General Assembly 2012 Reflections






We arrived in Scarborough in torrential rain after a terrible journey by car. For those travelling by train it was even worse, some people were over three hours late, others had their trains diverted three times but this did not deter the members of the URC and General assembly was constituted at 2pm by the Moderator Revd Dr Kirsty Thorpe. The clerk then reported that the Moderator-elect had resigned and as a consequence Mrs Valerie Morrison would continue in office until the May 2013 mission council. Then the other Moderator-elect Revd Dr Michael Jagessar was inducted into the office of Moderator of General Assembly and the roll of assembly was placed on the table. Revd Dr Kirsty Thorpe presented the mission council report and a resolution to change the structure of the URC. This was very controversial it meant that when general assembly does not meet then mission council could pass any resolution without bringing them back to assembly if there was a 2/3rds majority. This seemed to many members that we were giving mission council too much control. I spoke against this as it appeared to me that not enough ordinary members of the URC would be consulted and as we are a conciliar church, when some proposals affected smaller churches, it could even mean their closure. Mission council were asked to take the resolution back to be re vamped and a new resolution re written and the matter was remaindered. The next four resolutions were just matters of ‘dotting the I’s’ and tweaking sentences for legal reasons. We then were presented to the ‘Jubilee Ministers’ who were celebrating their 50th, 60th and 70th anniversaries’ of being inducted. It was uplifting to see so many. Then the Revd Dr Stephen Orchard gave us a humorous potted history of the URC as this year is our 40th anniversary on October 5th (since the two churches, Congregational and Presbyterian joined together) and we saw slides of the ceremony in Westminster Abbey. We had a welcome from the Mayor of Scarborough and then our outgoing Moderators spoke of their busy last two years and it made us all realise what a lot of work they do both at home and abroad. This ended the first session.



The children joined the Assembly and the Moderators greeted the Synod Moderators inducted since the last Assembly, including our Moderator Peter and Clare Downing. Worship was led by the Chaplain Melanie Smith.  Having welcomed the children we watched a short video of the Youth and Children’s Committees work. We received and accepted the Nominations report (Resolution 30) after which the Ministers ordained or received by transfer were greeted all 31 of them! The session concluded with the addresses from the Moderators ‘Looking forward – living conversations to challenge and inspire us!’ from Mrs Val Morrison; and a passionate address from Dr Jagessar ‘to start conversation about radical new directions; organise our finances, and how we share the good news.’ The Chaplains and Moderators led prayers and assembly sang ‘Let us build a house’ during which we joined together our fabric squares. Assembly was adjourned at 9.30pm.




Worship and Bible Study ’Living Conversations.....Then'
During morning worship we viewed the life of Moses and the impact the Princess
had in him ending up in the Palace. We looked at Moses as a slave, now in a position of eminence and His people suffering as slaves: How does Moses react when he understands the plight of his people? We reflected on Moses killing an oppressor in trying to protect his people, eventually he runs for his life and becomes a fugitive. It was pointed out that we respond out of our need. Can our response be justified? How does the U R C respond today to the difficult issues that confront the community and those on the margins? Do we understand God as The Mother and the Liberator? When we consider the work of the church the social reform, ecological crisis, fragment relationships and all other issues that arise, Is God present, do we discover God? Are the stones rolled away - what are the stones today? 

Could it be alienation, fear or injustice?
How does Micah 6v8   resonate with us? Viewing the work of the church in the areas of benevolence and redistribution, is it true that the church is actually seeking justice and endeavouring to be all things to all men? Is it possible to be all things to all men? Or can we just be content by concentrating on a specific area? Some of the things that came out of this session were Human Alienation, evil of white racism, communal & self identities, cultural imperialism and exclusion. We were encouraged to engage with the Bible with the power in the mind, this may be how we will be able to receive healing, reconciliation, social and spiritual power. Exodus 2 v 1 - 14 was the main scripture reading for this session which helped identify the structures that come to play in our church and community today, even though we may agree or disagree. One of the images was the impact of women collaboration in how the issues developed and how freedom eventually came to the people of Israel. Can violence ever be justified? What is the connotation that surrounds Being in a privileged position?                           


Ministry is everyone's responsibility. The relationship between the minister and the congregation is so important, we need to learn from our mistakes and discern the path for moving forward. In the area of finances we need to live with reality, courage and hope.
Vision 2020

Ten statements of our mission purpose, they will be our guiding principle.
Building Our Communion, Revd Dr Setri Nyomi, General Secretary World Communion of Reformed Churches, commended the work of the church and was impressed with the way children were inclusive in the General Assembly. He spoke extensively about the injustice in society and especially the murder of so many Christians due to their faith. Silence, he stated was a sign of betrayal hence the church must be pro - active in these areas. Clear commitment and action plans must be in place. Building the communion will happen by being like minded. Mission and valuing diversity will also play a significant role: 1 Cor 12.                                                   
The ACCRA CONFESSION - he stated must be revisited. The website highlights all the conflicts as they arise which enables prayer and support.
Division should never be the issue when ethical concerns develop.
Better space must be encouraged for our young people.


