Mission Council round-up day two

Day Two: Saturday 13 May 2017

Paper B1: Commitment to God’s creation

Presenting paper B1 http://bit.ly/2qgAjy3, Dan Morrell, Youth Assembly Moderator, said: ‘Tackling climate change is a big issue for those of URC Youth age. We need to demonstrate to the wider church and world that we care. Climate is changing so let’s change ourselves, because we must.’ 

The paper was warmly received by Mission Council. It was reported that some churches have joined the Big Church Switch as a result of it. 

Asked what specific luxuries the URC might sacrifice, Mr Morrell offered the example of using environmental criteria when selecting venues for meetings. It was suggested that the assembly arrangements committee be encouraged to book venues on these principles. 

Hannah Jones, Youth Assembly Moderator Elect, answered a question about the contribution of meat production to climate change, saying that having one vegetarian day a week made a big difference. 

The paper was presented with one amendment: removing the phrase ‘as is also indicated in the Environmental Policy’ in paragraph 11. 

An amendment to resolution C was agreed by Mission Council: the phrase ‘Mission Council instructs URC Youth Executive to work’ is to be replaced with ‘Mission Council instructs mission committee and communications committee to work collaboratively with URC Youth Executive to work…’ 

The three resolutions related to paper B1 were passed by consensus. 

Paper J1: Current List of Committees and Representatives 

Carol Rogers presented Paper J1 http://bit.ly/2r40Ykq on behalf of the nominations committee, with the addition of the Revd Steve Faber as a second JPIT representative. The three resolutions relating to the paper were passed by consensus, and the Revd Peter Meek was greeted by Mission Council as he went forward to an extended term of service as Synod Moderator in the East Midlands. 

Paper J2: Supplementary Report

Carol Rogers then presented Paper J2 J2-MC-May-2017.pdf as a supplement to J1. The Moderator Alan Yates thanked Mrs Rogers for four years of sterling service as secretary of the committee. 

Paper M5: Updating Nominations Committee rubrics

A resolution to update the rubrics of the Nominations Committee as set out in paper M5 (as amended on the order paper) http://bit.ly/2pv8GUw of Mission Council May 2017 was passed by consensus.

Paper M4: Law and Polity Advisory Group

Mission Council voted by majority on two resolutions to amend the Structure of the URC and the Rules of Procedure – in order to update and clarify the Church’s appeals procedure as set out in Paper M5: http://bit.ly/2pv8GUw

Speaking for the Law and Polity Advisory Group, which brought the resolution, the Revd Michael Hopkins, proposing the resolution on behalf of the group (with the General Secretary acting as clerk for this item), said:

‘This update does not involve major changes of principle, but rather spells out things that have perhaps been implicit. We want to be helpful to everyone, fair to everyone, transparent to everyone. We still do not have perfect Rules of Procedure. But this change to the Rules is not set in stone – it can be changed again by a single vote of Mission Council.’

The changes had already received first approval at the July 2016 General Assembly and were then referred to the Synods before being brought to Mission Council for final approval.

Paper H2: Ministries Committee Deployment Formula

Presenting Paper H2 http://bit.ly/2qeyOCd on behalf of the ministries committee, the Revd Paul Whittle explained that targets for the number of stipendiary ministers were introduced in 1979 so that deployment would be arranged more fairly among synods. He noted that they are only targets and they allow for flexibility. ‘We try to keep close to those targets,’ he said, ‘but ministers have the awkward habit of following the Spirit of God.’ The present business, however, was to make sure that the targets are planned as clearly and constructively as possible. 

In 2016, Mr Whittle recalled, at General Assembly ministries committee proposed removing the population element from the formula for deciding targets. The two alternative resolutions relating to Paper H2 therefore offer a straight choice: to remove the population element from the formula (resolution A) so that targets would depend only on the URC’s own numbers of members and congregations, or effectively revert to the status quo (resolution B), in which the total population of the area served by a synod would also be a factor. He commended resolution A but said the most important thing was to make a decision and move on. 

Comments from members of Mission Council included the observation that simpler formulae are less time consuming and easier to understand and to trust. This would be an opportunity to act on the principle of ‘decluttering’ discussed in an earlier session. 

One concern expressed was that removing the population element from the formula would disenfranchise more remote locations. It was pointed out that resolution B would mean a significant reduction in Scotland’s long-term target, from 14 ministers to 12. 

Mission Council first determined which resolution was to be put, deciding, in a majority vote, on resolution A. That resolution was then passed by large majority.

Paper M3: Youth representation in councils of the Church

John Proctor, General Secretary of the URC, presented Paper M3 http://bit.ly/2qeHiJe, which proposed more flexible and practical criteria for the representation of URC Youth in Synod meetings and General Assembly. Having already been agreed at the Southport General Assembly in 2016, and been before all the Synods, it was now given unanimous final approval, and becomes part of the Structure of the URC with immediate effect.

