Thanksgiving offered for the 30-year service of the Windermere Centre, as closure decision is taken

windmere News images 554x415Following long and difficult deliberations, and acknowledging a profound debt of gratitude for its unique, 30-year contribution to the life of the United Reformed Church, Mission Council reached a decision to close the Windermere Centre. 

The full text of the resolutions passed by Mission Council on 13 and 14 May read as follows:  

1. Mission Council expresses its gratitude to God and to all who have worked at the Windermere Centre for the contribution of the Centre over thirty years to the life, learning and fellowship of the United Reformed Church and for its continuing legacy. It instructs the Education and Learning Committee to make appropriate arrangements for an act of thanksgiving and celebration for the life of the Centre.

2. Mission Council resolves to close the Windermere Centre with effect from 25th May 2017.

3. Mission Council directs the Education and Learning Committee to ensure that the staff of the Windermere Centre are offered practical and pastoral support at this time of change and loss.

4. Mission Council sets a budget for the Windermere Centre’s support from denominational funds for 2017 of £100k.

5. Mission Council supports in principle the sale of the Windermere Centre premises.

6. Mission Council supports in principle the use of the proceeds of any disposal for lay development, and i

a) believes that there is an increasingly apparent and urgent need for a viable, costed strategy for lay training and congregational development across the URC, and calls for the development of such a strategy; 

b) agrees that this strategy needs to take account of existing lay training and development resources and opportunities available within and beyond the URC and needs to be sensitive to the varied geography and the uneven distribution of financial and human resources across the Synods; 

c) asks the Education and Learning Committee to facilitate the development of this strategy, with the active involvement of relevant people from the Synods and the URC Resource Centres for Learning; 

d) recognises that such training and development needs to be delivered in a variety of ways which are likely to include on-line, face to face and residential components; it must be easily accessible to all in the URC.

e) therefore instructs the Education and Learning Committee to bring to Mission Council in March 2018 proposals for these proceeds to be used as a designated Lay Development Fund which will enable an outworking of the developed strategy.

During the lead-up to the vote, members of Mission Council repeatedly affirmed the value and lasting benefits to the Church of the work of the Windermere Centre. At the same time, they acknowledged the Centre’s struggle to secure sufficient users to provide long-term financial and practical viability as a resource intended for the whole Church throughout the three nations. 

The meeting considered thoroughly two alternative visions for resolving the future of the Centre, as set out by Papers D1 and Y1, before agreeing to use Paper D1 as the basis for reaching a decision. The proposals detailed in Paper Y1, which was brought by representatives of the Mersey and North Western Synods, advocated continuing financial support for the Centre during a further two-year period of review. Though Paper Y1 was not adopted, much of the text for Resolution 6 is taken from the Y1 draft resolution.  

Resolution 2, which deals with the closure of the centre, was passed recognising disagreement. The staff of the centre had given a clear indication that if the centre were to close, they would prefer it to be as soon as possible, as this would be of most benefit to their chances of seeking alternative employment.

A facilitation group then developed wording for a revised set of accompanying resolutions. These were further amended by proposals from the floor during the final session of Mission Council and then passed recognising disagreement. 

Some concerns were raised that Mission Council resolutions should not be allowed to become over-prescriptive of the work of the Education and Learning Committee. However, there was unanimous commitment to the idea that the rich legacy of the Windermere Centre must be realised through the development of lay ministry in the URC.

Concern was expressed for Carver Uniting Church, which shares the Windermere site with the Centre, and whose life was sure to be affected by the decision. The site would now need to be more formally divided, but Treasurer John Ellis assured Mission Council that the URC Trust would certainly wish to bear all the costs of this and others that arose in closing or disposing of the Centre, so that none of these fell on Carver.

Mission Council closed with prayers for the staff of the Windermere Centre and those tasked with supporting them through this difficult time.