General Assembly round-up: 8-11 July 2022

Last Updated on 15 July 2022 by Ann-Marie Nye

The 2022 General Assembly of the United Reformed Church (URC), met both online and in-person at The Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, from 8-11 July 2022.

The meeting started with worship led by the Revds Helen Everard and Lindsey Sanderson, Chaplains to the Moderators 2020-2022 and 2022-2023.

The Revd Helen Everard. Chaplain to the General Assembly Moderator 2020-2022.

Worship included the hymn God of the Pilgrim Way, by the Revd Colin Thompson, one of the winners of the URC’s jubilee hymn-writing competition.

The assembly inducted two people to new posts: Andy Braunston was inducted as Digital Minister, and Philip Brooks as Deputy General Secretary (Mission). Mr Brooks described the URC’s mission department as ‘one of the most exciting places to serve in Church House’.

The Revd Adrian Bulley, Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship), led commemorations for those ministers who have died since the last Assembly, and those churches that had closed, since the 2021 meeting of General Assembly. The General Secretary, the Revd Dr John Bradbury, who would normally have led these commemorations was absent because of a family emergency.

Prayers were led by the chaplain, the Revd Helen Everard, who added: “We honour the names of friends who have past. We give thanks to God for their lives and service.”

Communion was led by the Revd Lindsey Sanderson, Chaplain to the incoming Moderator of General Assembly.

Session one

At the start of the first session, matters presented on the first Order Paper (additional business deemed to be not contentious) were voted on and passed. These were Resolutions 46, 47, 48, 49, 50 and 51.

The 2022 General Assembly first session’s platform party.

Synod Moderators’ report
The synod moderators introduced their report by singing Joy Dine’s hymn “God who sets us on a journey”. Verses of the hymn punctuated the report. Synod members joined in the last verse, which speaks of God who disturbs “complacent comfort” and prayers for “courage on the journey”.

Presenting the report, the Revd Steve Faber (Moderator of the West Midlands Synod) said that moderators have overviews of every local church in the denomination, and they see that things are not what they once were. While there are good things happening, in some places “everything has become a struggle”.

He said that the URC can’t carry on as it is; adding that statistics of decline can be rather depressing, but are they inevitable? Can we, and should we, do something new? If so, what? He invited Assembly members to suggest how we may shape the future differently. A “talking wall” (comment sheets) had been placed in communal areas for individuals to leave suggestions.

Assembly broke into buzz groups to discuss the three questions asked at the end of the report (chat rooms were created for those attending online):

  1. What are you most excited about in the report? What concerns you most?
  2. If you could make one change to your local church, what would it be?
  3. How will you raise that idea in your church and how will you take action to bring it about?

One Assembly member stressed the importance of the questions raised, saying he believed they would provide the basis for how the URC moves forward. He urged members of Assembly to take them seriously.

The Assembly Moderator thanked the synod moderators for their report – and for their singing!

Paper B/D/M 1 Assembly Accredited Lay Pioneers and the Newbigin Pioneering Hub

The Revd Paul Whittle, Moderator of the National Synod of Scotland on half of Ministries and Sarah Lane Cawte on behalf of Mission, presented Paper B/D/M 1, which comes from a collaboration of four committees: Ministries, Children’s and Youth Work, Education and Learning, and Mission.

The resolutions (5 and 6) and aim of the paper is to recognise a new ministry of Assembly accredited Lay Pioneers and to train them through the new Newbigin Pioneering Hub – a joint venture between the URC, Congregational Federation, Church Mission Society, and the Seedbeds organisation – to train and support lay pioneer ministers – and for General Assembly to adopt marks of ministry for Lay Pioneers. Resolution 6 in Paper B/D/M1 is as amended in the first Order Paper, published on 5 July.

The paper states that if all are called, but not to the same form of ministry, then the URC needs to be creative in crafting newly accredited ministries where there is need.

Mr Whittle said: “Pioneering is making a significant mark on today’s UK church landscape and we have benefitted from some of our number who have taken that route.”

He then introduced The Revd Dr Ash Barker, from the West Midlands Synod, who introduced Assembly to the Newbigin Hub.

Quoting Leslie Newbigin on the role of the Church, Ash explained how the training of pioneers would work – formats include online, hybrid, and three weekend residentials and shared his hopes that a community of pioneers will be emerging.

He said: “Never doubt that a small, committed group can change the world.”

Queries from the floor centred on whether Stepwise had been involved in the creation of the Hub, where funding will come from, the accessibility of the Hub, in terms of neurodiversity, the role of CRCWs, whether any consideration had been towards the Newbigin Pioneer Hub linking in with the Northern Pioneer Hub, and the inclusion of an emphasis on children’s and youth work.

Paul explained that Ministries has an element in its budget, set aside previously, for special initiatives. As two projects have come to an end, the money that was used for those projects will now be directed towards the Hub, instead of new money having to be found. On the link with the Northern Hub, Paul added that as the Newbigin Hub is in its early stages, flexibility and collaboration were key. In regard to children and young people, Paul explained that Dr Sam Richards is heavily involved with the Hub.

In regard to the role of Stepwise with the Hub, the Revd Jenny Mills, Secretary for Education and Learning, explained how the Hub is designed to inspire people to go on to further learning, and as such it could be looked on as part of a jigsaw. So if people first got involved with the Hub, they would want to go on and learn about other ministries eg Church Related Community Work (CRCW) or Stepwise for example.

Discussion then moved to whether the word “minister” should be included in the term “Lay Pioneer Ministers”. Some parts of Assembly felt that lay pioneer should be distinct from ordained ministry, although CRCWs can call themselves ministers. Others felt that when explaining the role to the community the word ‘minister’ would convey to someone the role of the Church. Assembly voted in favour of removing the ‘minister’ from the resolution. The resolution then carried.

Assembly then moved onto Resolution 6. In this information session queries were raised about whether Lay Pioneers will be paid or unpaid, office holders or not, employees or not. Assembly was also asked to give consideration about how Lay Pioneers would be regulated? If a formal role, the Basis of Union would need to be changed.

To give the committees involved in the Hub time to give clarity on these points, the resolution was remaindered.

Paper E1 Affirmative action towards an anti-racist Church

A report to Assembly on the work so far of the Affirmative Action Task Group was presented by three members of the group: the Revd Anne Lewitt, Convenor of the Equalities Committee; the Revd David Salsbury, Secretary for Equalities; and the Revd Karen Campbell, Secretary for Global and Intercultural Ministries.

This group was set up as part of the URC’s commitment to becoming an anti-racist Church. Although the URC has often over the years resolved to promote racial justice, in practice its appointments have often failed to reflect the ethnic diversity of the Church, so the group is looking at practical ways to tackle that problem.

