October 2015 Synod: The Future of the United Reformed Church


What is the Spirit saying to the Churches?  The Future of the United Reformed Church

Report of the discussion at the meeting of the East Midlands Synod on 10th October 2015 held at The Crossing Church, Worksop

The Report was discussed in eight groups and introduced by the Synod Training and Development Officer, Rev Dr Deborah Baird.  She noted that many churches had found the Study Guide too theoretical and difficult to use but recommended that in discussing it, groups should explore how to make the theoretical real for us, discovering how God is shaping the Church.  They should ask whether the councils of the church are energising and life-giving and ‘waiting upon God’.  She also recommended that groups view the church as ‘bottom up’ – from Church Meeting to Synod to General Assembly.  She reminded members of the five marks of the Holy Spirit set out in the Report – the giver of life, the giver of gifts, dwelling in the midst of God’s people, leader into God’s truth and the sender.  She finally asked people to identify what they are passionate about – start with vision, which will then lead on to strategy and from there to management.

Each Group looked at one question and one scenario from the Study Guide and then reported briefly to Synod in plenary.  The reported responses vary considerably in detail.  In preparation for the discussion members were asked to reflect on questions (1) and (2).  Except for the young people’s group, these responses were not shared and are not included in this report.  Scenario 1 was regarded as the ‘Do Nothing’ option and was therefore not offered for discussion.

Study Guide Questions (adjusted for group discussion)

Reflect on the way you are involved in conversations about God, the three-in-one and one-in-three, and the way in which those conversations help the Church to reflect the life of God in God’s world.

  • Ad hoc
  • Inter faith relationships
  • Meetings – e.g. when planning worship
  • Visitors to the church
  • Charity work
  • Messy church
  • Worship
  • Holidays
  • Local pub/cafe
  • Youth groups, parent and child groups, holiday clubs
  • Visiting grieving people/baptisms, weddings
  • Schools engagement
  • Church/Elders meetings
  • Activities/events/food
  • Bible Studies
  • Where is Trinity Emphasis? Often too much assumption of what people know


Ponder on the characteristics of being United that are of particular significance to you and that you desire to offer to your local community


It’s about looking forwards

We should be more open to other traditions

Be what God calls us to be

Hold on to our Reformed identity in an LEP

Focus more on mission


Ponder on the characteristics of being Reformed that are of particular significance to you and that you desire to offer to your local community.

Group E

  • Being conciliar – everyone has a voice and can be heard; democracy within the church structures
  • Participation of individuals guided by prayer or the Holy Spirit
  • Open to being ‘re-formed’

Emphasis on scripture not tradition

Group D (this group also discussed Local Unions and the comments are combined)

Being Reformed

… is being focussed on the word of God – an emphasis on scripture rather than tradition. 

… is being focussed on the word of God made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ

… is being led by the spirit

… is continuing in being reformed.  One constant in this life = change.  Not for change’s sake but being ready to listen to the Spirit and being prepared to allow or to assist a change of mind and to break new ground. 

The equivalent Australian Church has “Reforming” in its title and we thought this was a good idea as it is an active word rather than a past participle. 

Could we think of changing the name to the Uniting Reforming Church as the often omitted “ed” is perhaps not heard clearly; so this more active name might be more reflective of who we are and better heard/remembered? 

In identifying us as reformed, we questioned whether this was setting ourselves against others in the business of defining who we are. 

We are a conciliar Church.  This was felt to be key.  We are a “priesthood of all believers together” as a group of people – with an openness to the spirit.  The Church meeting is important together with the flattened hierarchy – no Bishops telling us what to do!  It is, however, not a democracy – it is a spirit-led conciliar Church.  We did ask whether this works properly in reality.



Consider your experience of the Church Meeting.  Does it match up to the aspirations of section 4 or the reservations of section 5 in the report in part two?

Church Meeting tends to be Elders, non-serving Elders and ‘regulars’ – you know who will and who won’t be there

Frequency  varies:

  • Twice a year (Methodist influence – in LEP?)
  • 4 a year
  • Monthly
  • 6 times a year

Same people reporting back

Short time means concentration on second order issues

Hold ‘special meetings’ (one topic?)


  • at the beginning of meetings
  • for big issues – pray first before discussion, pray mid-discussion
  • pastoral care on agenda – pray for those mentioned
  • prayerfulness carries through from worship (when meeting after worship)


  • there are some personal agendas
  • grumbling about decisions even if voted positively
  • formality of meetings off-putting – use consensus?
  • Attending Church Meeting should be part of the discipline of being a disciple; time pressures in people’s lives works against this


Has the Spirit left?

