Mission Council round up: 15-17 November 2019

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voting cardThe autumn meeting of Mission Council, the United Reformed Church’s (URC) executive body of the General Assembly, opened on 15 November at The Hayes Conference Centre, in Swanwick, Derbyshire.

The afternoon began with worship led by the Revd Elaine Colechin, Chaplain to Nigel Uden, Moderator of General Assembly.

Dr Alison Gray, Tutor in Old Testament at Westminster College, Cambridge, led a Bible study on the Psalms, looking particularly at Psalms 1 and 119. She looked at the many images of pathway and refuge, telling Mission Council that what is written with imagination must be heard with imagination. Dr Gray invited members of Mission Council to allow a fresh hearing to breathe life into familiar images of walking the way, explaining that God’s right path is both command and gift.

Derek Estill, Moderator of General Assembly, brought apologies for absence and welcomed new members to Mission Council.

The minutes of previous May’s Mission Council were accepted, and John Proctor, the General Secretary, dealt with matters arising. He also gave details of the facilitation group of the present Mission Council.

Session one
Paper B1: Children’s and youth work committee
Paper B1 was presented by Dr Sam Richards, Head of Children’s and Youth Work, who drew Mission Council’s attention to the Lundie Memorial Award. The award is to highlight and celebrate children and young people using their skills and talents and will start in in January 2020. Sam encouraged members of Mission Council to make nominations and advised that the awards would rotate around the 13 synods.

Dr Richards also advised that the pilots subcommittee had met since the paper had been written which had agreed to change the title of ‘regional pilots officer’ to ‘synod pilots officer’ to reflect the fact that Pilots is now an integrated part of the URC children’s and youth department. This resolution passed by consensus.

Paper G1: Budget 2020
This paper was presented by Ian Hardie, URC Honorary Treasurer.

  • Mission Council adopted the 2020 budget (as set out on Paper G1 addendum) which came with projections for 2021 and 2022.
  • There is a small, projected deficit (£70,000) for 2020, but the main concerns for the committee were the Church’s two pension schemes and the potential impact of these on costs and investment income from 2021 onwards.
  • A major consultation about the pension schemes is  under way which will shape the thinking of the 2021 budget.

More than 90% of the church’s income comes from local churches through the Ministry and Mission Fund (M&M). Estimates from synods suggest that total giving next year will be less than 1% down on the 2019 budget figure. The continuing decline in membership means that this again represents an increase in average giving per URC member.

The recommended rise in stipends for Ministers of Word and Sacrament and Church Related Community Workers in 2020 is 2.7%. This increase has been calculated using the formula used for a number of years. The stipend will rise by £720 to £27,600.

The 2020 budget assumes a decrease of three ministers in the year with retirements slightly exceeding expected ordinations. The total cost of ministry is higher than the expected actual cost in 2019 but is almost £25,000 below the 2019 budget.

  • The budget for Education and Learning will reduce by £140,000 due to an expected reduction in student numbers.
  • The Children’s and Youth Work budget will increase for a 18-month long Messy Church project and a reserve for safeguarding reasons.
  • The Safeguarding budget has been increased so that two members of staff on temporary contracts can be engaged while the Safeguarding Officer is heavily involved with the Independent Enquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), in which the URC is a core participant.
  • The budget for Mission has increased to account for the URC’s partnership with Greenbelt, which was agreed at the November 2018 Mission Council.
  • A new payroll system upgrade will take place which will remove paper payslips, and the cost of this upgrade will be taken up in 2019.
  • The Communications Team hopes to recruit a Digital Content Officer to help transform the URC website and help with the digital needs at all levels of the Church.
  • For 2021 and 2022, the committee has projected an annual drop of 1% in M&M giving and 2.5% increases in stipends and staff salaries.

The tablePaper G3: URC pension schemes – integrated risk management project
“Pensions finance might not feel like the most life-affirming thing on the agenda this weekend,” said John Piper, Deputy Treasurer, speaking for the Pensions executive and finance committee, introducing Paper G3 to Mission Council.

“We have tried very hard to make the paper accessible because the URC, as a family, has got some big decisions to take in the next year or so.”