Karen Campbell, Secretary for Global and Intercultural Ministries.

The report outlines actions the Church can take to improve appointment processes. Its recommendations include promoting ‘positive action’ as best practice, making anti-racism training mandatory and introducing mentoring.

Introducing the report, Ms Campbell said it was not about positive discrimination but about levelling the playing field. People belonging to ethnic minorities are underrepresented in leadership positions, she said, but ‘Why would God say to a black and minority ethnic member, “This far and no further”? There must be something about our systems that is disadvantaging people from a black and minority ethnic background.’

She said that the group had consulted widely and heard from members and ministers from ethnic minorities that their experience and authority were not accepted.

Assembly received the report with warm appreciation, and several members welcomed it as vitally important. Other comments included suggesting that the group’s work be extended to cover what the Church can learn from ethnic minorities, and that it engage with critiques of the concept of white privilege.

The resolution before Assembly endorsed the work of the group and asked them to continue with it, bringing firm proposals to the 2023 Assembly. It was passed unanimously.

Paper H1 General report
The Ministries Committee is responsible for the ministry of Word and Sacraments, Church-Related Community Work (CRCW), Lay Preaching and Eldership, chaplaincies in industry, higher and further education, prisons, in the armed forces and for ‘special category’ ministry (SCM), as well as pastoral support, supervision, self-evaluation and counselling.

In introducing the report, committee convenor the Revd Paul Whittle focused on deployment: “This is a key internal issue for us, which is not to deny the top of the agenda. I don’t want deployment to be the elephant in the room, and for us not to take the view that deployment is a problem – it’s an opportunity.

“When we talk about deployment, this is not shorthand for stipendiary ministers of Word and Sacrament. We need to remember that this just part of the picture. Our theology affirms the ministry of all believers.

“I’ve been a Synod Moderator for 14 years. I know numbers are important. But this is only part of this great resource of ministry to which we are all called.

“Difficult decisions have to be made. Priorities have to be established, and we are in this together. We do far better if we stop talking of decline but look for the opportunities that

God is calling us. Do we believe that the spirit is still moving?”

Peter Stevenson asked for figures not to be changed every year, but possibly is five-year blocks. Rosalind Selby from Northern College warmed to the language of opportunity and not challenge. But new ministers need the right support for new opportunities.

John Bremner, National Synod of Scotland, thanked the work of the committee and wished for more of an ecumenical first focus. “If we are serious about the priesthood of all believers, we all have to be serious in engaging with the scriptures in order to discern, and not waiting for others to do the hard work.”

Romilly Micklem said the URC had become dependent on stipendiary ministers, and the challenge was to teach congregations to work without them. “The problem is that we love to be needed.” Angela Rigby said that the training of lay people is crucially important.

Mike Walsh asked that we start to plan for a time when we don’t have stipendiary ministers. Tony Obi-Ezekpazu, Thames North Synod, said that the priesthood of all believers is the right direction of travel, and that we should be walking the way, “each and every one of us.”

Steph Atkins from Westminster College said that training wouldn’t be possible without the support of the URC. “We focus on lay ministry but how many times have we challenged people about the ministry of Word and Sacrament? I was told that training would be difficult because of my kids. We should be as excited about ministry of Word and Sacrament as well as lay ministry. It’s fantastic calling.”

Martyn Coe from North Western Synod based in the Cumbria ecumenical county said that we should be mission-focused in the way we deal with the calling of God.

Anne Sardeson, Eastern Synod, said we should beware of speaking about making ministers redundant. There is a culture change needed with some congregations about rethinking what it is to be church.

North Western Synod Resolution
The Revd Adam Woodhouse, Minister in the Lancashire East Missional Partnership within the North Western Synod, addressed Assembly about the government’s controversial Rwanda deportation policy.

Adam explained that the resolution was raised by John East, a local lay preacher and Elder at Central URC in Darwen, which has worked with asylum seekers and refugees for the past 20 years.

Quoting Mr East, Adam said: “The resolution calls on Assembly to be proactive for justice to displaced persons wishing asylum, and calls for a review and more compassionate thinking in dealing with these complex humanitarian issues.”

Adam added that This resolution calls on the government to rethink its policy of asylum, refugees and resettlement to be fair and equal and to give opportunities to people in need.

During the information stage, a member of Assembly advised that apart from Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine, there is no safe and legal route at present for asylum seekers to enter the UK. That’s what’s fuelling the drive to arrive in the UK.

Sarah Lane Cawte, convenor of the Mission Committee, thanked colleagues in the North Western Synod for raising the issue and raised the fact the URC hasn’t been silent on the issue but has been advocating for the past couple of months. The Joint Public Issues Team has also been working on the matter. Jo Harris, Youth Assembly Moderator, advised that Youth Executive also supported the resolution. The Revd Geoff Felton, Mersey Synod Moderator suggested that the URC is careful about the language it uses. He said when the government talks about resettlement, we need to call it “state-sponsored human trafficking” as people are being sent somewhere that they do not want to go and against their will.

The resolution passed unanimously by consensus.

General Assembly 2022 day two round-up: 9 July 2022

Worship on the second morning of General Assembly was led by the Revd Lindsey Sanderson, Chaplain to the Moderator. Meg Warner, Lecturer in Old Testament and biblical Hebrew, led a Bible study on Leviticus 25.

Ms Warner received ironic cheers from the Assembly audience when she announced, ‘We’re going to be spending a lot of time in Leviticus.’ She added, ‘If it isn’t your favourite book you just don’t know it yet.’

Meg Warner.

Ms Warner explained that the seventh day and seventh year were times of remission in the Hebrew Bible. The year of jubilee came every 50th year (= 7×7+1) and was “a great reset, a return to factory settings”. Like the sabbath, it was a year of holiness, proclamation of liberty and rest. Jubilee, she said is ‘nothing less than a reimagining of the relationship between God, earth and humanity’. The rest it offers is not primarily for people, but as the passage says: ‘for the land’. The land is a character in Leviticus just like people are.

Land expelled Israel into Babylonian exile for not observing sabbath.

Ms Warner noted that the Leviticus passage deals with slavery. Bible is generally neither for nor against slavery, she said; it was just written against background where slavery was a reality. However, there are times when biblical writers really start to get their teeth into the subject, and this passage is one of them it. ‘It won’t go far enough for you,’ she said, ‘but it is a start.’

The passage is related to the creation story of Genesis 2, where the core concern that leads God to create human beings is the wellbeing of the earth and the fact that it needs to be watered. The man and woman are made as servants of the earth and Adam is literally ‘made to rest’ in garden.

