About 300 people gathered for the URC General Assembly 2014, in St David’s Hall Cardiff. Fiona and Bethan were amongst the 10 representatives from Wales Synod.
Here are some of our impressions, and some of the issues arising which warrant further discussion in churches locally.
“It was a totally new experience for me. Before General Assembly began, I attended the What do you think? youth event. I’ve never really done anything with Fury before so it was a great way for me to get to know some of the youth from all over Britain, and a chance to add some more accents to my collection! The sessions planned were also really useful because it meant that when General Assembly actually started I had half a clue what was going on, instead of none at all! We discussed some of the resolutions that were being put forward in General Assembly, some in great detail like Resolution 19*, so that when they were presented in General Assembly, young people’s views were heard.
General Assembly its self was a combination of business and worship, two things I never thought could go side by side, but they did. Singing hymns after good decisions and praying for guidance through tough discussions really helped me through the process. One thing that really stuck out for me in General Assembly was the local Churches Awards that Mission Council awarded. The shortlist included a church that offered a job centre service, a church that had a vegetable growing and sharing facility, a church that provided lunches for people living below the bread line and a church that had a messy church for disabled children. This for me was a highlight because it reminded everyone why we were there. We were there representing churches like those, churches that are making a difference to people who need it. Seeing those awards put everything into perspective for me.
There were times in General Assembly where I felt ‘ this really isn’t worth it’, but then I thought of all the great things that go on in our church and felt that General Assembly need to know about them, and that the things we do in our church ‘are worth it’.
The next couple of months, maybe years, are going to be very interesting in the URC and the wider church and I’m looking forward to see how it all pans out!”
“It is a while since I have attended a national URC event and it’s good to be reminded of the nationwide family to which we belong, and to share in worship, conversations and serious debate.
Some hallmarks of the URC which I appreciate, are the quality of worship, thoughtful contributions and our attempts to hold together a broad church
In order to encourage the latter, a new style of decision making was adopted for some debates, as alternative to decision making by the majority voting, and this was new to me. Assembly members were able, by show of an orange or a blue card, to indicate their support (or otherwise) for a proposition put by the moderator. For example he might say:
‘I want to test the mind of Assembly. Show me you orange card if you are broadly in agreement with the point made by the last speaker; and a blue card if you are not’ Or ‘ does assembly feel that we have heard enough views on this and should move to seeking a way forward. ‘
In this way we could navigate our direction in debate. If all show orange cards, we have consensus. Those who show a blue card would be invited to speak, if they wish. Then we would be asked to show cards again. This time people are asked to show, (by an orange card) that they are content to proceed, even though this may not be their first preference. If at this stage we have all orange cards, we have consensus. If not, those showing blue cards may if they wish, record their dissent in the minutes, and it is deemed that we have resolved the issue not by consensus, but by ‘agreement’.
This is not a fast way, and perhaps not the most ‘efficient’ way of making decision, but it does mean that those who are unhappy with a majority view are heard, and it is a way that honours individual views.
One of our gifts to the wider church as the URC is our conciliarity – and this was testified by ecumenical partners who were present.
At local level, our conciliarity is most clearly expressed in church meeting… or is it? A lively morning’s business was devoted to matters of church ‘faith and order, which included a resolution about the renewal of church meeting. The spirituality of church meeting is central to our tradition, yet often they are ill-attended and dull. So often they are a ‘rubber stamp’ of elders’ recommendations, when this should be a place for exploring ideas and reaching decisions in the power of the Holy Spirit. “
Here are some issues that we might want to look at further, as a church:
- Discussion on what we mean by ‘christian marriage’, in the light of recent legislation permitting same sex marriage. A good discussion booklet, and other resources will be made available and named facilitators will be at hand to lead such discussion, should we wish to invite them
2. Discussion on local church life: two papers presented to assembly are commended for wider consideration
– One explores the future of the URC, including alternative possible scenarios for discussion. Responses on this are invited by July 2015.
– A second looks at conciliarity, church meeting and church membership. There will be other resources to follow, for example on how to enable meetings to be more engaged in their discernment of the mind of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, and on the nature of church membership. Again responses are invited by July 20
3. A resource pack on foodbanks is commended for study and use by all churches
4. All churches are challenged to increase their giving to the mission and ministry fund by at least 1%
5. All synods and churches are encouraged to commit themselves to work to ending the stigma of mental ill health, and to make links with local agencies that provide support
*Resolution 19 included six proposals to make changes to the stipulated membership of different governance bodies within the URC.