The URC faces some serious and potentially costly challenges in relation to its two pension schemes. Both schemes are Defined Benefit (DB) schemes, which means that the benefits for each member are based on their length of service and their final salary or stipend. All costs, except for member contributions, and all risks are carried by the employer.

A bill, likely to be reintroduced in the next parliament, will give the Pensions Regulator more powers if passed.

The regulator is actively evaluating all Defined Benefit pensions schemes, including the URC’s, and it has expressed concern because of the lack of a ‘normal’ corporate structure and lack of hierarchy, the number of trust companies across the URCs (13 Synods and the General Assembly’s) and the impact of the assets held by those separate trusts.

Any deficit in pensions schemes are now expected to be dealt with in around five years, not decades as has been the practice in the past, because of employers ‘disappearing’ (e.g. going into administration) in the past and the impact of the pension funds associated with those employers, especially with Defined Benefit pensions.

The paper proposed an integrated risk management (IRM) project as a way of reviewing, in a holistic way, the issues for both pension schemes so that the URC as ‘employer’ and the trustees of the two schemes can agree on appropriate action.

There could be a deficit of around £20m at the beginning of 2021, Mr Piper said. However, the committee wanted to stress that this is a challenge and not a crisis, because of the financial resources held by the URC Trust and by the Synod trusts.

John Piper concluded: “We are beginning to collect information now so that we as the URC can take an informed decision in the future. There’s no change at the moment, but we will have to come back to this in the future.”

Paper D1: Education and Learning
Alan Yates, Convenor of the education and learning committee asked permission from Mission Council to withdraw paper D1 from consideration as it had become apparent that more work was needed on it. This was agreed.

Paper O3: Extension of term of service of the Secretary for Global and Intercultural Ministries
This paper was also withdrawn.

Educational visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories
Derek Estill, Moderator of General Assembly, and the Revd Philip Brooks, Secretary for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations reported on the United Reformed Church educational visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in October. The delegation included 22 representatives, from all 13 URC synods as well as from other areas of denominational life.

Mr Estill said: ‘It was a very emotional, very eye opening, very worrying time. All of us were deeply affected.’

Mr Brooks said of the Palestinian people they visited: ‘We were overwhelmed by their gratitude that we had come. They all said: “Please go home and share our story.”’ Mr Brooks pointed out that the visit was organised in direct response to the resolution of the 2016 General Assembly which required it. So, he said, it would be good to share the story at the 2020 Assembly.

In response to a question about another URC visit to the Holy Land which had taken place with the Council of Christians and Jews, Mr Brooks said he hoped that those involved would take part in feedback too.

Session three

Paper M2: Changes to the rules of procedure and Paper M3: Clerk of General Assembly
Papers M2 and M3 were brought out of en bloc voting, as a sufficient number of representatives wanted them to be debated before voting.

Paper M2 proposes changes to General Assembly’s rules of procedure. The Revd Ruth Whitehead, Moderator of South Western Synod, drew attention to point 3.3, which allows nomination for Moderator of the General Assembly to be made without the consent of the nominee.’ She suggested that consent should be required for the sake of good communication, issues of calling, and for considerations of equalities.

The General Secretary, John Proctor, suggested that as future nominations are not needed until the spring of 2021, there is time to consider the matter before making a decision. On that basis, Mission Council passed the resolution as it stood, on the understanding that proposals to change the rule about consent could be brought to Mission Council or General Assembly in 2020.

Paper M3 summarises changes to Mission Council that were agreed in May 2019. The Revd Jacky Embrey drew attention to point 11, that membership of Mission Council shall include ‘four further representatives of each Synod from among that Synod’s representatives to the immediately preceding General Assembly.’ She pointed out that this seemed to exclude anyone who for whatever reason had not made it to Assembly, and that would not be good for continuity.

Mission Council agreed to insert the word ‘normally’ into point 11, allowing synods to use their discretion.

Paper M1: Resourcing worship
“Worship is when we meet God intentionally, humbly and together. It is at the core of the church’s life. It gives us lift, focus and perspective.” So began the Revd John Proctor, General Secretary, who along with the Revd Richard Church, Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship), introduced Paper M1 on resourcing worship research. Worship is the one thing in which every member of the URC engages, no matter the style or setting.