These texts, Ms Warner said, were written in exile in Babylon, the land of gardens. They draw on the Babylonian story of the gods as masters of the ziggurat gardens who create humanity as slaves to look after the gods; Genesis changes story so that humans are made to serve God’s creation. The expulsion from Eden reflects the Hebrew experience of being expelled from their own land.

Ms Warner also talked about how Aboriginal Australian culture has a close connection with the land but no ownership of it, rather caretaking. She related how some people from that culture have found connections between it and the teaching of Leviticus.

A presentation of the candidate for General Assembly Moderator 2023-2024 and a vote followed. The result of which was revealed in session five.

Session three

Paper I6: Mission, Legacies of Slavery, remainded.

Session four

Paper B1: Children’s and Youth Work

The report of the Children’s and Youth Work committee presented an overview of work undertaken over the past two years. Addressing the Assembly, the acting convenor Revd Samantha Sheehan said that, due to the pandemic, 2022 had become a year of consolidation of the CYWC strategy approved by Mission Council in November 2018. “This was not a time of stagnation,” the convenor said, “and we offer our thanks to the church house and CYDO+ team who worked hard in producing a variety of resources for the changing face of children and youth work and ministry.”

Introducing Resolution 3, Ms Sheehan said that, following on a decision made at General Assembly 2021, the formal work of the Pilots Subcommittee has come to an end. It was proposed that the committee will look at new, continuing ways of supporting Pilots companies through the Children’s and Youth Work office, within the wider context of URC Children. Funds held by Pilots will be held by the Children’s and Youth Work office who will administer them going forward, for the continued work of Pilots. Resolution 3 was agreed by Assembly.

Jo Harris, URC Youth Assembly Moderator, then brought three resolutions from the Youth Assembly. In a year that saw Philippa Osei become the Youth Assembly’s first BAME Youth Moderator elect, two resolutions were a response to the Youth Assembly’s reflections on a lack of diversity among key office holders in the general, and the Moderator of General Assembly in particular. Ms Harris underlined the fact that, since 1972, the great majority of General Assembly Moderators have been “white men of middle age”. Resolving that “nominations for Moderators of the General Assembly may be received from Youth Assembly in addition to synods” would help ensure that future Moderators would be more representative of the URC as a whole.

Jo Harris, Youth Moderator 2022-2023, and Philippa Osei, Youth Moderator-Elect 2022-2023.

In response to a question, the Assembly Clerk confirmed that it is in order for young people who are not members of the URC to participate in its work and decision making through Youth Assembly. Listening to our young people and recognising the “precious gifts they bring to the life of our denomination” is very exciting said one member. Saying that this is another step in enabling greater diversity, another member asked that future discussion would also consider recording non-binary representation in roles.

It was argued that the resolution offers one more avenue for young people to make a nominations, when it isn’t always easy to do so via a local church situation. This issue was heard by two synod moderators, one of whom said that there is still a need for synods to listen to the voices of young people; and that synods should not be forgotten in the process.

The resolution was passed by an overwhelming majority.

Ms Harris then asked the Assembly to reaffirm the Youth Assembly’s commitment to tackling stigma surrounding mental ill health (Resolution 2). She said that one in four individuals will experience some poor mental health in a year and that much mental health starts before the age of 18. Youth Assembly strongly encourages individuals to take part in mental health first aid training and for local churches, synods and General Assembly to look into ways to help individuals access this training. The Youth Assembly also recommends that local churches endeavour to ensure that at least one member of the leadership team has undertaken this training.

One member wanted mental health first aid training to cover individuals of all ages, not just young people.

The rest of this debate was moved to remaindered business.

Community Project Awards

The Moderator, the Revd Clare Downing, introduced the 2022 Community Project Awards, thanking Congregational Insurance for financing the awards since 1997.

Margaret Slater of Congregational Insurance presented the awards to three winners.

The 2022 Community Award winners.

The first was Skipton Wellbeing Café at St Andrews URC/Methodist. The café offers support to people with mental health conditions and was set up after a local mental health group lost their funding.

The second winner was the Community Uniform Swap Shop, at St Columba’s URC, Wolverhampton. The shop allows parents and students at 58 schools to exchange second-hand uniforms and keeps records of the environmental savings made.

The third winner was Roker Life, at Roker United Reformed Church. Working with local partners, Roker Life offers activities, such as cookery training, for refugee family and isolated adults in the area.

Two other projects were highly commended and invited to apply for the award again in the future. They were the WestCan Show Choir, at Westfield and Cannington URCs, Bridgwater , and the Dulwich Grove Community Lunch, at Dulwich Grove URC.

Full reports on each of the winners will be published in Reform.

URC Children Launch

Members of the Children’s and Youth Work team and committee with children ran into Assembly with placards to launch URC Children, a new umbrella for children aged 0-to-12-years-old connected with the Church.

Lorraine Webb, Programme Officer, encouraged Assembly to remember that the decisions they make affect the children of the Church today.

The initiative seeks to provide the same support, resourcing, participation, and voice for children within the URC, and those who work with them, that URC Youth provides for young people aged 11-25.

Poppy, helping to present and launch URC Children at General Assembly.

Children addressed Assembly to speak about issues they felt were important; that the Church should not only be a safe space but one that cares for people and gives second chances; that children are more involved in planning and leading worship to help them feel more part of it; a Church that says ‘yes’ in listening to children; more church parties for families and friends.

The Revd Samantha Sheehan, acting Convenor of the Children’s and Youth Work Committee, was then invited by the children to present Resolution 4.

Samantha explained that the hope for URC Children is that support for all children and family groups within the Church can be streamlined, the production and sharing of resources will be made easier, and the voices of children heard in all structures and councils of the Church.

During the information stage, members of Assembly spoke about the importance of the resolution and affirmed the fact that steps were being taken to focus on children, especially when during the pandemic many families with children were prevented from attending Church and unfortunately haven’t returned.

Resolution 4 then passed by consensus.

Session five

At the start of session five, the result of the election for the Moderator of General Assembly Moderator 2023-2024.  The Revd Dr Tessa Henry-Robinson was duly elected Moderator for 2023-24, becoming the first woman from a black and minority ethnic background to hold the position in the URC’s history.

Paper G5: Future pension arrangements

General Assembly endorsed the new defined contribution pension scheme to replace both the URC Final Salary Scheme and the URC Ministers’ Pension Fund, and authorised the formal consultation with members of the existing schemes about the proposals. It also approved the signing of the contract with Aon Master Trust.

General Assembly also authorised Assembly officers to consider the outcome of the consultation to finalise the new scheme and close the existing schemes if approved, to begin the new scheme from 1 January 2023, or soon after, and if not possible to start it to ensure that revised proposals are brought back to General Assembly or Assembly Executive.

