Last Updated on 12 July 2022 by Ann-Marie Nye
Worship on the third morning of General Assembly was led by the Revd Helen Everard, Chaplain to the Moderator. Meg Warner, Lecturer in Old Testament and Biblical Hebrew at Northern College, Manchester, led a second Bible study on Leviticus 25 – some of which, she warned is very difficult for us to deal with as scripture.
Dr Warner looked at the question of land ownership in Leviticus. Giving the example of the flat that she is buying, she said that ownership would give her the crucial right to exclude others from living there. The book of Deuteronomy has the same concept of land ownership, using the Hebrew word nachlah.
In Leviticus, the word for possession is achuzzah which involves the right to live there only alongside others who God sees fit to bring there too. God owns the land, so people can’t. People can buy and sell land, but in the Jubilee year it returns to the original owners. This means the price of land goes up and down depending on the number of crop years till jubilee.
This is why 25:23 says: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and strangers (gerim and toshabim).”
We use the word “alien” of people from elsewhere in order to not acknowledge their full humanity, said Dr Warner. How would it change our relationships if we saw land as belonging to God not us?
The passage offers two case studies on the buying and selling of people.
First, Israelites in poverty can sell themselves into bound labour, but not slavery. However, Israelites can own gerim as slaves. Dr Warner said: “I cannot excuse away what Leviticus says about slavery, especially knowing what we do about legacies of slavery. This text is extraordinarily difficult and I cannot fix it for you.”
Second, Israelites can sell selves to gerim, but only until the year of jubilee. Israelites cannot be sold in perpetuity because they belong to God. She related this to the way
Leviticus talks of the Exodus, bringing Israel out of Egyptian slavery because they’re God’s slaves.
Dr Warner pointed out that Deuteronomy says much more about caring for strangers than Leviticus, paradoxically because in Deuteronomy Gerim can’t own land, so charity becomes necessary. In Leviticus they can own land; the book has far fewer charity provisions because it legislates equality. “You shall have one law for the stranger and for the native.”
In Babylonian culture, she said, following the law made the temple holy so gods can live in it; in Leviticus it makes whole land holy so God can live among people. Law applies to all irrespective of ethnicity, and the whole point is to return us to the garden of Eden where God walks amongst us.
“How can these ideas from the first jubilee inform the URC’s jubilee?” Dr Warner concluded ‘And, if I’m going to be tricky, what will be the role of rest?”
Paper I2: Environmental Policy
Sarah Lane Cawte, Mission Committee Convenor, invited Rob Weston, Convenor of the Environmental Task Group, and Simeon Mitchell, Secretary for Church and Society, to present the report.
Noting that 2022 is the fifth hottest year on record, Simeon said the climate crisis is an ever-present reality; including a “frightening loss of biodiversity”. The policy being put forward with effect from January 2023 instructs committees and bodies under the control of the Assembly to adopt as minimum the practices it sets out, but Simeon emphasised that the plan requires all of us to play our part.
The policy sets out an ambition to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2030 and puts in place the plans we need to achieve this. Caring for creation and pursuing a just and sustainable use of the world’s resources are Gospel commitments, Simeon said.
Rob outlined progress that has been made since an earlier environmental policy was agreed in 2016. One in five congregations have signed up to the Eco-Church or Eco-Congregation Scotland schemes, half of them so far receiving an award; and systematic programmes of building assessments are in place across many synods. But we need to go further, Rob said: “We have dillied and dallied for too long.” He said the 2020s are a critical decade: “There is something more important on the agenda than the future of the URC. . . if we destroy the planet, there is no need for a URC.”
Turning to the “how” of implementing the policy, Simeon pointed Assembly to the range of resources available to churches and individuals, including:
- Green apostles in every synod to assist you
- Eco-Church and Eco-Congregation Scotland websites
- Greening your Church section of the URC website
- Synod Property Officers
Turning to questions, one speaker noted that pastorates are getting larger and asked whether the committee had considered ministers’ travel and financial support for the purchase of electric cars. Another member asked if any financial support would be available for synods. Simeon responded by saying the Task Group has not worked through all the implications of the policy because it permeates every part of the Church and requires discussions at every level: having set the policy overall the Church will need to work through the practicalities.