After a discussion at Mission Council a year ago, a research project was established to look at worship in the URC. The work looked at whether support for individuals charged with preparing and leading worship was needed and if the URC needed specific worship support, since the loss of the Doctrine, Prayer and Worship Committee some ten years ago.

Mission Council agreed to set up a worship reference group to respond to requests from churches. The group will:

  • curate and advocate existing resources, linking with Walking the Way and eventually, with Stepwise Faith Filled Worship;
  • support worship preparation, by gathering worship leaders in Synods who could support worship development;
  • maintain a regular worship mailing with updates, news, and links to good worship practice.

The group will be accountable to the Faith and Order committee, creating a body which will exercise a proactive concern for the development of collective worship throughout the denomination.

Paper M4: Appointments to the General Secretariat
Acting on behalf of General Assembly, the Mission Council appointed the Revd Dr John Bradbury to serve as General Secretary of the United Reformed Church from 1 June 2020 to the end of General Assembly 2027.

The Revd Nigel Uden, one of the Moderators of the URC General Assembly, and convenor of the Nominating Group, said: “In John Bradbury, the Nominating Group believes it brings the name of a person with the combination of gifts and graces the United Reformed Church requires in these changing times.

“A person of intelligence and warmth, of experience and energy, John offers much to build upon all that his predecessors gave, and to join with us all in working for the church's next chapter.”

On his return to the meeting, Revd Bradbury was greeted with warm applause. He addressed Mission Council saying: “Moderator, thank you. I’m slightly caught on the hop because I was expecting this moment tomorrow so you’ve got me without my suit on!

“It’s been quite a journey to this particular moment for me, which began a couple of years ago when the first person took me to one side and said ‘John, have you wondered whether …’ I’m sure many of our journeys have started in that particular kind of way.

“It’s an extraordinary privilege to be invited to take on this role, and I do so with a certain amount of trepidation and a certain amount of excitement.

“For this particular moment to be church in western Europe is perhaps one of the most demanding moments that people have asked to be followers of Christ in western Europe for centuries.

“Our faith is one of cross and resurrection and we seem to be live with quite a lot of cross at the moment. But we live too as followers of the risen Christ, and we live as people called to plant seeds of resurrection in what sometimes might feel like difficult soil to till.

“Yet we see around us all sorts of new possibilities of Christian life emerging in new forms and shapes, many of which take on a deep resonance with the history of the life of the Church.

“And so it is that we live in this moment between cross and resurrection, and that will not be an easy place to live, but I think it can be a rich and fertile place to live.

“I very much look forward to working out what that means for us as the United Reformed Church as we continue to walk the way as disciples of Christ, proclaiming the gospel here and now in this place and this time in the sure and certain hope that God is not finished with us yet. Thank you.”

Paper I1: Legacies of slavery
Alan Yates, Immediate-past Moderator of the General Assembly, presented this emotive paper. He began by saying: “Whilst no one here would dispute the equivalence of all God’s children, the road that we might take in deciding upon an apology, seeking some form of reparation and dismantling white privilege can be an arduous one.” As he spoke slides were show. One showed a picture of a stained-glass window which was a present from the people of Wales to the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama that depicted Christ as a man of colour. He shared with Mission Council his mental and spiritual journey on CWM’s Legacies of Slavery (LoS) project which began for him in 2017, when he attended a LoS hearings in London. Mr Yates said he readily accepted the invitation to participate as he was “well aware of the scourge of slavery today”. At first, he thought that slavery was over and done with, but he realised its legacy was alive and present. During the first hearing he heard evidence that he found both disturbing and encouraging.

On a visit to the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, he shared with Mission Council how he listened to people talk about how they “felt second-rate” because of their colour. The pain he heard them describe continued when he went to Birmingham, Alabama. He described how a picture hangs above the spot where white supremacists intentionally planted a bomb to go off during Sunday school which killed four young black girls. A clock which stopped ticking at the precise moment the bomb went off still stands there.

