URC’s response to CTE statement about its Fourth Presidency

stained glass dallas matthew t rader unsplash 840 460The United Reformed Church (URC) notes with deep sadness the statement made by Churches Together in England (CTE) concerning the inability to confirm the appointment of Hannah Brock Womack as its Fourth President, in reaction to Hannah’s equal (same-sex) marriage.

Hannah was nominated by Quakers in Britain to represent members of the Fourth Presidency Group of CTE which includes the Lutheran Council of Great Britain; the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England; the German-Speaking Lutheran, Reformed and United Congregations in Great Britain; the Church of Scotland (Presbytery of England) and the Quakers in Britain.

Following consultation with CTE Presidents and a meeting of the CTE Enabling Group, the forum which brings together representatives of the 49 member churches to consider matters of governance and common concern, a statement was issued last week by CTE: “For the sake of our ecumenical unity at present, we request that the Fourth Presidency Group show restraint by not exercising the office of their Presidential appointment.”

CTE acknowledged “the pain and sadness that this will provoke” and pointed to the disagreement over certain issues amongst the diverse range of its member churches.

In this, CTE differs from the position of the United Reformed Church, which includes within one fellowship Christians with a variety of views and commitments in regard to equal marriage.

At its 2016 General Assembly, the United Reformed Church gave consent for the trustees of its local churches to register to conduct the religious marriage ceremonies of same-sex couples, if agreed by the Church Meeting, the governing body of the local church.

The resolution recognised that the denomination was itself divided on this issue and so did “not consider it appropriate to express a single view on behalf of the whole United Reformed Church”.

One aspect of this recognition is that the United Reformed Church does not preclude any individual in an equal marriage from holding office within the denomination. Nor did we do so in the period of deliberation before the 2016 resolution. Indeed, there are many people in the United Reformed Church who are in equal marriages and serve in ministries across the denomination.

The formation of CTE was also based on embracing many differing ecclesiologies (viewpoints and perspectives) and self-understanding. As such, the Presidency Group should be able to reflect the full range of diversity which exists amongst its member churches, to live out the spirit of CTE’s formative 1987 Swanwick Declaration: ‘not strangers but pilgrims’.

We commend the Quakers for their restraint in remaining within CTE and for continuing the pilgrimage together.

We offer our prayers for this situation and in particular for Hannah and her wife. The ‘empty chair’ of the Fourth Presidency demonstrates that the dialogue must continue until a more just outcome can be reached.

The United Reformed Church is committed to work with its ecumenical partners within CTE to agree a process by which this can be quickly achieved.

Notes

The remaining five CTE Presidents are: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, the President for the Orthodox Churches, the Pentecostal President, and the Moderator of the Free Churches Group. In that last capacity, the Revd Dr Hugh Osgood represents the United Reformed Church and its free church partners including the Methodist Church and the Baptist Union of Great Britain.

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