URC Mission Council, 7-9 November’17

From URC Communications (FB 3.11.17)It’s that time of year, Mission Council, the executive body of General Assembly is next meeting at The Hayes Conference Centre, in Swanwick, Derbyshire, from 7 to 9 November. Keep checking our Facebook page for reports and round-ups http://ow.ly/ug5v30gkrlR

Mission Council round-up day one

Day One – Tuesday 7 November 2017 Session one:
Opening Worship As always Mission Council opened with a service of worship, led by the Revd Kevin Watson, moderator. The service included the induction of the Revd Philip Brooks as Secretary for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations and commissioning of Dr Sam Richards as Head of Children’s and Youth Work Development. During this service, both made the same promises to serve the United Reformed Church faithfully and drawing on the Holy Spirit.  After the commissioning Sam and Philip were warmly greeted by John Proctor, General Secretary of the URC, Rachel Lampard, immediate past vice president of the Methodist Church and Dan Morrell, moderator of the URC’s Youth Assembly.Mr Alan Yates gave the opening address, entitled ‘The genius of simplicity’.  ‘It’s a simplified version of three of Einstein’s most famous sayings,’ said Mr Yates. ‘Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex … it takes a touch of genius, and a lot of courage to move in the other direction; everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler, and the definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.’In his address Mr Yates called on us to have the courage to embrace simplicity, understand we are free from the Mosaic laws and become free to serve each other in love, summed up in five words from Jesus: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.Yet, he observed, many people do not love themselves. In society, many families have been devastated by suicides and substance misuse.

Alan encouraged: ‘Loving God more than yourself, that is the gateway to self-worth. Truly loving your neighbour stems from loving the Lord.’

He also encouraged people and churches to explore how God’s love, shown to us, is carried out. ‘Are we disguising the love of God with over complicated words and rituals?’ he asked.

Mr Watson concluded the worship service with the grace.

Paper B1: Update from the Children’s and Youth Work Committee 

John Proctor informed Mission Council that the moderators had removed Paper B1 removed from en bloc and asked the Revd Jenny Mills, convenor of the children’s and youth work committee, to speak to it.  Ms Mills reminded Mission Council of Paper B3 (May Mission Council) which promised a thorough review of the URC’s children’s and youth work.

Beginning with a warm welcome to Sam Richards, the new Head of department, before detailing the scope of the review. Ms Mills said: ‘The review is seeking to plan for the effective provision of children and youth work in the climate in which we operate … with fewer resources. The review will ask “What are we are doing? Why are we doing it?”  and will be chaired by Sam Richards.’

The terms of reference are to be finalised by the end of this month, the review group pulled together by the end of January 2018 and the review itself to take place between February and June 2018, before reporting to General Assembly in July 2018.

Ms Mills concluded: ‘This review It is exciting and invigorating and we ‘whoop’ it!  It ties in with the URC’s current emphasis on discipleship, and we want to continue that good work – to challenge and inspire children and young people, and to do that effectively.’

Kevin Watson, chairing the session, added: ‘We need to both receive the challenge and hear the promise … every blessing on the review.’

Notice about Syria and Myanmar 

The Revd Dr Michael Jagessar, United Reformed Church Secretary for Global and Intercultural Ministries brought to the attention of Mission Council an update on recent fund-raising appeals.

Since an appeal was made two years ago, around £15,400 had been raised by URC members for displaced Syrian children. Incredibly more vital funds still being received for generous donors.

In response to Hurricane Irma and Maria, which destroyed lives, families, and homes across the Caribbean, Dr Jagessar explained how the Presbyterian Church of Cuba was assisted, after people were encouraged to donate through the Methodist Church and its links in the country.

More than 300,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh since violence erupted there late last month – Dr Jagessar once again appealed to members generosity regarding their plight.

‘Presbyterians in Myanmar are doing the same on the ground as the Methodists and their contacts did in the Caribbean,’ appealed Mr Jagessar. ‘We are looking at ways to help the situation. People are asking what can they do to contribute. I wish to send a letter to people to inform them of the ways they can assist partner churches.’