Mr Yates presented more slides and described them in detail, including one showing an art installation of hanging rusty coffins which carry the names of people who were lynched. The coffins are rusty so that when it rains, water drops down upon the floor to look like blood. More than 4,000 names were inscribed on these coffins and most of the names resemble Scottish or English names. Mr Yates shared how this caused him to break down and weep.

“These symbolic coffins embodied the continued legacy of slavery,” he said. “Black deprivation, white supremacy and deep racism at its worst. Slavery is not done and dusted. Its legacy is alive and kicking.” Shockingly, he then informed Mission Council that lynching, how many blacks were killed by whites in America, was only made a federal crime 10 months ago.

He said that Mission committee has set up a task group to provide a possible response to the CWM’s report on legacies of slavery. The report has been discussed over many hours and three recommendations are made in the form of an apology, reparation, and eliminating white privilege in the URC.

Mr Yates advised that a decision is not being sought at this Mission Council but guidance, as to what the mission committee does next via this task group, is being sought so that the results of that guidance can be taken to the succeeding Mission Council or General Assembly.

Points of clarification was sought from the floor and a concern was raised that the paper didn’t paint the whole picture. E.g. it did not mention those who in the Church’s history who profited from slavery or the work of Presbyterians and Congregationalists who opposed slavery. A “fuller story” was needed said the speaker. Mr Yates addressed the points of clarification and expressed the need for caution against making a quick decision without thinking through any form of reparation as the two go hand in hand. “If seen just to make an apology, it might come across as hollow” he explained. Mr Yates added that with the help of the URC History Society, some research had been carried out and the task group was conscious that it had only scratched the surface.

The issue is not about getting into the detail of the history, but about understanding the history enough that the legacies are seen as real today, and it’s the legacies that the task group is keen to address. Mr Yates explained that he felt getting into the detail e.g which church has benefited from those that were directly connected to slavery would be a distraction to addressing the issues today.

Bernie Collins, Convenor of the mission committee spoke about the group work which would take place on day two of Mission Council. The task group’s first report is being shared as it is seeking guidance on how to share the findings with the wider church, he explained. Mission Council was asked then asked to answer questions in groups and to then forward the outcome of discussions to Mr Yates so that the task group could go through them and take the necessary action.

The Revd Dr Michael Jagessar, Secretary for Global and Intercultural Ministries, also took to the podium to say that it was important to recognise that there were people who opposed slavery, and that the intention is to explore all legacies of slavery, that it is not a critique of individuals, but about providing a collective response

Day Two: 16 November

The second day of Mission Council began with worship led by the Revd David Coaker, Chaplain to the Moderator of General Assembly. 

Alison Gray formattedDr Alison Gray, Tutor in Old Testament at Westminster College, Cambridge, led a second Bible study, looking at Proverbs 2 and Job 23. Continuing with the theme of pathway and refuge, Dr Gray reflected on the way Proverbs speaks of the wisdom of God’s way and echos the assurances of the Psalms that blessings come to those who follow it.

The story of Job, however, challenges that traditional understanding and rejects simple answers about the suffering of the righteous. And yet it also shows Job finding comfort in God’s presence. Dr Gray reflected upon Vittore Carpaccio’s painting The Meditation on the Passion, which invites us to see Christ entering into Job’s suffering. John’s gospel, like the Psalms, assures us that there is joy to be found in walking the way, however much suffering there may be there.

Session four
Alan Yates, Immediate-past Moderator of the General Assembly, took to the podium in session four of Mission Council and announced that the Revd Fiona Thomas, URC Secretary of Education and Learning, has handed in her resignation. He advised that Revd Thomas informed that as she had reached a benchmark age, she had decided to pursue other avenues that includes exploring ministries and freelance work in Appreciative Inquiry.

Mr Yates then continued Paper I1: Legacies of Slaveries, which was first introduced in session three on day one of Mission Council. He asked members to focus on the three questions designated to their particular groups, explaining that groups A, B, and C would be exploring an apology. Groups D, E, and F would be addressing questions about reparation, and groups G and H would be exploring white privilege.

He advised that those tasked with recording discussions would need to provide a provide a paper or email copy of the outcome of groupwork discussions to Mr Yates, who hopes to give some feedback on day three of Mission Council.