Ian Hardie thanked those who had joined the pre-Assembly Zoom sessions about pensions.

We need to ask what God wants, Ian said, not what’s in our own interest. Last year’s Assembly took a profound decision to move away from the existing pension schemes. The review group devised an alternative scheme which he hoped was acceptable to the meeting.

The schemes were ceasing to be good value for money for the members and the church, Ian continued, and what we have now is a generous scheme for those going forward. Two Defined Contributions Scheme, one for ministers, the other for lay workers and ministers on employment contracts, were proposed.

The scheme for lay workers has annual contributions of 16% of salary, with members paying 7% but they can pay more. The scheme for ministers has average contributions of 18%, with 7.5% payments from members but again with the option of paying more.

Rob Weston asked about the eco-credentials of the proposed scheme, reminding Assembly about the decision of Mission Council in 2019 to divest from fossil fuels.

Ian Hardie said the system allowed members to make their own decisions about where they invest. Currently, the ministers’ pension fund has no fossil fuel investments in the pension fund.

When all members are liberated to make their own decisions, the Church can’t force them to choose where to invest their money. The default fund is not a perfect match, but we will signpost members to where they can sustainably invest.

Ruth Whitehead asked why the better fund couldn’t be the default fund. Ian Hardie said that we didn’t control over Aon’s Master Fund, but we did about where the money could be directed and invested.

After further clarifications, Resolutions 11, 12 and 13 were carried, and Bridget Micklem, Chair of the Ministers Pension Fund Trustees, thanked Ian Hardie and others from the pensions task group for the huge amount of work to date. This was affirmed with warm applause.

Papers R4R5, and Paper R6 Mind

Resolutions from MIND (Ministerial Incapacity and Discipline Advisory Group) were brought to Assembly by the Revd Dr Janet Tollington.

2021 Assembly approved a new process for disciplinary process – to come into effect from the close of this current Assembly. As a result of testing out the new process, MIND brought several resolutions in order to fine-tune the new process, allowing it to be operated in a smooth and transparent way.

For information, Dr Tollington drew members’ attention the resolution in Paper R5, which makes provision of assistance from an investigation panel for an accused minister.

Turning to the substantive business, Dr Tollington turned to disciplinary cases where to remove a minister from the roll may seem to be a draconian response. Resolutions 33 to 36 would enable the advisory group to enforce a decision that a minister move to another setting. They add the capacity for the Assembly Commission for Discipline to curtail a pastoral tie or appointment in the event that a breach of vows has occurred “because of specific circumstances in their appointment or pastorate whereas, in a different context, the breach may not have happened”. The facility is designed to enable a minister to stay on the roll but work in a different context, so supporting a fresh start. These resolutions also underline the authority of an Assembly Commission to enact a curtailment with the authority of the General Assembly.

Answering questions, Dr Tollington agreed that the new appendix takes into account safeguarding issues. Dr Rosalind Selby from Northern College asked if the idea of curtailing a pastoral tie affects the concept of ministerial call but Dr Tollington felt that the wider councils of the Church all play a part in affirming ministerial call. A synod moderator asked why there was no role for synod bodies in the decision making and healing processes. Dr Tollington said that by bringing the recommendation of a curtailment would allow time for an appeal and for synod bodies to engage with the decision.

In response to a further question, Dr Tollington said that the application of a curtailment process to ministers appointed under NSM Model Four (locally ordained ministers) had not yet been considered. She said it will be, though noted that only the options of a warning or removal from the roll may be available in such situations.

Resolution 33 was agreed. Resolution 34 was clarified and amended to read: “Where a decision to curtail a pastoral tie or appointment is made, the General Assembly, through its Pastoral Reference and Welfare Committee shall grant a period of, normally, three and six months, from the conclusion of the disciplinary case, for a new Call to be sought by the minister.” Other clarifications were offered by the advisory group, including an assurance that the Pastoral Reference and Welfare Committee would be involved in resolving any ongoing issues. This resolution, too, was accepted by the Assembly, as were Resolutions 35 & 36, which added some detail to the substantive proposals.

Turning to Paper R6, Dr Tollington said that Resolution 42 asked Assembly to agree a new statement on confidentiality, dissemination of information, and retention of records. A new Appendix Y, containing the statement, is designed to show who needs to know details of a discipline case at its various stages throughout the process. A need-to-know approach to making information about a disciplinary case will protect the minister and also ensure complainants are treated as fairly as ministers, so that “confidentiality is not used as a weapon to impede justice or future learning”. The group wishes congregations to have the right information to enable some healing to occur while avoiding false speculation.

In answer to questions, Dr Tollington said that who a “complainant” varies according to the context; she said “common sense and natural justice” make clear to us who has a right to know the outcome of a disciplinary case.

A synod moderator pleaded that in reviewing a completed process all parties in the case be consulted; the advisory group was very happy to amend the relevant wording in Appendix Y and to bring the revised text to Assembly Executive. The Assembly accepted the new resolution; Dr Tollington thanked everyone for their participation in drawing up and agreeing processes that, she prayed, would only very rarely be used.

Session Six

Paper B1 Children’s and Youth Work Committee

The report of the Children’s and Youth Work committee presented an overview of work undertaken over the past two years. Addressing the Assembly, the acting convenor Revd Samantha Sheehan said that, due to the pandemic, 2022 had become a year of consolidation of the CYWC strategy approved by Mission Council in November 2018. “This was not a time of stagnation,” the convenor said, “and we offer our thanks to the church house and CYDO+ team who worked hard in producing a variety of resources for the changing face of children and youth work and ministry.”

Introducing Resolution 3, Ms Sheehan said that, following on a decision made at General Assembly 2021, the formal work of the Pilots Subcommittee has come to an end. It was proposed that the committee will look at new, continuing ways of supporting Pilots companies through the Children’s and Youth Work office, within the wider context of URC Children. Funds held by Pilots will be held by the Children’s and Youth Work office who will administer them going forward, for the continued work of Pilots. Resolution 3 was agreed by Assembly.

Jo Harris, URC Youth Assembly Moderator, then brought three resolutions from the Youth Assembly. In a year that saw Philippa Osei become the Youth Assembly’s first BAME Youth Moderator elect, two resolutions were a response to the Youth Assembly’s reflections on a lack of diversity among key office holders in the general, and the Moderator of General Assembly in particular. Ms Harris underlined the fact that, since 1972, the great majority of General Assembly Moderators have been “white men of middle age”. Resolving that “nominations for Moderators of the General Assembly may be received from Youth Assembly in addition to synods” would help ensure that future Moderators would be more representative of the URC as a whole.

Jo Harris, Youth Moderator 2022-2023, and Philippa Osei, Youth Moderator-Elect 2022-2023.