‘Meeting’ is negative

Are time and place right?

Allow ‘business’ and ‘vision’ time

Sometimes too many ‘national’ discussions

Repetitive – re. other committees

Rhetoric of discerning the mind of Christ does not seem to match with the practice

Keep agendas outward looking and balanced

Prayer essential


Look at the marks of the Spirit and where these are evident in your congregation

When people recognise that worship is integral to meetings – and everything is perceived as worship

We have to connect with people around us – we have to know who we are and the variety of spirituality around us.




2. The Uniting Churches of/in Great Britain

Group A

People are mixing already – denomination not as important – church chosen for convenience/appeal/style of worship – bottom up (top down won’t work)

We should all be called ‘Christians (in ......tradition)’

Why are other traditions not included in the scenario?.....not seeking where God is moving

Desperation in time of decline – seek any solution, not listening to the Holy Spirt

Perception that ‘dead denominations’ involved (Anglican, Methodist, URC)

One church in..(name town/village/area....) with multiple expressions

“One Church, One Christ, One Lord”

There are different ‘denominations’ in money – do we understand it in churches?

Retrograde step!? Pre-1662


Group F

Harks back to objectives of URC being formed

Few buildings – is it about buildings and money? Or frees people for mission

Are we losing our identity/ ‘free church-ness’

Learning from each other’s disciplines

United church can be a focus in small town/village

Makes sense to non-church people

Get to know more people

Encourages tolerance and understanding

Why were we ‘reformed’ in the first place?

Can we work together for the whole but not give up differences?

Needs to be a new church of God, not one denomination taking over

Lose attachment to buildings

Unity of all churches


3. Local Unions

Certain ‘opportunities’ in denominations can drive change.

We need to be more ‘kingdom’ and less ‘church’ – and fewer assumptions!

Look for opportunities now – before it is too late.  Do it when in a ‘better’ position

People get involved willingly when churches unite because they are part of the process

Small =˃ unite: God is working if we are prepared to listen

URC – inclusion of other denominations is part of our DNA

Slow decline

Many smaller churches struggle - more resources need to be put in (example of Scottish Episcopal Church given)

The Spirit does act within local situations – if not within the denominational leadership (local examples given – creation of LEP in Burton Joyce (Nottinghamshire), 4 denominational co-operation to provide church presence in new town planned at Lubbersthorpe (Leicestershire)


4. Pastorate Churches

(See also young people’s group)

One church – one minister i.e. one pastorate to one minister

Needs a change of expectations of churches, parallel to changes of expectations of ministers

Lay emphasis in leadership

More ‘ministers’ – in wide sense


5. Local Incarnations

Group E

  • Students from university and overseas bring new ides
  • Worship in homes can keep the flame alive
  • We can get bogged down in traditions
  • No need in future to be the same - ‘one size fits all’
  • Thought of change can be unsettling
  • Different people relate to different styles of worship


Group H

  • Disconnect between local churches and other councils and committees
  • Local focus – meeting/challenging hearts and minds
  • Building confidence – empowering individuals
  • Engaging with community
  • Reflects our identity
  • Spirituality


Young People’s Group (with three extra adults)

Firstly they answered ‘blessings they have received through the URC’

They were:

Helping others

Being a Christian

Able to work with Children and Young People

To serve, lead worship, know the Gospel

Fellowship, always somebody there

Opportunities to share with others

Being supported

Be myself.



We talked about LEP’s and Pastorate Churches and then asked the question

‘What is the future of the church and what should it do’

Responses were:

Have a variety in worship – not just old or new but a mix.  Have different types of service, formal and informal.

Not having a full time minister, i.e. 1 minister 1 church.  This would give us a chance to serve, practice and discern our future ministry, ministers and youth leaders of the future.  (As long as you let young people do the above!)

Less focus on ‘membership; let us have our say and vote even if not members.  When we are moving between uni and home church particularly.

More community involvement

Invest in young people – both financially and in time.  We are the future!

Encourage more participation

Learn about other faiths

Less lectionary but look deeper into the Bible.  This was because they felt that the lectionary jumps about and they don’t get chance to look into areas deeply over a period of time.

And finally

Be led by the Spirit!


General Comments from several groups

We felt we were more exciting than the Report suggested.  We felt we were also more historical and more radical. 

Does the report give us a vision of the future or is it still a little too focussed on the second order matters? 

We could use a ‘dummies guide’ – not the language of this document

Scenarios are uninspriring




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