How do we hear the voices of children? asked another member. One youth representative said that finding out who the green apostles are is tricky (Mr Weston said that the Task Group would look to improve this). Another member asked, in view of the number of large, hard-to-heat buildings, was this a policy that is going to close churches? It was also noted that the policy is not in conflict with the Assembly’s decisions on pensions.
Supporting the resolution, one synod moderator said: “It’s often said we should do this for our children. Tosh! We need to do it for those who are dying all around the world now.” If anything, a youth representative said, we should be achieving net zero before 2030.
The Convenor of the Education and Learning Committee was concerned “we’re setting ourselves up to fail”, arguing that the URC’s plans are not as well developed as those of some ecumenical partners. He urged for significant resources to be applied to developing plans. Another speaker wished a challenge had been laid down for churches to “leave their buildings and pitch their tents elsewhere”. He believed that in some cases the building itself had become the idol replacing God as the sole focus of worship.
Some members shared their own local experiences of making changes in response to the crisis. What gets measured gets done, was the advice of one speaker. Another, responding to concerns about the upkeep of sizeable Victorian buildings, said how encouraged her congregation had been to discover that getting their large, old building through the Eco award requirements was the easiest part because there is so much advice online, and so many tools for a congregation to use. Another speaker encouraged the Task Group to work in conjunction with the Church Life Review.
With the addition of an amendment that requires a representative of URC Children to be included on a new Net Zero Task Group, the resolution as a whole was agreed by consensus.
Paper N1: Church Life Review
The Revd Dr John Bradbury, General Secretary of the United Reformed Church, had planned to update General Assembly verbally on the work of the review task group, in addition to the written report received. The group was set up by the 2021 Assembly to undertake a major review of the work of the URC with a view to making it smaller and more sustainable.
In Dr Bradbury’s absence, the Revd Steve Faber, Moderator of West Midlands Synod gave a brief introduction to the report and fielded questions.
Mr Faber said that the group had embarked on considerable research. Most of the work undertaken is not yet ready for report but the group expect to bring substantive resolutions to General Assembly 2023.
He said: ‘This is not change for the sake of change time or inclination to rearrange deckchairs on the Titanic. We do not accept that ship is sinking, we do not accept inevitability of decline. There are stories of decline around the church but it is not too late to change.’
The written report outlines the following: research by Theos into flourishing churches; forensic accounting research into URC finances; matters of governance to be considered; helping churches with the burden of compliance; providing options for struggling churches.
Earlier in Assembly, members had discussed the future of the church in groups and given feedback. Mr Faber invited further feedback by email to email@example.com
Paper I3: Mission, Korean Peace Appeal
In this session, Assembly was invited to “affirm its support for a lasting peace settlement to end the Korean War” and to instruct the General Secretary and Moderator to sign the Korea Peace Appeal on Assembly’s behalf.
The Appeal is a worldwide effort to secure 100 million signatures by June 2023, supporting a formal Peace Treaty between North and South Korea.
Members watched a video message from the Revd Dr Jong-Jung Lee, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Korea, who spoke about the Korean situation and also greeted the URC in the year of its jubilee.
Sarah Lane Cawte, Mission Committee Convenor, then invited the Revd David Grosch-Miller to introduce the motion. David is a member of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Forum on Korea.
Despite the cessation of fighting and signing of an armistice in June 1953, he said, a formal end has never been declared to the war on the Korean peninsula, and he described the people of Korea as “pawns in the geo-politics of South-East Asia”.
He argued that the armistice remains a “temporary fix” that continues to bring hardship and pain to those living either side of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, which lies between North and South Korea.
David said that, in effect, Korea is one country with two governments, both laying claim to the peninsula. In addition, pre-Covid, it was estimated that 11 million people were living in poverty in the North owing to the sever regime of international sanctions which – David believed – would not effect any changes in North Korean’s closed society.