In response to a question, the Assembly Clerk confirmed that it is in order for young people who are not members of the URC to participate in its work and decision making through Youth Assembly. Listening to our young people and recognising the “precious gifts they bring to the life of our denomination” is very exciting said one member. Saying that this is another step in enabling greater diversity, another member asked that future discussion would also consider recording non-binary representation in roles.

It was argued that the resolution offers one more avenue for young people to make a nominations, when it isn’t always easy to do so via a local church situation. This issue was heard by two synod moderators, one of whom said that there is still a need for synods to listen to the voices of young people; and that synods should not be forgotten in the process.

The resolution was passed by an overwhelming majority.

Ms Harris then asked the Assembly to reaffirm the Youth Assembly’s commitment to tackling stigma surrounding mental ill health (Resolution 2). She said that one in four individuals will experience some poor mental health in a year and that much mental health starts before the age of 18. Youth Assembly strongly encourages individuals to take part in mental health first aid training and for local churches, synods and General Assembly to look into ways to help individuals access this training. The Youth Assembly also recommends that local churches endeavour to ensure that at least one member of the leadership team has undertaken this training.

One member wanted mental health first aid training to cover individuals of all ages, not just young people; Ms Harris said that the NHS courses for youth and adults were very similar. She also said that the recommended course covers a range of subject matter, not just suicide prevention. The qualification requires to be renewed after 3-5 years.

Another speaker hoped that training wouldn’t be aimed solely at leadership teams; but someone who has delivered mental health training noted that being a mental health first aider is largely about building good relationships, and that a degree of leadership/availability comes with the role. Another member recommended “cascading” the information available from a first aider course to – for example – smaller congregations with insufficient members to undertake the training themselves.

With the inclusion of an amendment requiring training be “regularly refreshed and renewed”, the resolution was passed.

Greetings from ecumenical and international guests

The Congregational Federation

Yvonne Campbell, General Secretary of The Congregational Federation, congratulated the URC on its 50th anniversary (and its creative range of merchandise!). The Federation is also celebrating its 50th anniversary.

“Here we are, celebrating our 50th anniversaries together, and it is a wonderful blessing to be in good relationships with one another after 50 years. God is gracious, and we give him our thanks for both organisations and how we help and support each other.

“John Bradbury and I weren’t born in 1972. Which means that we share a mutual respect for our histories, and we have no hesitations about how we can support each other and face the similar challenges we face together.”

Yvonne shared her delight about the jointly published book, Golden Threads, with contributions from both denominations, and also the work of the recently launched Newbigin Pioneering Hub.

She shared her thoughts on the letters that formed the word GOLD, with a range of challenges for both denominations.

The G is for good news. When was the last time, Yvonne asked, when you shared your testimony? How can we do that better?

O is for Over. “Over 50 years we have done amazing things as national church organisations, but the world is now a different place. Can we allow something new from how worship and church was in the 70s, or do we need to remember that it’s 2022 and forget what church was like 50 years ago?”

L is for local, “because that’s where community is”. Everything has a local focus but is your church involved in local community groups. How is the local churches together grouping work together to share the good news?

D for distinctive. Reflecting on the passion and determination of those involved with the formation of the Federation and the URC, as it was their hard work, prayers and hope that set up both, may we too be inspired to recapture that passion.

Presbyterian Church of Myanmar

Revd Ramthanga, General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church of Myanmar (PCM), sent the General Assembly greetings by video. In February 2021, the country’s military seized power, an event which sparked widescale protests, armed resistance and mass killings.

The Revd Ramthanga, General Secretary, Presbyterian Church in Myanmar.

“I wish the URC to remain faithful to the Reformed church of Christian and world history. I wish the URC to be a witnessing church for our Lord Jesus Christ locally and globally. The PCM greatly values your continued support. The pandemic and military rule have put a stop to that work.

“I hope righteousness will be restored in Myanmar in the near future, and at that time we will be worshipping with you all. I request that you pray for the peace of Myanmar and for the Christian community, in particular.

“May the Lord guide and bless the United Reformed Church with his full many blessings.”

 Evangelical Church of the Palatinate, Germany

 Pfarrer Martin Henninger from the Evangelical Church of the Pfalz, Palatinate, Germany, congratulated the URC and gave thanks to God for the church’s 50 years of service in a truly ecumenical understanding.

“I’m often asked ‘what is the purpose of the convenant between our churches’,” which predates the formation of the URC. “It is an opportunity to share our stories,” Martin said.

Pfarrer Martin Henninger from the Evangelical Church of the Pfalz, Palatinate, Germany.

“I grew up with the motto of Frieden schaffen ohne Waffen – secure peace without weapons. And I thought this was the way forward for peace with our world. But now, with the war in the Ukraine, causing so much death and destruction, I’m wondering if it’s really the right path to peace. So, let’s talk about which story of peace we are going to follow.

“God is a God of hope who never gives up, Martin continued. Are there stories about how we get church members encouraged and excited about participating in the mission of God? “What stories are we telling about our ecumenical understanding?”

Martin concluded by looking forward to the golden anniversary of the URC by saying that there’s a lot to talk about.


Paper I1: Mission, Reinvigorating the ecumenical vision

The Revd Philip Brooks, Deputy General Secretary (Mission), addressed Assembly about the ecumenical vision of the URC.

However, before doing so, he paid respect to ecumenical colleague the Revd Elizabeth Clarke who retired last year as Rural Officer a role shared between the URC and the Methodist Church to which she belonged.

Sadly, on 6 June Elizabeth died very suddenly and unexpectedly. A service of thanksgiving for her life will be held on 18 July.

Philip said: “Elizabeth was a popular member of the URC Mission Department, beloved for her ready wit, creativity, and passion for rural mission. In the words of Steve Faber, on her retirement we lost a great asset.”

In presenting Paper I1, Philip, said: “We only truly live out our Christian calling when we are in unity. And whilst our 50-year journey seems to have proved that structural union is not where God is leading us, at a local level, we still have a strong story to tell.”

In telling this story, Philip explained how the URC’s a companion toolkit to Churches Together in England’s document ‘A flexible framework for local unity in mission’ is one of the many ecumenical tools at the Church’s disposal which offers practical methods for ecumenical work such as holiday clubs, messy church, foodbanks, community cafés, and fresh expressions of church even in one case being looked at for an ecumenical area of churches.

He shared statistics which showed in 2013 local ecumenical partnerships (LEPs) represented just under a quarter (23%) of the total number of local URCs. In 2022, they have grown to just under a third. In other words, the number of LEPs has increased from 348 churches in 2013 to 367 in 2022.

In contrast, over the same period there has been a 23% decline in the number of URC churches, that are not LEPs, from 1164 churches in 2013 to just 892 churches in 2022.