Session five

R2 – URC’s Safeguarding strategic plan 2020-2025
Having already accepted the recommendations of the Past Case Review (PCR) Learning Group Report, Mission Council, acting on behalf of General Assembly, endorsed the URC’s safeguarding strategic plan. The Safeguarding Advisory Group reviewed all the PCR Learning Report's recommendations and consulted with Synods in producing the plan.

The PCR indicated the need for the Church to undertake systemic changes. The strategy’s six, clear, objectives aim to effect cultural change and improvements in the safeguarding policies, practices and procedures of the Church over the next five years.

“Safeguarding people is a journey and part of the URC’s mission. We journey alongside those who have been abused, we safeguard the integrity of creation, and we all go together as one body,” the report said.

Mission Council also directed the Safeguarding Advisory Group to oversee the development, implementation, review and monitoring of the plan, and to advise the Mission Council and the General Assembly on its progress.

  • When reviewing the plan in the summer, the URC was granted core participant status for IICSA’s investigation into child protection in religious organisations and settings in England and Wales. The URC as a core participant was made on the basis that the Church has played a direct and significant role in relation to its recent Past Case Review.
  • The report also mentioned that the Church has also received a request from, and submitted evidence to, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Safeguarding in Faith Settings inquiry.
  • The next edition of URC’s safeguarding policy - Good Practice 5: Safeguarding for Children and Adults at Risk will be ready in January 2020 to reflect new laws and regulatory requirements.
  • A framework of safeguarding training continues to be developed, and the Safeguarding Advisory Group is liaising to the Ministerial Incapacity and Discipline Advisory Group to ensure a joined-up and consistent approach between safeguarding and discipline.
  • A Safeguarding Programme Officer will be employed to work with the National Safeguarding Adviser to help synods implement the plan over the next three years.

The resolution was agreed after the Inter-Synod Resource Sharing Group promised to look at helping Synods that had expressed concern over the resources needed to fully implement the plan.

ioannis speaking formattedR1 – Safeguarding Advisory Group
On behalf of the United Reformed Church, Mission Council thanked survivors of abuse for their courage in sharing their thoughts and recommendations.

On behalf of the General Assembly, Mission Council further instructed the Safeguarding Advisory Group to oversee and support the work of the survivors’ group; integrate their recommendations in the delivery of URC’s Safeguarding Strategic Plan (2020-2025); review and advise the whole Church through Mission Council/General Assembly on how to continue fostering this sensitive area of pastoral care and support for adult survivors of abuse.

Two of the Past Case Review’s (PCR) recommendations referred to the need to instigate direct work with adult survivors of abuse and consultation with survivors and relevant organisations about ways to improve safeguarding in the URC.

Meetings with survivors and pastors took place which identified the following elements in supporting adult survivors of abuse:

  • to establish a culture at the URC where people feel safe to speak about abuse
  • the need to use the term survivors, not victims of abuse
  • to use currently available resources of the URC: new theological resources, prayers, leaflets, brochures and campaigns, new material for local churches to make people aware of the issues surrounding safeguarding adults
  • the production of a URC prompt card specifying procedures for reporting abuse
  • the recognition that child protection arrangements are more established in the Church but that safeguarding of adults requires further work
  • a whistleblowing policy that would enable complainants to make statements that are taken seriously and responded to appropriately
  • the need to be better at listening and to have people ready to listen. The Church has found it difficult to listen when experiences of abuse are disclosed, and anger is expressed
  • the need for an unbiased support system imbedded within the life of the URC that seeks resolutions and access to right support
  • the need to be aware of cases that don’t “fit” some definitions and to be flexible in the way we offer support over time
  • the need for pastoral support at local churches
  • to effect positive change and feed into the wider work and ethos of the URC
  • work to help the Church take a standpoint about spiritual abuse.

Session seven

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 Assembly arrangements
A brief report on bookings and other arrangements made for the 2020 General Assembly in Birmingham

G2 Ethical investment
A brief report from the finance committee on progress in divesting from fossil fuel companies as resolved by Mission Council in 2019. It is ahead of schedule thanks to CCLA’s subsequent decision to divest. Appended are updated versions of the URC’s ethical investment guidelines.

H1 New sub-committee of ministries committee
This effectively amalgamates the accreditation subcommittee and the Church Related Community Work programme subcommittee.