JILL TURNER: SATURDAY AFTERNOON                                                                                 

Some of us spent an enjoyable lunch time sitting in the Sun Court listening to a Korean String Quartet from New Maiden URC. It was nice to relax for a short while as we had a busy session ahead of us with five reports and eight resolutions. The first one was Human Sexuality, Civil Partnerships. There were several questions asked and we had a discussion around our tables. Eventually resolution thirteen was passed by agreement but with some delegates registering dissent. This resolution allows the church meetings within the URC to decide whether they wish their premises to be approved for the registration of Civil Partnerships. This is only applicable to England and Wales. There are some more details on the website including a link to a broadcast that Rev Steve Faber and the Rev Dr Kirsty Thorpe recorded in York.                                 
After seeing a brief video on the social impact of poverty and inequality in the U.K. presented by Mission Committee one of their resolutions was passed by a consensus but their other two had to be remaindered. We then had a bit of light relief as we saw short videos of the finalists for the Community Award Scheme. This was followed by a visit from a local primary school who entertained us with some songs.                                                                       The next item was a brief report from Red David Tatem on Ecumenical matters. This was followed by the Youth and Children’s report and the children gave us a presentation from their Assembly. We passed, by consensus, two resolutions regarding Pilots which affirmed their good work.                                          
Finally we were on to the last item which was the review of the role of the Synod Moderator. However before we could pass the resolution the fire bells started to sound and although we didn’t have to evacuate we couldn’t continue and didn’t finish that item of business and so to dinner ...



Saturday evening was a time of celebration compared by the Revd Paul Robinson.  We were celebrating the 40th birthday of our United Reformed Church –  something to be praised.  This was done by highlighting some important organisations:

We were shown picture clips of “The Uniting Service” at the Westminster   Abbey – the service that brought us together; and a video illustrating 75 years of Pilots.
Paul then asked various questions to see how many people in the hall had any contact with Pilots and most of the hall were on their feet-wow! 

25 years at Windermere was illustrated by a video which showed the activities that took place again Paul asked who had been to Windermere about half the people stood. A leaflet was on the table to say what was on this year.

'Training for Learning for Serving'(TLS) course, has been going for25 years.

The Yorkshire Synod, people of all ages, had written  and illustrated Gospels calling it the Yorkshire Gospels. This was put on show at the back of the hall. Each page was so different.

Over 20 years of Commitment for Life, the URC has partnered many countries. Presently they are Zimbabwe, Palestine, Bangladesh and Jamaica.

Vision for Life.
We were told what had happened over the last few years and what was to come leading up to 2020.

We ended with a hymn written especially for the birthday by Alan Gaunt.

As this part of the evening came to an end the General Secretary addressed the audience saying let us continue to ”punch above our weight as inheritors of dynamic energy and Hope”. We then let off party poppers as we sang Happy Birthday.

The celebrations continued with the soulful singing of Revd Stephen Brown ( United Reformed Church ) and  Revd Carol Ann Parker (Church of Scotland) – Please contact Thursdays' Child if you are interested in using them in a program of outreach or mission to youth and young people.                                           



I must admit that I was really looking forward to Sunday morning at Assembly.   Rather than being at the Spa with all the other business, we walked a little further out of town to St Andrew's United Reformed Church to join the congregation there. There was to be a little business mingled into the communion service.   ( The whole assembly was enrobed in worship with a clear effort being made to blur the distinction between worship and business ( 'worship is the business of the church', said the chaplain (I think), 'whether it be performing a communion service or feeding a group of pensioners'. Our talking and our doing should always be part of and grow out of our conversation with God. )
It was a disappointment, the whole experience being ruined by badly sited video screens and faulty microphones. We could not hear, we could not see, and we had to sit on PEWS! I think pews should be made illegal.  It was hard to concentrate. How important it is to get right the sound, the seeing, and the general comfort in our churches).
In the business we learned who had been voted Moderator's elect (Mr John  Ellis and Revd David Grosch-Miller), Stephen Orchard expounded the URC's contribution to Hymnody (Stephen's contributions were brilliant, as ever!), heard from Presbyterian Church in Ghana (did they object to our passing Resolution 13?), gave thanks to Mr Hartley Oldham for his long service as Solicitor the URC, and received the Assembly Arrangements Report.
We then received two congregations into the URC - Bournemouth International Church and Heston Asian Church which did not go anywhere near balancing the 20+ churches reported as closed.
The communion service was good. I know it was good because I have downloaded the order of service from the General Assembly Website and used it in my church.  The microphones had settled down enough to allow us to get the gist of the 'sermon' - a conversation between the two moderators which I have asked them to publish.  I still feel that it would have been more meaningful to have celebrated communion in our 'place of work' (The Spa).
Then the highlight of the morning. A large proportion of Assembly walked down to the Town Hall to greet Mr Robert Goodwill MP and present him with a copy of The Scarborough Statement, which had been agreed by Assembly the day before. Many people thought that this was a waste of time, but I agreed with Moderator Michael Jagessar in that it took us out of the church, out of our talking and into the real world. I began to feel alive again!