For the first time, LEPs are being asked to provide information to be included in the URC’s annual statistics this year. Mission has recorded recorded just short of 8,000 joint members. This is against a total membership of 37,400 members, not including joint members.

Philip said: “This is a large number of members to treat as somehow distant or not even part of the URC. At the very best in the past, we have only counted a proportion of these joint members.”

He then presented the resolutions to Assembly along with a film that showcased the ecumenical work of Wharton & Cleggs Lane Church & Community Centre (URC/Methodist LEP), in Salford; an LEP which opened earlier this year in April.

Questions from the floor were heard along with concerns that LEPs are not always positive experiences but can carry challenges. Following these discussions, a change to part d of the resolution was made, however a decision was not able to be reached in session six and the paper was then remaindered.

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?”

Session seven

Paper I2Environmental 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.

Simeon Mitchell, Secretary for Church and Society.

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.

Session eight

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

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.

Maria Lee, CRCW based in Chelmsford, and her husband URC Minister the Revd Barnabas Shin.

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.

Session nine

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.

The Revd Helen Everard, Chaplain to the Moderator, led prayers on the fourth day of Assembly at The Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick.

Session ten

Remaindered business

Paper B/D/M 1 Assembly Accredited Lay Pioneers and the Newbigin Pioneering Hub

This paper, having been remaindered from session one to give the committee involved in the Hub time to give clarity on points raised, was discussed again in session ten.

Concerns in session one centred around Resolution 6 and whether Lay Pioneers will be paid or unpaid, office holders or not, employees or not, and how they will be regulated.

The Revd Paul Whittle, Moderator of the National Synod of Scotland, acknowledged previous comments and accepted that there is more work to be done. As Resolution 5 had passed, Paul explained that it would be helpful to take the next step but one that recognises the additional work needed.

The Revd Paul Whittle Moderator of the National Synod of Scotland.

He added that ten people had already signed up to the course that is shortly due to start. Paul asked for permission to withdraw Resolution 6 in its original wording, as outlined in the Book of Reports, to propose the resolution in its amended form, as follows:

“General Assembly adopts the marks of ministry of a Lay Pioneer and requests the Fresh Expressions and Pioneering Enabling Group to consult with the relevant committees and the Synods in the development of guidelines for the recognition and exercise of this ministry.”

Paul explained that in proposing this, the request relayed in Friday’s second order paper would be retained to remove the word ‘just’ from the middle of para 3.5. Additionally, permission was requested to amend the examples cited in para 1 by deleting the two given examples, and replacing them with ‘Lay Preachers and local leaders’ as these better model the intention of the paper and the resolution.

Several Pioneer Ministers took to the floor to express support for the resolution, others felt that the paper had a narrow view of pioneer ministry, and others felt that they did not want chaplaincy to be forgotten, that it is equally a pioneer ministry and equally transformative. Others explained that the marks of ministry did not contain vital aspects. Further comments regarding amending the marks are invited to be submitted to Paul before 31st August, by emailing

Assembly was wholeheartedly in support of the amended resolution which subsequently passed.

 Paper I6: Legacies of (transatlantic) Slavery
In 2017, the Council for World Mission (CWM) held a series of hearings which identified racism and deprivation as key legacies of transatlantic slavery impacting African and African descent communities around the globe.

Karen Campbell, Secretary for Global and Intercultural Ministries.

Responding to those hearings, the URC established its own Legacies of Slavery (LoS) Task Group under the Mission Committee, which produced ‘Healing: Hope in Action’, considered by Mission Council in autumn 2019. The paper argued that apology alone is an empty gesture unless accompanied by some practical.

The disproportionate damage caused by Covid-19 to black and ethnic minority British communities, as well as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, stimulated by the murder of George Floyd, have highlighted the continuing scourge of systemic racism and the need to make the URC actively anti-racist.

In preparation for General Assembly 2022, the LoS Task Group consulted with Synods and local churches on the proposals for a URC Apology and reparations. You can read the responses on the URC website

Sarah Lane-Cawte, convenor of the Mission Committee, said that the committee brought Resolutions 20 and 21 knowing that they may be difficult.

Does the URC know, asked Karen Campbell, Secretary for Global and Intercultural Ministries, “how it feels to walk in our skin? … does the URC know what we encounter and what it means to be black in the URC?”

“The hurt of slavery it still real for millions of people. You may not see the wounds bleeding, but they are still not healed. I was born in Britain, but I stand before you as someone who belongs nowhere. I’m cut off from my history… we follow Jesus and I want us to employ that in our thinking.”

“Where does Jesus lead if not to abundant life for all people equally? If one part of Christ’s body hurts, all parts hurt. There are parts of our body that has been hurting for centuries.”

The URC, Karen continued, was formed in a society that continues to benefit from the profits of slavery, and some of our forebears were slave traders and apologists of the slave trade.

Professor David Reynolds, Chair of the Legacies of Slavery Task Group, and Professor of International History (Emeritus) at the Cambridge University, said that one of our blind spots was race and history, and enslaved labour was part of that.

“I had the sobering privilege as black British people of African heritage opened up to the group about the ways they are abused in daily life, including ministers of our own URC.

“Saying ‘I’m sorry’ comes from the heart. It means that I am ashamed that our country behaved in that way and that it still poisons life today.

“Words are not enough; we also have to do something to show we are sorry.”

Some speakers were concerned that the resolution was limited to the Caribbean. Bridget Micklem, asked for a range of actions that ordinary Christians could do could.

Resolution 21, taken on Monday, General Assembly affirms its commitment to practical actions to address the continuing negative impacts of the legacies of transatlantic slavery on black communities in the UK, the Caribbean and Africa, and instructs the Legacies of Slavery Task Group to bring concrete and costed proposals to General Assembly 2023 for a considered programme of repairing justice.

“If we don’t pass the resolution, the job is incomplete. We need to add to our words, it will make a difference,” said Sarah Lane-Cawte. It will also affirm the work of the LoS Task Group, Sarah continued.

Ash Barker asked about how this work related to restitutions from others, such as the UK Government. Karen Campbell responded by saying that further listening and action, such as asking the question ‘what will make a difference?’.

Geoff Felton, URC Mersey Synod Moderator, a resident of Liverpool, a city that benefitted from the slave trade, and has faced up to its past, such as being the location of the International Slavery Museum. The city seeks to educate people. “There’s a lot of work still to be done in the URC; there are still 44 million people still in bondage, held against their will and exploited for the benefit of the powerful.”

Geoff suggested that the URC become an abolitionist church, and to commit to partnering with stop slavery organisations and to set up a bursary fund for students studying at the International Slavery Museum.