The people of Korea have suffered long enough, he said; a peace treaty will normalise the relations between the two parts of the country.
David concluded that, by supporting the resolution, the URC would be taking a prophetic stance; presenting a challenge to the foreign policy of governments, including in the UK and, principally, the USA.
A number of members spoke in support of the resolution, including a representative who brought a message from the Bristol Korean Church, which described the situation in Korea as “a wound that never heals”.
The Assembly also heard from two Koreans who are members of Assembly. In thanking the Assembly for considering the resolution, the Revd Barnabas Shin recalled growing up in South Korea where he was taught that “North Korea was our enemy”. He said: “We are still at war, pointing the guns to each other. We are supposed to be enemies and hate each other.”
Maria Lee spoke about going to Berlin in 2019 to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. She was happy to be there to celebrate the union of a divided Germany. When the wall fell, she said, “their history became our nation’s hope”. In 2022, Korea is “living in the middle of a conflict”, Maria said, but she believed that prayer would lead to conversation.
The resolution was passed by consensus.
Greetings from Bishop Mike Royal, General Secretary of Churches Together England
Bishop Mike Royal, the newly appointed General Secretary of Churches Together in England (CTE), greeted General Assembly and provided a synopsis on his career and priorities in his new role.
He explained that his focus for CTE Is “raising up a new generation of ecumenical leaders”.
“I want to see young leaders coming through,” he said, “and I’m excited about some of the young leaders that are coming across different church traditions.”
Importantly, he’d like to create more spaces for new churches of the charistmatic, Pentecostal and traditional churches to emerge at national and local levels as well.
Working closely with Philip Brooks and Karen Campbell, Bishop Mike shared how he looks forward to working with the URC in the future years.
He and a CTE colleague were gifted with goody bags by the General Assembly Moderator.
Visual presentation of Jubilee Ministers, New Ministers and CRCWs
The Moderator, the Revd Clare Downing, introduced a video presentation of ministers celebrating notable anniversaries of their ordinations in 2020. Ministers presented are celebrating 50, 60, and 70 years as ministers of Word and Sacrament.
The Moderator then introduced two newly ordained ministers: the Revd Jonnie Hill and the Revd Adam Woodhouse.
The Moderator led the Assembly in prayer for those who have had long journeys in ministry and for those just starting out on that journey.
En bloc resolutions
The following resolutions were passed en bloc. En bloc resolutions are voted on without debate, having been deemed uncontroversial. This has no reflection on their importance. The full reports and resolutions in each case can be read here:
G1 Finance: General report 2021 to 2022
An update on the recent work of Finance Committee
H2 Ministries: Maintenance of ministry (resolution 14)
Restructuring the membership of the committee.
H4 Ministries: Confidentiality policy (resolution 15)
Changes to the parts of the policy dealing with prayer support and online meetings.
I4 Mission: Vision 2020 (resolution 19)
Evaluates the success of Vision 2020 and launches the Mission Enabling Fund in place of its grants scheme.
J1 Nominations: Report (resolution 22; 23)
Appoints committees and representatives of the Church and extends the term of service of the Assistant Clerk.
M1 General Secretary: Ministerial Discipline and Incapacity (resolution 24)
Amendments to the Basis of Union regarding ministerial discipline.
M2 General Secretary: Safeguarding (resolution 25)
Amendments to the Basis of Union regarding safeguarding.
M3 General Secretary: Church changes (resolution 26)
Lists church closures.
P1 Law and Polity Advisory Group
Update on drawing up guidance on property matters.
R1 MIND: Professional investigation within the Discipline Process (resolution 29; 30)
Change to the URC’s disciplinary process to allow the appointment of a professional investigator when needed.
R2 MIND: Indemnity (resolution 31)
Change to the URC’s disciplinary process to indemnify those involved.
R3 MIND: Authority within the Discipline Process (resolution 32)
Change to the URC’s disciplinary process allowing an Executive Group to interpret unclear rules.