H2 Ministers on more than one roll
This clarifies the rule that a minister cannot normally be on the rolls of the URC and another denomination at the same, and what the exceptions are.

I2 Mission committee update
A report on the recent work of the Mission Committee. Mission Council agrees to an enlargement of the environmental task group and asks all synods and Assembly committees to report to this group about their progress in implementing the Environmental Policy by 29 February 2020.

I3 Walking the Way update
A report on the work of the steering group, asking Mission Council to consider its future.

J1 List of nominations
Mission Council agrees amendments to the nominations list of May 2019, as well as new appointments and reappointments.

O1, O2, O3 Human resources advisory group
O1 is a report on recent work of the group

Paper I4: Fall of the Wall Conference
With emergency resolution I4, Mission Council commended the declaration agreed between the United Reformed Church and the Evangelische Kirche der Pfalz for consideration by its partners in Europe, and instructed those who represent the URC to bring it to their attention.

The declaration was written as part of a gathering of more than 50 members, ministers, staff and leaders of the United Reformed Church and the Evangelische Kirche der Pfalz, who met to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The meeting, which took place in Frankenthal, Germany, looked at physical and psychological walls being built today, and how they can be overcome or prevented.

The two churches have been in partnership since 1957.

On 9 November, the day marking 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, 29 years since the reunification of Germany, and the 81 years since Kristallnacht, Nigel Uden from the United Reformed Church and Manfred Sutter from the Evangelische Kirche der Pfalz signed a statement that acknowledged, with sadness, that around the world, physical and imagined walls are once again being built.

It declared that: differences of opinion, culture, faith and conviction are treated with respect; that we all speak out against racism in all forms and report all incidents; that we underline our commitment against anti-semitism and any form of religious hatred; that refugees are not used as scapegoats but rather seen as those who enrich communities; that we strive for unity lived out in our churches as an example for our societies; that we recommit ourselves to the spirit of the first Covenant of fellowship signed in 1957.

The group then took part in an act of worship with communion spoken and sung in German and English at the Lutherkirche in Frankenthal.

Read the declaration in full

Visit the Flickr gallery with photos and videos from the Fall of the Wall Conference

As a result, on Saturday afternoon, the Revd James Breslin brought an additional resolution, which he said was open-ended rather than trying to list all the partner churches which had been suggested.

The resolution was passed by Mission Council, as follows:

Mission Council commends the November 2019 declaration agreed between the United Reformed Church and the Evangelische Kirche der Pfalz for consideration by its confessional and ecumenical partners in Europe, and instructs those who represent the URC thereon to bring it to their attention.
Pictured: The Revd Philip Brooks and Pfarrer Martin Henninger, Minister of the Lutherkirche in Frankenthal, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany. Martin served Broadway URC, Worcestershire in the early 1990s. 

MC day two top table formattedPaper H3: Pastoral supervision
The Revd Paul Whittle, Moderator of the United Reformed Church Eastern synod, presented paper H3 on the pastoral supervision of ministers, on behalf of the ministries committee. He explained that its recommendations grew out of the past case review, and that the requirement to consider pastoral supervision was accepted by Mission Council when it accepted the past case review.

The paper makes eight propositions for the supervision of ministers. He said that the work was far from complete and asked members to discuss the propositions in groups, paying particular attention to numbers five to eight.

Feedback from discussion groups included:

  • Any reporting – beyond the fact of the supervision happening and safeguarding matters – would prevent good supervision and probably be rejected by potential supervisors. The session should be a safe space.
  • Peer group supervision would generally be the best approach, though not for everyone.
  • Others were less keen on group supervision.
  • The ‘specified exceptions’ to confidentiality in para 25 should be specified!
  • A variety of internal URC and external supervisors would be needed.
  • Peer group supervision would also be valuable for elders.
  • A traffic light system of reporting could give Moderators the minimum of information but allow them to decide whether it was necessary to follow up.
  • Supervision systems and standards should be consistent across the synods.
  • The system should be set up to be sustainable.
  • Funding should be centralised in order to avoid local provision becoming a lottery.
  • It should be brought in for everyone at once, otherwise self-selection could mean who would most benefit from supervision miss out.
  • Those who are already having monthly support sessions would miss out if they now started to have less frequent supervision.
  • Supervision and support are not the same.
  • How transparent will the process be? Will records be held? If so, where and who will have access to them?
  • Supervision should highlight ministers’ further training needs.

