Worship was led on the final morning of Assembly Executive by the Revd Helen Everard, Chaplain to the Moderators of United Reformed Church General Assembly. The Revd Andrew Mudharara read from Genesis from the story of Hagar and Sarah.
The Revd Dr Jill Thornton, a hospice chaplain, had recorded a video reflecting theologically on experience of pandemic. Technical problems prevented Assembly Executive from watching the video, but it will be available on urc.org.uk
In notices, Alan Yates, Convenor of the Education and Learning Committee, announced, with sadness, that the Revd Dr Samantha White will be stepping down as Principal of Westminster College, at the end of the Lent term. Thoughts and prayers were given to Sam as she discerns the next phase of her ministry.
The Revd Dr John Bradbury, General Secretary, told the Executive that Francis Brienen is stepping down as Deputy General Secretary (Mission) and returning to the Netherlands, which he said was a sad occasion, but it was clearly the right moment. Dr Bradbury said that to make a permanent replacement during the present review of church life would not be sensible. The officers of the General Assembly are discussing next steps in respect of the future of this role but had not yet fully resolved the question. Assembly Executive gave its approval to this continuing.
Paper N1: URC 50th Jubilee Planning Group
Andy Jackson, Head of Communications, provided Assembly Executive with an update on the plans to celebrate the URC’s 50th anniversary, which is due to begin in the new year in just over a month’s time at the time of writing, on behalf of Francis Brienen who was unwell and not able to attend Assembly.
Andy informed Assembly that what could be celebrated was the “hundreds of people who have already booked tickets; the 1,300 people who have watched a short film, first broadcast at General Assembly in July, about what there was to celebrate about the URC; the resource packs for local churches; the entries submitted to the worship resources competition; the worship resources produced; those planning the open house event at Church House and the walk to Westminster; those making plans in synods and churches, and those planning trips to London next year.
Andy referred to small cards he had given to members of the Assembly Executive, which prompted members to submit suggestions about what they thought would be good to celebrate, and to either write their responses on the back of the card, or to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr Sam Richards, Head of Children’s and Youth Work, then shared with Assembly the details of Celebrate Together, the intergenerational book which has been commissioned and illustrated by Children’s and Youth Work, designed by the Communications’ Graphics team, and supported by two URC trusts.
Dr Richards advised that the book was an inclusive publication which sought to represent the people that make up the URC, with a primary aim of including children in the URC’s celebration. The book includes activities like things to find, wondering questions, short Bible passages, a flap with further entertaining pictures, and information about the life of and the activities of the URC eg party food is used to highlight how the URC engages with foodbanks.
Dr Richards explained that 50,000 books were on order, to be “bought” from the URC Bookshop, but are to be given away free to synods, churches and individuals, who in turn can give them away to be enjoyed so that those given the books can understand a bit more about the life of the URC. People will only need to pay for postage and packaging.
Questions from the floor centred around when the book will be available, and to what plans considered overbooking or lack of booking for the thanksgiving service at Methodist Central Hall Westminster.
Andy advised that Celebrate Together will be available in early January, and that free tickets for the thanksgiving service can be booked online, here. If people are unable to book a ticket, they can watch the service online. The capacity at Methodist Central Hall Westminster is 2,000, and 1,800 tickets are able to be reserved in advance, with allocation for children and wheelchair users.
Paper H1: URC Confidentiality Policy
The Revd Paul Whittle, Convenor of the Ministries Committee, presented the URC’s new Confidentiality Policy to the Assembly Executive.
“I sometimes feel as if I’m ‘policied out’. It seems as though we need policies for everything and keep getting new and amended ones. But before I get too jaded, I remind myself that these are useful tools designed to support us, and to free us to be effective builders of God’s kingdom.”
“These are living documents, and we need to tweak and amend them, and to keep them up to date,” Mr Whittle continued. “It’s needed because Ministries has been asked for this work.
“Confidentiality is important – it is part of being fair to people in all sorts of ways, about things we need to share and not to share.”
The policy sets out the procedures and principles to be used by those in a role within, or on behalf of, the URC when dealing with confidential and personal information in local churches, Synods or at the General Assembly.
It applies to volunteers and paid members of staff or Office Holders, whether voluntary or paid and gives clarity about the collection of personal information and the requirement of those handling that information to ensure that it is relevant, not excessive and accurate, and that collected data is used for one stated purpose and not for others.
The policy also ensures that confidential and/or personal information is kept securely and that individuals have access to their personal data held either in paper form or electronically.
In among several questions and clarifications, answered by Mr Whittle and the Revd Nicola Furley-Smith, Secretary for Ministries, the Revd Martyn Coe asked if the policy could be made into something accessible and digestible so that it wasn’t just lovers of such documents who read this new three-page policy on the church noticeboard.
Helen Lidgett, Secretary of Nominations, shared a cautionary tale about a church member who had not given consent to be prayed for who later left the church because she had been prayed about without consent.
After a variety of consultations with the legal adviser and the General Secretary, Revd Whittle offered a number of amendments.
In reference to section 5.5 of the Assembly Executive paper H1, Mr Whittle explained that it was very close in wording to the Methodist version of its policy. He also referred to Good Practice 5 page 29 and section 5.1. At the end of 2.1 the term worker was added to add clarification.
Section 5.3 clarified that Elders, church members and volunteers will operate in line with the Data Privacy Notices of their church.
There was a debate about the use of prayer trees, where church members and those visiting churches can ask for prayer support.
Names can be mentioned within the policy, Mr Whittle explained, and if you have the permission of those mentioned, there is no problem, if it’s in your church’s privacy notice that members names can be shared. But you should not be sharing names unless you have the consent of the individual(s) concerned or other definable legitimate interest.
Jane Baird, Deputy General Secretary (Admin & Resources) said that there was a model privacy notice for church on the URC website that the new URC Compliance Officer, Mary Fallah, would be looking at this again in light of the policy and with regard to concerns raised at the meeting.
After requests for clarification, Paul Whittle shared an example that if Nicola Furley-Smith asked for prayers then we can pray for her, but if she asked for prayers for her son, without his permission, then that becomes problematic. Anonymised prayers are good and God is big enough, Mr Whittle continued, to know who the prayers for!
Steve Faber recommended that different coloured leaves or paper be used for different days to ensure that recently added prayers, which might include information shared without permission, can be weeded out.
Simon Walking wondered if prayer request cards should come with a notice advising people to take care when sharing names that could lead to individuals being identified.
He further asked where the amended policy would be, to which the Clerk advised that The Manual or the Ministries section of the URC website, www.urc.org.uk, was the place where the amended policy would be found.
“There are bits that we don’t like,” Mr Whittle concluded, “but these are tools that will help.” The amended Confidentiality Policy was adopted.
Reporting, Andy Jackson, Ann-Marie Nye, Steve Tomkins, and Laurence Wareing