VAL SMITH: SUNDAY AFTERNOON                                                                                

After an exhilarating walk through Scarborough led by the piper, we returned to the Spa Complex to get a lot of business finished. Assembly Moderator told us that “We grow more spiritually by getting it wrong than getting it right!” He was referring to his own understanding of the consensus process!          
Resolution 33 led to much discussion about the missing 20-40 year-olds from URC Churches. Discussion showed that other churches have the same problem (the Methodists have done a study). There was talk of Fury lengthening its age range, of the need for incorporating people of all ages and finally that the age group should be incorporated as equal partners into what is a diverse body of people. As usual there were no definite answers and the Resolution was sent to facilitation.                                                  

The Ministries report began with an excellent DVD about the Armed forces - one of their pastors was on the platform. This film would be an excellent resource for Remembrance Sunday with its background song ‘Somebody Pray for me’.                                                                                                               Resolution 26 was about resourcing Ministry. There was obviously a lot of dissent and it was eventually sent away to be amended.                                 
Interfaith guests were introduced and Imam Quari Asim gave us an interesting story with the message of working together as we love our neighbour.         
Susan Durber talked about the Westminster Appeal which has currently raised more than £5,800,000. She talked about the generosity of Churches in the URC who have made pledges, written cheques and had fundraising events. Major construction begins in July 2012.                                                             
Resolution 44 which had been sent to Conciliation was agreed, followed by the financial report.                                                                                       
Resolution 18  called on all URC members to give as generously as possible reiterating that a ‘tithing’ of 5% of annual income after tax  would help the continued decline in income which the URC is suffering currently. Giving to the M&M fund is falling by 2% each year, which, with inflation at over 3%, presents a real reduction of 5%.

Consequently, (Resolution 19) there will be no increase in the number of stipendiary Ministers. In fact if costs rise and member numbers fall so will the number of ministers. This was passed despite much concern.                
Resolution 20 saw the Committees for Assembly arrangements being asked to cut £50k from their budget, Communications and Editorial £40k, Education and Learning £200k, Ministries £60k, Mission £150k and Youth and Children £100k. This adds up to £600k when in fact there is a need to cut £1m.                  
There was much discussion about cuts from Education, Mission and Youth and Children’s work, talk about priorities and anguish about not doing God’s work. Tributes were paid to Church House staff, who have taken cuts in hours to save money.

Despite dissent this motion was passed.                                      
Resolution 21 agreed to a last resort financial safety net for Synods – Pray God that we don’t have to use it.                                                                   
Resolution 22 authorised Mission Council to change the Benefits for Ministers’ Pension Fund, increasing the age until which ministers have to work to 68. 23 and 24 were also about Pensions and pension schemes.                          

Generally a sad afternoon when everyone realised the monetary constraints which the URC is under and the need for more giving from church members just to keep the Church operating  despite cuts in everyone’s budgets. There was a real plea for churches to make sure that their M&M is paid and another plea for tithing (5%). I think we should take a leaf from Westminster College’s book. If the URC can raise so much for them, surely it can do the same for a foundering church?



MALCOLM FIFE: SUNDAY EVENING – SYNOD SESSION                                                        

Our evening started with a time of worship.  We read Psalm 63 together and a dramatic reading of John 4: 1 to 42 followed. After this we were led in Bible study on the theme "whose living water".
The minutes of Saturdays sessions were accepted after amendment.  Resolution 25 changed the retirement age for ministers to the age of 68.  Resolution 41 amended the date of retirement for Moderators to 68 also. Resolution 15 was passed changing the structures of the URC.  Resolution 35 was brought by Wessex Synod to explore the possibilities for locally ordained ministries to be explored.  Resolution 38 was concerned with the closed session meeting of Mission Council which met in March 2012 and the conduct of that session. A facilitation group was set up to review the resolution.



My overall impression of General Assembly was conversations.  As one who generally enjoys listening, the conversations shared will be the aspects I remember.

As we sat around a table on Sunday evening, we listened to a Bible Study centered around the Woman at the Well and her significant conversation with Jesus. That conversation was a surprising one for both Jesus and the woman.

It changed her life.  Perhaps the conversations I shared did not change my life, but they were certainly life affirming.

That bible study set the tone for the evening which struggled to complete business, delayed from other parts of Assembly, to determine the age of ministers' retirement, and to respond to a resolution reflecting the pain of some over the resignation of Lawrence Moore as Assembly Moderator.  In both cases there were strong feelings.  Facing the financial issues of the church meant increasing the age of retirement at which a minister would receive his/her full pension to 68.  With regard to the other major issue of the evening, the resignation of the moderator-elect, I listened to the conversation, appreciated the pain of some individuals, present and not, but I found it difficult to come to a conclusion myself.

Fortunately, the resolution was withdrawn in order to be reworked and brought to Assembly on Monday morning.  The subsequent resolution reflected a desire to understand the processes of the work of the church and bring reconciliation to the people involved.

As unity and community are so important to us, I pray this will come to pass.