trust: Church House
A report on the remedial work completed to the lower ground floor of Church House.

L2 URC Trust: Risk register process
Changes to the risk review process in line with the principles agreed at Mission Council in May 2018.

M1 Clerk: Excerpt minutes of a constitutional review
A report of a constitutional review of some processes of Thames North Synod.

O2 Human resources advisory group: Assembly-appointed posts at Church House
A proposal that ministers working at Church House be appointed for up to seven years.

Fossil fuel group banner picFossil fuels - Paper Z1: URC investment policy and Paper X1: Creating a climate of change – a new approach to ethical investment (continued from session four)
Papers Z1 and X1 were brought back to session seven of Mission Council to see if a substantive motion could be determined, using majority voting principles, deciding which of the papers would go forward to be debated further.

The Revd Ian Hardie, URC Treasurer, clarified the resolution outlined in Paper Z1, saying: ‘Using the 18-month slot to actively use the money in a constructive way that might help the planet, is better than washing our hands and doing nothing.’

Dr Pickering thanked the investment committee and highlighted a point that it had made earlier, that there was no significant financial difference between divesting now or continuing to invest in fossil fuel companies for the next 18 months.

He asked Mission Council: ‘Why choose Paper X1? Because the time is now.’ He then urged Mission Council to think about key points in the media relating to climate change in the recent past and reiterated several points made when he presented the paper in session three.

Mission Council then held a majority vote about which paper to take forward to further debate. Sixteen voted in favour of Paper Z1 but a significant majority voted for Paper X1.

A discussion was then held around the draft resolutions in Paper X1, and minor amendments were made so that the resolution read:

Mission Council, acting on behalf of the General Assembly, agrees that the ethical investment guidelines on climate change issues be updated to reflect the following:

In light of the climate emergency, it is the wish of the URC that those responsible for investment decisions on behalf of the Church and its Trust bodies should:

  • not invest in fossil fuel companies whose total turnover is more than 10% derived from the extraction and/or supply of fossil fuels, including thermal coal, natural gas and oil
  • complete the divestment required to fulfil this decision by the time the URC General Assembly meets in 2020
  • widen their proactive role as investors, by engaging further with companies whose activities foster significant carbon emissions, for example the electricity and automotive industries, and producers of energy intensive products 
    (e.g. cement)
  • refocus the Church’s investment portfolio by scaling up investment in renewable energy and clean technologies.

Mission Council further resolves to:

  • encourage publicity of these actions and the rationale behind them, so that the URC can use its influence to advocate an end to the exploration for new oil and gas reserves, and the managed decline of fossil fuel production
  • advocate to the UK government and others for action to foster the transition to a net zero carbon economy.
  • encourage URC synods and local URC churches with investments to divest from fossil fuels, and reinvest in clean alternatives
  • support and encourage churches and church members to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels, and so participate in a just transition to a zero-carbon future
  • request the Resource Centres for Learning to ensure that those being prepared for service and leadership are cognizant of the global and spiritual context of the climate crisis.

The resolutions then passed by consensus with no objections.

Paper M3: Acting with strategic intent
Mission Council received an update to presentations made at the last two Mission Councils about future strategic planning.

The presentation in November, made by Alan Yates, a former Moderator of the General Assembly, was also presented to the URC’s Yorkshire, Thames North and Eastern Synods.

There is an appetite for radical change, the report said, but more detail is required.

The following feedback to the presentations was offered:

  • There would be advantages to centralised procurement, safeguarding and employment processes, rather than separate systems between URC offices.
  • Greater thought needs to be given to the redistribution of resources both between synods, and within synods, for rich and poor churches close to one another.
  • There needs to be an exploration about the possibility of one trust.
  • There is a need to prepare members, ministers and staff for major change.
  • Any change could start with one element, for example, HR, and then other changes could learn from that experience.
  • There is a need to build on the expertise from synods.
  • There is the need to always ask how any change works for the local church.

A resolution requesting an exploration into the amalgamation of trust bodies failed to be agreed.

Paper N2: Task group on General Assembly – matters referred to synods

The Revd John Proctor, the General Secretary of the URC, introduced paper N2, the final stage in a consultative process from the 2018 General Assembly which referred matters to the synods.

Mission Council agreed to change the structure of the Church so that each synod would send 16 representatives to General Assembly.

It further introduced some flexibility to the 50/50 ministerial/lay divide of synod representatives so that at least one third of would be ministers and CRCWs and at least one third to be elders of lay people.

Synod moderators can now be included in the 16 representatives, if the synod wishes, rather than giving moderators a place in their own right.

The convener of the pastoral reference and welfare committee is now excused from membership of the General Assembly.

Session eight

Friends on Faith Adventures
Dr Sam Richards, Head of Children’s and Youth Work (CYW), gave a presentation about ‘Friends on Faith Adventures’, a new initiative created jointly by CYW and Pilots. This local church programme is for children aged 5 to 11+ and designed either to be a standalone venture or to support existing children’s work.

The resources and guide for Friends on Faith Adventures sessions are contained in a crate that will be sent to participating churches. Each session involves a game, a Bible story told through a dramatised reading which ends with an ‘I wonder’ question (props and costume included in the crate), and a craft activity. Parents and carers will be invited in to see what children have been up to, everyone is given a Walking the Way challenge, and the session ends in prayer. A wall map is provided to chart progress through the sessions.

