Mission Council round-up day three

Day Three: Sunday 14 May 2017


Paper F1: The Wider Fold

On Friday afternoon, the Revd Elizabeth Welch presented Paper F1 on behalf of the faith and order committee. The paper proposes a scheme for including isolated members who wish to continue as part of the United Reformed Church while not being able to belong to a local church. Ms Welch explained: ‘We want to honour the commitment of those at a distance from local church who want to maintain membership.’ She recalled how, after Mission Council in 2014 decided that church membership needed to be reconsidered, the faith and order committee looked at principle, while the law and polity advisory group looked at process.

The paper was presented with two amendments. The first is to be inserted as paragraph 2.0 (just above 2.1)

2.0          Isolated Membership allows people who have belonged to one of the Church’s local congregations, and whose circumstances no longer permit meaningful local membership, to maintain their commitment to the United Reformed Church. It is intended for people who have joined the URC in the regular way through the decision of a Church Meeting, but who are now unable, for reasons of distance or mobility, to remain closely involved an existing local church. It is not possible to list all the situations that might lead to people requesting Isolated Membership, but possible examples are:

  1. students and young adults, studying at a distance from home, or in a transitory lifestyle in the early years of a career;
  2. members of the armed forces and their households;
  3. members of the URC who have moved home, and no longer have a nearby URC that they can attend regularly;
  4. URC members worshipping in a church that had earlier been a LEP, but from which the URC has withdrawn;
  5. URC members whose local church has closed, and who are not able to worship in another URC congregation.


The second amendment was to the draft resolution 2, line 6. The phrase ‘this Roll’ is to be replaced with ‘the roll of isolated members’.

Answering questions for clarification, Ms Welch explained there would be one local church in the whole URC holding isolated members.

The main area of discussion was about whether it should always be a council of the Church which commended an individual to the scheme, or might sometimes be a minister. Members of Mission Council also asked whether the paper should be more explicit about expecting financial contributions from isolated members.

After discussion, the General Assembly Moderator, Kevin Watson, asked the chaplain, Mark Robinson, to pray for all those who feel a sense of isolation. The debate was adjourned while a group worked on the wording to bring back to a later session of Mission Council.

On Sunday morning, the Assembly Moderator ruled that, in the light of issues raised, consideration of the matter would be adjourned to another time and place. Ms Welch indicated that she would report back to the next Mission Council.


Paper F2: The Future of Membership

Presenting Paper F2 on Friday afternoon on behalf of the faith and order committee, the Revd Elizabeth Welch said: ‘Confusion has crept into churches about membership in the body of Christ. Some non-members are more committed than members; some don’t feel adequate to become members. But their relationship with the body is not about feeling worthy, it’s about the grace of Christ to them. How do we recognise that?’

The paper proposed that churches should keep two rolls, one of voting members, one of members of the larger church. Ms Welch said that the committee was asking Mission Council to consider whether the work done so far was going in the right direction.

Mission Council discussed questions about the meaning and terminology of church membership. After adjournment, on Sunday morning, Ms Welch presented an amended resolution agreeing that more work was needed by the faith and order committee. The amendment was that the phrase ‘accepts the broad principles set out therein’ be replaced with ‘affirms the work that has been done to date’.

The amended resolution was not carried. The Moderator thanked the committee for the work it had done, and the convenor indicated that the important topic of church membership was one that the committee would need to pursue. 


Paper I1: Greenbelt

Steve Summers, URC at Greenbelt Project Coordinator and Development Worker for Church Related Community Work, presented Paper I1 to report to Mission Council about the United Reformed Church’s association with Greenbelt.

The partnership, which began in 2016, has been seen as a natural fit for the URC, as Greenbelt’s dynamic fusion of the arts with issues of faith and justice resonates with the URC’s rich Nonconformist history of exploring radical Christianity and working for justice.

A video shared with Mission Council from last year’s festival shared enthusiastic endorsements from URC festival-goers, who talked of faith renewal, refreshment, great speakers, arts, creativity, fellowship and family fun.

URC plans for this year include a ‘pop-up picnic liturgy’, a discussion panel, knitted treasure hunt and banquet. On the final day, festival-goers will be invited to take home an item of knitted food along with an action card encouraging them to identify and build relationships with those who feel less than welcome in their communities or churches. Mr Summers reported that 60 knitting circles had now been recruited to knit for the event.


URC buildings forum website

David Tatem, the URC Secretary for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, announced the launch the website of the URC buildings forum website www.urcbuildingsforum.co.uk. The site is expected to go live in the coming week.

The forum exists to share resources to help churches have a mission-based focus on buildings. Mr Tatem asked for feedback about what users find useful about the site.


Appreciation for John Ellis, stepping down as URC treasurer after 10 years

General Assembly moderator the Revd Kevin Watson, who chaired the final session of Mission Council, offered thanks to former moderator John Ellis, who has stepped down from the role of Treasurer after 10 years’ service in this role. Mr Watson said:

‘John has brought to this role all the professional expertise that we would expect from him. He has an amazing mind for detail. Many times he has been in the Chair as Moderator, I  have been struck by how perceptive he has been to the conversation and the spirit. It is a rare gift to be such a detailed person but also to have vision. John visited many local churches during his time as Moderator. Of course, he could not take off his treasurer hat and I have heard many reports from local church treasurers about the compassion and understanding he showed to each of them. I think of Romans 12 – he never thought too highly of himself but came alongside. Thank you John for all you have brought us as treasurer of our denomination.’


Resolution in support of Church House staff

The Revd Kevin Watson brought the following resolution from the chair to recognize the displacement and disruption staff have dealt with during ongoing renovation work on Church House: 

Mission Council:

  • Records the appreciation of the whole United Reformed Church to our Church House staff;
  • Recognises the many extra demands placed on the staff as a result of the redevelopment of their offices;
  • Expresses its profound gratitude for the dedication of our staff, highlighted again by the last few months and
  • Instructs the General Secretary to convey this appreciation to all staff

This resolution was passed with acclaim.


Votes of thanks

Thanks were given to all those present at Mission Council, in particular to three convenors of General Assembly committees – Tim Meachin, Elizabeth Welch and John Ellis – and retiring Secretary for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations David Tatem, for all of whom, this would be their last Mission Council in post.