Mission Council approved the writing and sending of a letter.

In brief:

• The members of the facilitation group – Derrick Sena Dzandu-Hedidor, Dan Morrell, Simon Walking and Rosie Martin were announced and approved.

• The minutes were tabled, with no amends notified, and were signed by Kevin Watson.

Mission Council round-up day two

Day two – Wednesday 8 November 2017Session four:The day began with a short act of worship, led by the Revd Gwen Collins.

Paper D2: Progress Report: Successor to TLS

The Revd Fiona Thomas, Secretary for Education and Learning, introduced Mr Graham Handscomb, convenor of the Stepwise task and finish group, who presented the paper.

Mr Handscomb began by saying it had been a delight to be part of the task and finish group – a creative space for the exciting yet daunting task of developing the successor to Training for Learning and Serving (TLS), with its working title of ‘Stepwise’. He went on to explain how it would be firmly embedded within Walking the Way: Living the life of Jesus today and the lay development strategy, and spoke clearly about the need for any training provision to be ‘fleet footed and flexible’ to meet current and future training needs.

In a comprehensive presentation Mr Handscomb covered the main points of the proposed Stepwise programme, describing it as being intended to offer opportunities for individual discipleship development, building on strengths and meeting the needs of participants, local congregations and the church at large. He explained how Stepwise will steadily become available through five streams – faith-filled life, faith-fuelled leadership, faith-filled confidence, faith-filled community and faith-filled worship – over a two-year period starting in September 2018.

Overall, there was support for Stepwise although some members were concerned about the lack of detail contained in the report, and there was a widespread desire for more information. Following the presentation there were many questions from the floor, including a call for early communications, queries regarding the emphasis on online learning, a need for training to equip people to lead worship, questions about the role of mentors, intergenerational training and a query on why there was an apparent lack of emphasis on evangelism training.

Both Mr Handscomb and Ms Thomas answered these concerns, seeking to reassure Mission Council that the thinking around Stepwise:

• included training on leading worship, and noting that such training will continue to be available via the transitional TLS provision;

• is intended to be open to all ages;

• will be available to those with access to online and traditional materials;

• and that the inclusion of ecumenical representation from Fresh Expressions and mission shaped ministry, on the task and finish group has ensured that developing evangelism is at the forefront of the group’s thinking.

Overall, Stepwise was committed to being strategic, not reinventing the wheel, or creating new resources where existing excellent material already exists. Ms Thomas concluded by saying: ‘Let’s work together and join things up!’

The desire for more detail was balanced by a call to ‘trust the experts we have appointed … And allow them to do the work we have asked them to do.’

Mission Council then moved into decision making mode: the words ‘and in the light of the discussion at Mission Council’ were added to the end of the resolution, and, after further discussion, the resolution was agreed by consensus.

Session five:

Paper M4: Age of youth representatives

The Revd Michael Hopkins, Clerk of General Assembly, brought to the attention of Mission Council a ‘small administrative error’ in the Structure, made at the 2016 General Assembly.

The draft resolution corrected the error and changing the age of youth representatives from 26 years and under to ‘25 years and under’.  There was no discussion and the resolution was agreed by consensus.

Paper H1: Non-stipendiary ministry of Word and Sacraments

The main business on this paper was enacted on Tuesday; the business was completed on Wednesday in session five.

H1 recognises the values of non-stipendiary ministry across the URC and raises the possibility of adopting a form of locally ordained non-stipendiary ministry (NSM). The paper was presented by the Revd Paul Whittle, convenor of the ministries committee (and moderator of Eastern Synod), who described NSM as a ‘valued and diverse model of ministry … of which there is not enough available to me in ‘my’ (Eastern) synod.’

Of the six resolutions presented (all of which can be viewed online) Mr Whittle described resolution one as specific training provision for NSMs, resolution two – to prepare a proposal for locally ordained ministers – as the most radical; resolutions three, four and five as ‘sensible and appropriate; not to add anything –  just to ensure good practice’ and resolution six as looking at the training needs of those transferring between types of ministry.

