The URC – Who are we?
The United Reformed Church is one of the smaller mainstream denominations. Despite its size, it plays a dynamic and challenging part in the British Christian community and it’s well represented in the United Kingdom. It was formed in 1972 by the union of English Presbyterians and English and Welsh Congregationalists. In 1981 this union was joined by the Churches of Christ and then in 2000 by Scottish Congregationalists.
The original vision was one which would bring unity across all our denominations – and it was envisaged that our union would be transitional – not that we would form a separate denomination. But as we all know – ecumenism has moved on and our vision now is one of working together, celebrating the unity which we know in diversity. Hence the rather cumbersome title – The United Reformed Church.
We have also discovered that it takes a lot of energy and time to make such organic unity work – take as an example the differences in churchmanship among Congregationalists, Presbyterians and the Churches of Christ. The transitions have been painful for many – but the lessons and the outcome very enriching.
The URC seeks to work with all traditions and rejoices in being part of more than 400 Local Ecumenical Partnerships (Methodist, Anglicans, Baptists and others). It is also committed to theological and cultural diversity – valuing and holding together different insights and understandings. The Statement of Faith and Order, found in the Rejoice and Sing hymnal at number 761, helps us to understand this and to see how it works out in practice. There is a rich diversity in the URC of church backgrounds and theologies, of cultures and life experiences. As a multicultural church we are building on our radical commitment to justice as we aim to include and affirm all, welcoming rather than tolerating difference.
In a nutshell:
- We uphold the historic Trinitarian Creeds (Rejoice & Sing: 759, 760);
- We find the supreme authority for our lives in the Word of God discerned in the bible through the Holy Spirit;
- In things that affect obedience to God the Church is not subordinate to the state, but must serve the Lord Jesus Christ, its only Ruler and Head;
- We order our lives through Councils of the church, where Ministers and lay people together discern the mind of God.
The church structure:
We have a conciliar structure with no supreme leader – i.e. we work through Councils who comprise members representing our local churches. These are the decision makers. Final authority in the URC rests with the local congregations.
We have a General Assembly (which meets every two years) with two Assembly Moderators (one lay and one ordained who serve for two years). We have a General Secretary who is appointed for a seven-year term.
Then at every level there is a council in place where each church will be represented and where decisions will be made.
There are 13 Synods and we are in North West Synod. Our Moderator is Revd Andrew Mills who has pastoral oversight of both churches and Ministers in the Synod. It is not the Moderator who makes decisions – the decisions are taken by the Councils. Synod meets twice a year [visitors always welcome] and it is here that our local decisions are made through recommendations from Synod Council, other Synod Committees or local churches. Sometimes we may feel that these Councils do not matter very much for us – but they are responsible for the Ministry we receive and they are there to support the church and to support the Minister. So, every Church Meeting then, is part of the decision-making and implementing process of the business of the church.
Church Membership: Why become a member of URC?
People often feel part of a Church Family without making the commitment to membership – and on one level that is fine – so why become a member? There are two parts to church membership:
1. Confirmation – confession of faith (a re-affirmation of Baptism) which confirms us as part of the whole church of Jesus Christ.
2. Reception into membership of the local church – where we can be with other disciples of Jesus supporting and caring for each other so that we can live out our life as Christians day by day and participate in the life of the community. We all need support from time to time and the church is a perfect tool for mobilising such support.
When we attend meetings as church members, we are empowered to be part of the decision-making process in the church. Sometimes this may not seem important but there are times in the life of every church when it is: For example- when choosing elders, deciding vision and mission priorities and calling a Minister. But church membership goes beyond that. It is about making a public acknowledgement that this is where our commitment lies; this is the community where I belong. Membership gives you an identity within the body of Christ. If, as disciples of Jesus, we believe that the local church is important – if we are passionate about its ultimate survival, then we have a responsibility to play our part in making this happen. If no-one is prepared to take that responsibility the local church (as we know it) will certainly not last beyond a generation. The writing is on the wall. Church membership is both a privilege and a responsibility: A privilege to be part of the Church of Jesus Christ and to be seen to express that locally and a responsibility to do that well as faithful disciples.
So, what is the role of the Elders?
United Reformed Church Elders are ordained. Elders in the URC are not stewards or deacons or PCC members and certainly not managers – together with the minister; they have responsibility for the spiritual well-being of the church. Elders are part of the leadership team of the local church sharing oversight and leadership with the Minister. They are responsible for making provision for worship and teaching, for promoting witness and mission in the community and world, and for the peace, unity and welfare of the church. Elders, with the Minister, have a pastoral responsibility for members and friends.
It is also their duty to ensure that buildings are fit for purpose, and that finances are managed wisely. At Bank Top URC we have a treasurer, property committee and social committee which undertake implementing work on behalf of the Eldership and the church.
Elders are not asked to do all these things but to ensure that they are done. It is the responsibility of all members to support them in all their endeavours.
United Reformed Church Elders are ordained for life but they are inducted into their local church. In the same way as members are confirmed and received into the whole Church of Jesus Christ and then received into local membership.
It’s important to note that Eldership just like ministry in the URC is a calling – very different from filling vacancies on a committee. Elders are a gift to the church and one of the strengths of our denomination.
Rev George Mwaura- 2013
(With many thanks to the Rev. Angela Hughes of Stainbeck URC for the original idea.)
The URC has a Statement of Faith and Order which is akin to a creed for the URC. This can be opened by clicking on the button below….Statement of Faith and Order
The URC has also produced these short guides which break down the Statement into five core components…