Dr Richards explained that eight churches would trial Friend on Faith Adventures, and then it is expected to launch next year. The target is for 140 groups (10% of URC congregations) to join the programme within two years. Crates cost £110 to produce; churches will be asked to pay £50 upfront and later £4.25 a year per child, as with Pilots.

Mission Council warmly welcomed the initiative.

Session nine
Worship and Bible study
The last day of Mission Council’s business began with worship led by the Revd David Coaker, Chaplain to the Moderator of General Assembly.

The Revd Neil Thorogood spoke to Mission Council on the parable of the prodigal son, illustrated by Sieger Köder’s painting of the story, ‘Home’. He invited representatives to consider their own experience of lostness, the way that being found means waking up to something better, and our liability – like the elder brother – to become lost again.

Mr Thorogood said that Jesus enacts the story by gathering into God’s self everything that overcomes us. God is ‘more merciful than seems possible and more welcoming than seems prudent’. He then invited members of Mission Council to consider what sort of churches we need to be to embody the abundant gifts of God.

Paper M3: Acting with strategic intent
Resolution 4.3 had been withdrawn and a revised resolution was reintroduced with the following wording:

Mission Council, acting on behalf of the General Assembly, expresses its desire to explore in more details possible central provision of support services, and therefore directs the General Secretariat to initiate consultation with synods, and to report back on any themes or concerns that emerge.

The resolution was passed with consensus.

Paper T1: Ministerial incapacity advisory group proposal for work on a redrawn ministerial disciplinary process
This paper presented the case for a new process in dealing with disciplinary cases involving Ministers and Church Related Community Workers. The Revd John Durell, who presented the paper, asked Mission Council to approve the preparation of a new process, which will be reported back on at Mission Council in 2020. He also sought approval that scrutiny groups, set up by the ministerial incapacity and discipline advisory group (MIND), should consist of members from MIND and others as well as members of Mission Council, and those Council members who wanted to volunteer their time.

The resolutions passed by consensus.

Paper N1: General Assembly task group – moderators, clerks and councils
Val Morrison, the convener of the General Assembly Task Group introduced the report, which looked at the General Assembly from 2020-2030.

The report focussed on several pieces of work: the number, tenure and duties of the Moderator of General Assembly; the frequency of the Mission Council, considering the return to the URC holding its General Assembly annually; the name of the Mission Council along with some other issues relating to it; the future of the Mission Council Advisory Group and the Assembly Arrangements Committee; and the succession of the Clerk to the General Assembly.

Breaking into groups to discuss the different options from the task group, followed by time in plenary sessions, the Mission Council decided the following.

It affirmed the vision, nature, scope and responsibilities of the Moderator of General Assembly. The task group recognised that an election to the role is a call from the church to give leadership, both inspirationally and in the chair of the General Assembly and the Mission Council.

The paper listed the number of essential tasks for a Moderator of General Assembly, including the General Assembly, Mission Council, Business Committee (see below), representing the URC on Remembrance Sunday and visiting local churches, numbering eight weekdays and 17 weekend days.

It also listed desirable tasks such as international visits, committee meetings and the meeting of the URC Trust, the general assemblies of partner churches and visits to the Resource Centres for Learning.

Mission Council also agreed that the Moderator of General Assembly will serve for one year, and Synods can nominate the names of a minister and an elder each year for consideration.

With the return to an annual General Assembly, the Mission Council shall now:

  • meet for one 48-hour meeting at a time and venue to be determined
  • initiated the process of changing its name from Mission Council to Assembly Executive
  • agreed that each Synod will now send four representatives with an option that the moderator of the synod can be one of them

After next year’s General Assembly, the assembly arrangements committee and the Mission Council Advisory Group will be discharged and abolished, and a new standing committee of the assembly, known as the Business Committee, shall be established to address logistical questions, supervise practical arrangements for the assembly and the Mission Council and advise the Moderator of the General Assembly on their official duties.

The Standing Orders of the General Assembly were amended to include another reason not to move a motion or amendment when it ‘simply affirms existing work’.

Having reviewed the workload of the Clerk of the General Assembly and the General Secretary, being mindful of the transition between postholders, along with a shrinking number of volunteers for the role of the Clerk, Mission Council asked the Nominations Committee to seek an Assistant Clerk, who would serve in the first instance for three years from 2020. 

An Assistant Clerk would offer clearer demarcation than a job share, the report from the task group said, and could give people experience of the role to help create a pool of potential successors.

The term of the Revd Michael Hopkins, the current Clerk, ends after General Assembly 2024. The current rules of the URC allows for an initial term of six years followed by a further term of up to four years.

Work on the role description for the Assistant Clerk will now take place. 

Mission Council Advisory Group
Invitations were invited for the vacancies on the Mission Council Advisory Group (MCAG). The Revd Adrian Bulley, Synod of Wales Synod Clerk, was elected (see report on Paper N1).

Day three relaxing 1Conclusion
At the end of the day’s business Derek Estill, Moderator of the General Assembly, and the Revd John Proctor, General Secretary of the URC, thanked Mission Council and all the people behind the scenes for helping to put the event together.

Reporting: Ann-Marie Abbasah, Steve Tomkins, Editor and Andy Jackson from the URC Communications Team