Mission Council asked several questions for clarity, including debate on the need for another layer of formally recognised ministry, and training provision, before moving into decision making mode.

Small text changes were made to resolutions one and six, before passing by consensus.  Resolutions three, four and five were also passed by consensus and resolution two, after significant debate and the presentation of two alternative resolutions, was sent to the facilitation group, and will come back to Mission Council in a later session.

In session five, Mr Whittle, on behalf of the facilitation group, presented Mission Council with the following new resolution:

‘Mission Council instructs Ministries Committee to develop a fourth model of non-stipendiary ministry, based in a local church or mission project, whose training is locally focused, to meet the needs of the congregation and the community it serves. The proposal shall be brought to a future General Assembly or Mission Council.’

After a short discussion, the new resolution was agreed by consensus.

Session six:

Was given as a period of free time.

Session seven:

En bloc business

Papers B1, G3 and M1 were removed from en bloc and discussed, and reported on, separately.

The following papers were taken as en bloc business and passed by consensus.

Paper A1: General Assembly 2018 and 2020

A brief report by the Assembly arrangements committee on the progress of preparations for General Assembly (GA) 2018 and 2020. It covers invitations to visiting speakers, expenses of members, the use of interns and the question of GA in Scotland in 2020.

Paper G2: Procedure relating to the nomination and appointment of ‘Church Nominated Directors’ of the URC Ministers’ Pension Trust Ltd

A resolution to amend the procedure for appointing directors to the URC Ministers’ Pension Trust. It will allow the Treasurer and Deputy Treasurer to job share their responsibilities.

Paper I1: Mission update

A report on the work of the mission committee. The Revd Philip Brooks was appointed as Secretary for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. Recruitment for Secretary for Church and Society is underway. A task group is looking at the future of Fresh Expressions.

Paper J1: List of nominations 

A report of changes to the nominations list since May 2017. The report may be read in full here.

Paper M2: Appeals Process

An amendment to the Rules of Procedure for General Assembly to more accurately define who a dissentient is.

Paper O1: Report on recent work from HRAG

An update from the human resources advisory group. The group has reviewed job descriptions and salaries of staff where there have been major changes to their work. They have also reviewed policies at Church House.

Paper R1: Past Case Review Update

A report from the safeguarding advisory group. Phase two of the Past Case Review, open advertising, is concluded. Phase one, reviewing files and making recommendations, continues. A learning group is meeting and is expected to deliver a draft report to the next Mission Council.

Paper J2: Nominations supplementary report

The Revd Ray Adams, convenor of the nominations committee, warmly greeted Mission Council before introducing the supplementary report to Paper J1, which added further names.

Mission Council was asked to note and approve the changes set out in Section A of the list of nominations agreed in May 2017, and appoint according to the list of nominations in sections B and C of the report.

During the comment stage of the process, Immediate past moderator, Mr John Ellis, drew members’ attention to section D of the paper, that review groups had been formed for the following posts; Clerk of the General Assembly, convened by himself, Eastern Synod Moderator, convened by the Revd Bill Young (West Midlands), and National Synod of Wales Moderator, convened by the Revd Mike Shrubsole.

Mr Adams also asked Mission Council to appoint Mr Bob Christie, and Mr David Greatorex as members of the finance Committee with immediate effect until June 2021.

These draft resolutions were passed by consensus.

Mr Adams concluded by advising that the nominations committee would meet in two weeks’ time, on 22 November, and asked that any comments to the committee be made well in advance of that date.

Paper C1:  The future for Reform

Mr Peter Knowles, convenor of the communications committee, introduced Paper C1, asking Mission Council to continue with the current annual subsidy of £90,000 for the next three years.

Mr Knowles said he’s very proud of the magazine, saying: ‘the communications department and Reform staff team work hard to make it engaging and useful for individuals, small groups and the wider denomination.’

He added that he was asking Mission Council for two kinds of support:

1. Financial – a continuation of the current subsidy and;

2. Advocacy – to encourage your friends and acquaintances to read it, and then buy it.

There were no questions for clarification, but the discussion stage was lively.  Several members of Mission Council said they were conflicted by this decision: while clearly seeing the value of Reform and noting that, in the past 18 months, the quality of the magazine has increased, it was felt that £90,000 a year was money that could perhaps be ‘better’ spent elsewhere.