Others shared stories about racism taking place, even now, in the URC, and thanked members of the Task Group. Sarah Lane Cawte said that more work would still be done.

The Resolution was carried unanimously.

 Paper N2: Assembly Committee and Church House structures

Continuing with the work of the Church Life Review group, the Revd Steve Faber on Sunday presented the group’s proposals for reworking the URC’s committee structure and the role of Deputy General Secretary (Administration and Resources). The paper came with a draft resolution on each of those two matters (resolutions 27 and 28).

Both proposals attracted considerable comment and discussion.

The thinking behind resolution 27, Mr Faber explained, was to reduce the hundreds of volunteers and the large amount staff time now taken up by committees. The smaller structure would fit better the present size of the Church.

Asked what would happen to the work of the equalities committee, Mr Faber explained that equalities would become part of the remit of each committee.

Comments on this point included: ‘When a job becomes everybody’s job, it’s a short step to nobody doing it.’ ‘This is not the time for the Church to take its foot off the equalities pedal.’ And that equalities is a cheap committee with no staff, popular with volunteers and was already meeting virtually before Covid.

There were other areas of comment and discussion on the proposal. Members said:

  • It is a mistake to start a review with restructuring. We first decide what processes are needed, then what resources they require, then what organisational changes need to be made
  • Realise the value of automation
  • The Methodist Church might have an equalities staff member?
  • The paragraph on the business committee does not adequately cover the work it does
  • The proposals concentrate too much work in Church House.
  • Faith and order work needs to be proactive, not reactive

Mr Faber assured members that the task group had heard their concerns and would consider them before bringing their proposals to Assembly Executive in November.

Resolution 27 was amended, ‘receiving’ rather than ‘welcoming’ the report, and asking the task group to report in November rather than be required to bring a final proposal, and then carried.

Questions and comments on resolution 28 followed, about changes to the role and title of Deputy General Secretary (Administration and Resources).

Mr Faber explained that the nature of the job was unchanged but the new job title opened recruitment out to wider field. It would not become a bureaucratic role that could override the will of church.

Discussion was eventually deferred while a facilitation group looked for a way forward. The group proposed an amendment making clear that the job title was provisional.

Further discussion focused on two questions: whether Assembly wished that it be essential that the post-holder be a Christian; and whether to recruit a short-term post-holder (on the retirement of the present Deputy General Secretary) while the details are finalised.

Mr Faber cautioned against making it a temporary role, saying there was little chance of recruiting successfully twice in two years and Church House did not have the capacity to fill the post internally. He ardently agreed with those who said it was preferable for the person to be a Christian and that the paperwork must make it clear that the work is about serving God, but the question was whether that could be made an essential requirement within the law.

Mr Faber repeated that all this work would be subject to scrutiny by Assembly officers, and on that reassurance Assembly passed the resolution by an overwhelming majority.

Address to the throne
An address to the throne was presented by Mr Derek Estill, Moderator of the General Assembly 2018-2022. In sending loyal greetings to Her Majesty, the Assembly noted that in this year both Her Majesty and the URC are marking a jubilee. The Assembly thanked Her Majesty for her “steadfast and faithful service” over the seven decades of her reign. Praising her example of “duty, integrity and public service”, the Assembly placed on record its appreciation of “Your Majesty’s public witness to your Christian faith and the way in which you have sought to live your life as a servant of Christ”.

The address not only celebrated the beginning of “a pioneering ecumenical experiment” with the formation of the URC in 1972 but also recorded some of the key issues under discussion at this year’s Assembly: “we have been reflecting on the challenges we face and how our church life might be renewed in faithful response to them”.

In particular, the address noted that, “given the Biblical understanding of jubilee as a moment to set right past wrongs, it is fitting that the General Assembly has also agreed a confession and apology for the role that we and our antecedent bodies played in the transatlantic slave trade, and its legacies in the scars which continue to blight our society, our Church, and the lives of black people in our midst and around the globe today. We have supported too an impassioned plea for those fleeing war or persecution to be treated fairly and compassionately by Your Government.”

The Address concluded with a prayer that God “will sustain and guide Your Majesty in all the days to come”.

 Moderator-elect acceptance speech
The Revd Dr Tessa Henry-Robinson addressed Assembly by accepting the role of Moderator of the General Assembly 2023-2024.

The Revd Dr Tessa Henry-Robinson, URC General Assembly Moderator-Elect 2022-2023.

I will take this opportunity as the first woman of ethnically minoritised background — the first Black woman to be elected to this important leadership role — to bring a welcoming and hospitable spirit, ensuring that all feel seen, and understood; and their personal dignity recognised and respected,” said Dr Henry-Robinson.

“I understand this as an opportune and poignant moment, in my theological and pastoral journey, to open the way for others to follow.”

“As an observer to this year’s General Assembly, I see that the URC is beginning to be more intentional about moving towards its vision of an anti-racist church, with an intercultural habit, where all are welcome.

“Still, we have a long way to go, and I intend to continue to embrace and uplift this vision, and to champion it within the Church and in our communities. I applaud the work that has gone before and commit to assisting the URC to be ever-changing, attentive to the movement of the spirit.

“This is a gift and an opportunity, not only to inspire people in our communities to better find and understand God, but also to reassure those who question whether they even belong or are welcome.

“As Moderator-elect, I look forward to meaningful conversations and engagement with our outgoing and incoming Moderators.

“Then as Moderator 2023-2024, God willing, I hope to intentionally channel my insight into how the URC might claim and advance its identity to foster the spirit of unity, peace, and justice as followers of Christ.

“I offer very special thanks to my husband Revd Mark Robinson and our precious, loving family; and to good friends and well-wishers for their confidence in me.”

Dr Henry-Robinson went onto thank the Revd John Grundy and the congregation of St Andrews URC in Brockley for putting her name forward after prayerful and careful consideration, and the Southern Synod, for “courageously” nominated her at its March meeting held earlier this year.

Tessa also thanked General Assembly for its trust in electing her.

Moderator’s reflection
The Revd Claire Downing, outgoing Moderator of General Assembly, offered her closing reflections on her term of office.

The Revd Clare Downing, General Assembly Moderator 2020-2022.

Time had seemed “all the more stretchy” she said, over the last few years, and it was incredible that it was only four years ago that she made a speech to accept this role.

She and the late Peter Pay were elected, she said, as the last Moderators to serve as a pair and part of her job was to reduce expectations of what a Moderator would do. A tradition had built up that one Moderator would be at every committee meeting; “Well, I stopped that!”

The pandemic meant not having quite the induction expected, learning how to hold large meetings over Zoom, and, in the first year, “having to do virtually everything virtually”. It meant having meetings in places she later couldn’t remember being. Some people were excluded by virtual meetings, she said: “But other people were included in new ways. We had never realised how many people we were excluding from our meetings in the first place. Keep thinking about who you’re including and who you’re excluding.”