En Bloc Business

The following papers were passed en bloc:
Paper B2: Pilots Advocate http://bit.ly/2rcqf8e
Paper B3: Review of children’s and youth work http://bit.ly/2rc8Lcp
Paper F3: Report of the ongoing work of the faith and order committee http://bit.ly/2pIZhVG
Paper G1: Financial outcome 2016 G1-Finance-Financial_outcome_2016.pdf
Paper G2: Ethical investment guidelines on usury G2-Finance-Ethical_investment_guidelines.pdf
Paper G3: Ending of the stewardship sub-committee G3-Finance-Stewardship_Sub-Committee.pdf
Paper H3: General updates from ministries committee http://bit.ly/2qeH8BD
Paper I2: Ghanaian covenant recommitment I2-Mission-Ghanaian_covenant.pdf
Paper I3: The Kingston declaration I3-Mission-Kingston_declaration.pdf
Paper I4: URC response to ‘A New Framework for Local Unity in Mission’ I4-Mission-CTE_proposals_for_local_unity_in_mission.pdf
Paper I5: Issues for the URC arising from ‘A New Framework for Local Unity in Mission’ http://bit.ly/2rcbjqZ
Paper I6: URC-Roman Catholic dialogue http://bit.ly/2rdhsDY
Paper I8: Update on Walking the Way http://bit.ly/2qerFBA
Paper M2: Consultation on standing orders M2-Clerk-Consultation_on_standing_orders.pdf
Paper O1: General report from the human resources advisory group  http://bit.ly/2qdEHQi
Paper R1: Safeguarding update R1-SAG-General_report.pdf
Paper R2: Past case review update http://bit.ly/2qeGWCt
Paper T1: Ministerial disciplinary process http://bit.ly/2qdpdMf
Paper U1: Report of the task group on the future of General Assembly http://bit.ly/2pJuMid

Paper D2: Governors of Westminster College – Appointment of Tutor

On behalf of the governors of Westminster College, the Revd Nigel Uden, moderator elect of General Assembly, invited Mission Council to note the appointment of the Revd Dr Robert Pope as tutor in church history and doctrine at Westminster College. Mr Uden acknowledged the “fine period of service” of Dr Pope’s predecessor, the Red Dr John Bradbury, which had included a period as acting principal during the sabbatical of Neil Thorogood.

Mr Uden said: ‘The appointment panel was aware of Dr Pope’s highly relevant experience and his profound sense of vocation.’

The report was received with acclamation.

Paper G4: New treasurers arrangement

John Ellis, as treasurer of the United Reformed Church, presented Paper G4, which proposed an amendment to the investment committee’s terms of reference, in order to allow an appropriate sharing of duties between the incoming treasurer and deputy treasurer. The resolution was passed by consensus.

Paper I7: World Council of Churches Glasgow Assembly Bid

The mission committee of the United Reformed Church reported that Churches Together in Britain and Ireland had decided not to bid to host the 2021 General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Glasgow. The committee therefore withdrew its resolution that the URC support the CTBI bid.

Explaining the background to the withdrawal of the resolution, the Revd David Tatem, URC Secretary for Ecumenical Relations, reported that CTBI member Churches had expressed concerns over the financial implications of hosting the Assembly. Other comments were raised from the floor expressing sadness that the profile of the World Council of Churches had reduced in recent years, and noting that Britain could have posed difficulties as a host country for the Assembly given the UK’s record of turning away appointed delegates of particular countries.

On a more positive note, the Revd Bernie Collins, Mission Committee Convenor, reported that churches in Germany are in the process of submitting a bid to host the WCC Assembly in 2021. 

M6: Marriage of same-sex couples in Guernsey

The General Secretary John Proctor presented Paper M6 http://bit.ly/2pJBFPM. Explaining that legislation for the marriage of same-sex couples is now available in Guernsey he asked: ‘Does Mission Council want to give the same powers to the church meeting in Guernsey as in England and Wales?’ The resolution was passed by consensus.

Paper Z1: Where is God calling the URC?

On Friday evening, all 12 of the United Reformed Church synod moderators who were present came on stage to present paper Z1 Z1-Synod_Mods-Paper_on_ethos_of_URC.pdf together, asking members of Mission Council to discuss ‘Where is God calling the URC?’

Speaking on their behalf, Nicola Furley-Smith, Moderator of Southern Synod, commended the skill of decluttering, which she said requires recognising ‘what sparks joy for you and what doesn’t’. She asked: ‘Should we not be doing fewer things and doing them well?’ The ‘closet rule’, she said, is ‘Before you put in a new item of clothing, throw out an old one’; so the closet rule for churches is ‘Don’t start a new ministry until an old one is stopped.’

Peter Meek, Moderator of East Midlands Synod, said: ‘We listen to many who feel the Church is at a crucial moment. We are engaged in frenetic activity that does not feel like our own, and pulled in too many directions. Healthy churches are relentlessly efficient not just busy. Decluttering is life-changing; suddenly you’re surrounded by those things which give you joy.’

Members of Mission Council then split into groups to discuss questions A to D in the paper.

On Saturday, the synod moderators reported back from the discussion groups. Speaking for them, David Herbert and Ruth Whitehead said the groups were enthusiastic about the principle of decluttering Church life, but found it harder to identify what to give up. The question, they posed is ‘How do we decide what is vital and what is a luxury?’ This conversation, they said, needs to be continued after Mission Council, involving those who have an overview of working of the URC, bringing feedback and positive stories to the November 2017 Mission Council.

Paper X2: Stipendiary Ministry Numbers

Mission Council considered but eventually declined to support a resolution asking the Church to examine the financial implications of releasing money from the Church’s reserves in order to maintain stipendiary ministry at 2017 levels for a limited period (Paper X2. http://bit.ly/2pIXVdw).

The motion, tabled by West Midlands Synod, failed to proceed after concerns were raised that running down URC reserves would impact on the income and security of the Church, and would deflect from a need to get on with developing new models of ministry. Nonetheless West Midlands Synod was commended for its analysis in Paper X2 of the need to find ways of supporting cultural change in the URC’s life in order to build up future capacity for local church leadership.