R5 MIND: Assisting an accused minister (resolution 40; 41)
Change to the URC’s disciplinary process providing assistance to an accused minister.
R7 MIND: Assembly Representative for Discipline (resolution 43; 44)
Appoints the General Secretary to serve as the Assembly Representative for Discipline.
R8 MIND: Transitional arrangements (resolution 45)
Attempt to smooth the transition from the URC’s old disciplinary process to the new.
T1 Safeguarding Advisory Group: Annual report 2021
An update on the recent work of Safeguarding Advisory Group.
Paper H3: Pastoral supervision update
The Convenor, the Revd Paul Whittle, wished to make a small change to a paper concerning Pastoral supervision for ministers. Steps are being taken to increase the number of accredited pastoral supervisors – including training URC ministers and lay people through an established scheme at Wesley House. The change brought to the Assembly read:
“It is expected that ministers and lay folk will not charge for pastoral supervision of URC ministers, and will pastorally supervise no less than three per month when fully qualified.” (Previously the number of supervisions required per month was six.)
In response to a question, the Convenor confirmed that the new requirement would mean that some supervisors would carry a caseload of six individuals, meeting each minister once every two months.
Resolution 53: Private members resolution – travel expense rates
In the light of conversations with individuals fearing they may be “priced out” of attending meetings on behalf of the Church owing to the rise in fuel costs, the Revd Anne Sardeson brought an emergency “private member’s” resolution for consideration:
“In the light of increasing fuel costs, General Assembly requests the Finance Committee to reconsider the current policy of paying only the lower HMRC rate for travel expenses at General Assembly level, and encourages, synods and other bodies also to reconsider this.”
Seconding the resolution, The Revd Alex Clare-Young emphasised that the request was only for the relevant bodies to look at the issue.
The resolution was passed by a clear majority.
Paper G2: One off payment to ministers and lay staff
General Assembly resolved that, bearing in mind the recent energy cost increases, and with probable further energy price rises coming, a payment be made in October of £800 to those on the URC Plan for Partnership and £500 for each Church House employee.
“You don’t often hear of the Finance Committee spending money,” URC Treasurer Ian Hardie stated, “but this seems like the right thing to do. This is a gesture, it won’t cover the costs, but it will help.”
John Denison, Treasurer of the URC Southern Synod, said that this payment was the URC trying to level things up.
Jo Harris, URC Youth Moderator, and Dan Morrell amended the resolution to urge Synods and local churches to do the same for their staff, and Andy Middleton, the URC Legal Adviser, helped the Assembly to clarify the wording of the resolution.
Some Non-Stipendiary Ministers expressed disappointment about not being included, and the finance committee explained that not receiving a stipend was the reason why they weren’t included.
After a procedural motion from Steve Faber, Moderator of the West Midlands Synod, the resolution was carried.
Paper I1: Reinvigorating the ecumenical vision of the United Reformed Church
Discussions around Paper I1, the decision of which was previously remaindered, continued from session six.
Philip responded to points made about resolution 16.
One query centred on LEPs sometimes being difficult challenges, and not always positive experiences. Philip answered that they’re not always positive but that similar issues that exists in other areas. The film was an encouraging story, meant to encourage others. The report does highlight some of the frustrations with LEPs, complex issues that can challenge the URCs identity, but felt that shouldn’t discourage work as an LEPs. The report also recognises that approaches to ecumenism differs in England, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands.
He said: “In our anniversary year, how can we make the best use of our resources to further ecumenical commitments.”
“Ecumenism is who we are,” he said, “I ask you to trust the work that the Mission Committee will do so that we can come back next year to say this is what is possible.”
Although there was overwhelming support for the resolution, there was a concern about structural issues with LEPs.
Philip clarified that in the ongoing consultation work, positive and challenging experiences will be explored equally and not airbrushed over.
A toolkit for ecumenical work, mentioned in the report, can be found here.
The resolution duly passed.
Reporting: Steve Tomkins, Andy Jackson, Laurence Waring, and Ann-Marie Nye. Pictures: Chris Andrews.