Ms Downing paid an emotional tribute to Peter Pay who died during his term as Moderator. “He was an amazing colleague to work with,” she said.

Highlights, she added, included seeing the field at the back of one church transform into a community garden; being at Youth Assembly and inducting Jo Harris as Moderator; inducting synod moderators; Parliamentary prayer breakfast; visiting Poland with the Council for Christians and Jews.

Ms Downing thanked General Assembly for giving her the opportunity and especially thanked those who had prayed for her.

Closing worship and the Induction of the Revd Fiona Bennett, Moderator of the General Assembly of The United Reformed Church, 2022-2023

In the sermon at the Closing Worship at the General Assembly, Karen Campbell, Secretary for Global and Intercultural Ministries, wondered if you have ever had the experience of knowing that God is calling you.

“I am talking about feeling something in your spirit – in the very fibre of your being – that says God is calling you to ‘this’.

“I’ve had that experience. It can be incredibly uncomfortable, sometimes scary, often painful. That is how it feels for me to talk honestly and try to engage directly with issues of racial justice in our Church. People often don’t believe, but by default, I am a real introvert… and a nerd. (Fellow nerds, let’s embrace it!)

“Yet, I find myself in this place, feeling the weight and responsibility of what I am called to be and do.

“I wonder if any of this is how Fiona (Bennett) felt when she was elected to become Assembly Moderator, or today as she officially takes up her duties? Or Tessa (Henry-Robinson), when she allowed her name to go forward for the same role, and as the realisation sinks in that she really has been elected to serve as the first Black woman GA Moderator of the United Reformed Church?

“Or Philippa (Osei), when she was elected to be the first Black moderator-elect of Youth Assembly back in January?

“I wonder if any of this is how Alex (Clare-Young) feels when putting themselves on the line to try to help us not even understand – but be open to engaging at all – with the issues faced by trans people.

“There are many others putting themselves ‘out there’ – not because they want to, because they have to. Because God has laid it on their hearts.

“God calls. Calls us to speak up and speak out and do what is right – in the power of the spirit – because it is simply the right thing to do. I think, in this Assembly, that’s what we have been striving to do.

“I don’t know which of us God may be calling for what purpose. I don’t know which of us feels compelled to draw our line in the sand. I do know how daunting it can be to have the feeling ‘it’s definitely you!’

“But I also know that who God calls, God equips – even when we may not recognise we have been given what we need.

“So, those who feel called – dare to answer. Those who aren’t sure – listen, engage, challenge – in love!

“And all of us together – let’s proclaim God’s jubilee. Amen.”

Induction of Fiona Bennett

After an introduction by the Revd Clare Downing, an affirmation of faith, prayers, promises and the signing of the Assembly Bible, the Revd Fiona Bennett was inducted as the Moderator of the General Assembly. Fiona was welcomed by the Revd Philip Brooks, Deputy General Secretary for Mission, who said: “Know that you are held in our love, support and prayers. We are blessed to walk alongside you in this coming year.”

Commissioning of Assembly representatives

How might the Spirit continue to through the story of Jubilee to us the United Reformed Church in our Jubilee year, the new Chaplain to the General Assembly Moderator the Revd Lindsey Sanderson asked.

“The Jubilee year was a time of celebration. So, what do we celebrate about what God has done in the URC over the last 50 years? The Jubilee year was a time of liberation. Are there any church burdens that, if freed of, would liberate us to flourish?

“The Jubilee year was a time of economic transformation and hope for the poorest. If money was no object, what could we invest in to make our local church more effective in recognising God’s Kingdom in our local communities?

“Those of us in the Church Life Review Group have come to think of these as the Jubilee questions and we invite you, in fact we urge you, to take these questions to every corner of the United Reformed Church so we can all get talking about the God of Jubilee and the celebration, liberation and transformation God offers to us and the world.

“As we respond to God’s invitation to be people of the Jubilee, who share in celebration, liberation and transformation, we offer back to God this Assembly and the work received and decided upon in this Council and which will now go forth to the other councils of the church and in our partnership working with others.

The Assembly then joined in with the Confession and Apology by the United Reformed Church prepared by the Legacies of Slavery Task Group, led by Fiona Bennett and Adrian Bulley, URC Deputy General Secretary for Discipleship.

The Revd Adrian Bulley, Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship), and Fiona Bennett.

Apology for the role in transatlantic slavery

We, the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church, mindful of our own history and that of our antecedent bodies, wish to confess and apologise for our role in transatlantic slavery, and the scars which continue to blight our society, our Church, and the lives of black people in our midst and around the globe today.

This action is firmly rooted in the gospel call to repentance and gives life to the commitment in our Basis of Union to be ‘formed in obedience to the call to repent of what has been amiss in the past and to be reconciled.’

As a Conciliar Church, we have listened to one another as we received the report of Mission Committee on the ongoing Legacies of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. We have heard the pain of sisters and brothers who have been hurt, and are still being hurt, by these legacies, including the continuing scourge of racism.

We have heard God in Christ speaking to us at what we believe to be a Kairos moment. In a spirit of humility and vulnerability, we are urged on by a movement of God’s Spirit, calling us for a journey of words and actions towards a future built on equity, justice and love.

To this end, the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church, gathered here in Swanwick, in the year 2022:

  • humbly acknowledges our share in and benefit from our nation’s participation, and that of some of our own antecedent bodies, in transatlantic slavery
  • recognises our failure to honour the efforts of our abolitionist forebears by permitting the legacies of transatlantic slavery to continue shaping our world
  • offers our apology to God and to our sisters and brothers in Africa, the Caribbean, and their descendants, for all that has created and still perpetuates such deep hurt, which originated from the horror of slavery
  • repents of the hurt we have caused, our reluctance to face up to the sins of the past and our silence in the face of racism and injustice today
  • admits that these sins are part of our continuing failure to see and hear God in all our neighbours, whoever they may be
  • commits, in a true spirit of repentance: to find constructive ways by which we can move from saying ‘I’m sorry’ into concrete actions of ‘repairing justice’ and so contribute to the prophetic work of God’s coming kingdom
  • to continue working to promote racial justice as part of our Christian commitment to justice for all
  • to encourage the whole United Reformed Church to be engaged in this journey.

The Assembly was then led in prayer.

The 2022 General Assembly concluded with the singing of the hymn We are bearers of the story and a blessing.

The 2023 General Assembly meets in Swanwick from 30 June – 3 July.

Reporting team: Andy Jackson, Ann-Marie Nye, Steve Tomkins and Laurence Waring. Pictures: Chris Andrews.


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