Day Three: 17 November

The third and final day of Mission Council began with worship led by the Revd David Coaker, Chaplain to Derek Estill, Moderator of General Assembly.

Dr Alison Gray (pictured), Tutor in Old Testament at Westminster College, Cambridge, led a sermon, continuing her theme of pathway and refuge through Deuteronomy 4 and John 14: 15-26.

A short service then followed, led by Mr Estill, where the Revd Nicola Furley-Smith was inducted into the role of URC Secretary for Ministries.

In a speech to Mission Council, Nicola, the former URC Southern Synod Moderator thanked her synod colleagues, family, and friends within the URC for their love and support during the role.

Session ten

Paper J2: Supplementary nominations report
The Revd Ray Adams, Convenor of the Nominations Committee was unfortunately unable to be part of this session. Therefore, the Revd John Proctor presented the paper on his behalf. Revd Proctor advised that in section 1 of the report Mission Council was to simply note and approve changes set out in part 5.6 to note and advised that the third item under point 5.6 is of interest to the church but not for the church to determine.

Mission Council noted and approved points 5.4 and 5.3 and noted section 5.6 as directed.

Under section 2 of the report, new appointments and re-appointments, Revd Proctor invited Mission Council to make these appointments, which were duly passed by consensus.

He then directed Mission Council to section three of the report. Referring to Yorkshire Synod, he invited Mission Council to consider resolution three regarding the appointment of the Revd Jamie Kissack to the role of Moderator of the Yorkshire Synod for a period of seven years. This was passed by consensus.

Revd Proctor then referred to North Western Synod and the Revd Brian Jolly who has been nominated as Moderator of North Western Synod for a period of five years from 2020.

Mission Council, acting on behalf of General Assembly, appointed the Revd Jolly to be Moderator of North Western Synod from 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2024.

The Revd Sarah Moore, currently Cumbria Area President for the URC who will become ‘Transition Champion’ for the URC National Synod of Scotland in January, was appointed to be assistant clerk of General Assembly from 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2022.

Paper I1: Legacies of Slavery groupwork feedback
Alan Yates, member of the Legacies of Slavery task group, took to the podium and thanked Mission Council for its support in providing guidance and direction on the route the task group should take in regards to making an apology, reparation and dismantling white privilege, as first reported in session three on day one of Mission Council.

He mentioned almost overwhelming support for the direction of travel that the URC should take during the group work session.

He said: “We in the task group are grateful that there was a deep sense that there is a job to be done and a strong desire to act.”

Mr Yates, then gave some feedback on the outcome of the groupwork sessions, which clarified in the most part that more conversation on the issue was needed.

The outcome of the groupwork also showed a range of areas needed further explanation. For example, the link between an institutional apology and a personal one, or an apology and/or confession was not yet clear. The role of reparation needed to be understood and that of white privilege before an apology is made. A better theological underpinning and the Basis of Union was needed to frame this apology. Members noted some discomfort around the use of the term reparation as opposed to Restorative Justice. Mr Yates added that it is known that white privilege operates in the URC, but the details of where and how are not yet clear or what will be done about it.

“What we are clear about is that something needs to be done,” he added. “This is part of the agenda that the task group will be taking forward along with a list of possible actions.”

Mr Yates added that it was also clear from the feedback, that if the Church is going to make an apology, the apology needs to come from the Church as a whole and that the input of congregations was needed. It was not something that could just come from Mission Council and General Assembly. “We need the understanding and support from our congregations.” he said.

The task group hopes to tap into a pool of people within the URC who have expertise in this area and will also look wider to organisations who have tackled this issue.

Mr Yates added that he hoped to provide a progress report in March. Nigel Uden, Moderator of the General Assembly, thanked Mission Council for taking part in providing direction to the task group.

Revd Uden then thanked Mission Council for its service and then brought proceedings to a close.

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


Published: 20 November 2019

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