One member said: ‘Reform has had it … we need a proper plan … it needs to be self-funding, with no top-up grants from the central budget.’ In response, Mr Knowles said he fully understood this point of view – Mission Council has a clear choice to make about how it uses its resources – but he was clear that keeping the subsidy constant has implied improvement targets within it, but it was not possible to develop and implement a business plan that would guarantee Reform being self-supporting.

There was some discussion on the digital version – of which there are currently 270 subscriptions – and a clear desire for the communications staff team and committee to actively push digital sales to increase the reach of Reform.

The resolution was put to Mission Committee under majority voting rules, and passed with a clear majority.

Paper N1: Task group on the future of General Assembly 

Paper N1 bridged two sessions, five and seven.  In session five Mrs Val Morrison, as convenor of the task group, presented a report on the group’s review of General Assembly – including its location, frequency, size and duration, and the number of its moderators.

This paper recommends ending the present rotation of Assembly locations, in favour of central locations. It also sets out three options for the other questions under discussion:

A. A slightly smaller, three-day Assembly, meeting every year, with one Moderator; and Mission Council meeting once a year.

B. An Assembly reduced to half its present size, meeting every year, for four days, with one Moderator; and Mission Council meeting once a year.

C. Continue as now, but with a slightly smaller Assembly.

Mrs Morrison asked Mission Council to decide on location, and to offer opinions on the other questions raised in the paper to shape the task group’s report to the 2018 General Assembly.

Members discussed the questions in groups and gave feedback to Mrs Morrison.

In session seven, Mission Council discussed the resolution to end the rotation of Assembly locations, and passed it unanimously. During the discussion, more than one member made the point that synods hosting Assembly would need help from other synods in stewarding the venue.

Ms Morrison then presented the feedback she had received from discussion groups. On the three options presented in the paper, she said: ‘50% preferred A, 50% preferred B; no one preferred C.’ Options A and B, both for annual assemblies, will therefore be presented to the 2018 General Assembly.

On the other questions discussed, Ms Morrison reported general support for the following: returning to one Moderator; having the same number of representatives from each synod; moderators not chairing Assembly until the end of their term of office. There was however little support for the proposal of issuing tokens to limit the number of times a member can speak.

Ms Morrison said that the task group would meet again soon to develop their proposals, shaped by this guidance from Mission Council, and bring them to General Assembly in 2018.

Paper Y1: Changes to the Rules of Procedure for the conduct of the URC

Mr Dan Morrell, URC Youth Assembly Moderator (URCYA), asked Mission Council to provide greater fairness amongst all nominees for the role of Moderator of General Assembly, and for procedures to mirror closely the procedure for electing the Moderator of Youth Assembly, citing that it has been proven to be fair and useful in determining, with prayer, the most suitable Moderator.

Mr Morrell explained that, at URCYA Moderator elections, those standing are given an opportunity to read out their ‘pen portrait’ and answer a question posed by the current Moderator.

Questions from the floor included an example of what kind of questions might be put to those standing. Mr Morrell explained that those standing could be asked to describe the skills they felt were suitable and applicable to the role of Moderator.

Continuing with his presentation, Mr Morrell added that he, along with Hannah Jones, Moderator-elect of URCYA, believed General Assembly’s current procedure showed a bias towards nominees who are incumbent members of Assembly, and is not particularly helpful in helping members discern who may be best suited for the role.

Mr Morrell asked for the introduction of a ‘Re-Open Nominations’ (RON), option to ensure that the voices of those who might feel that a suitable candidate had yet to be identified, were heard.

A lengthy and far-reaching debate about RON and pen portraits followed.

One member, favouring pen portraits, said: ‘If you don’t have some way of seeing someone in action, lay or ordained, our choices of electing Moderators go down because, often, their work is seen in a smaller area of the church.  Pen portraits provide the opportunity for people to hear about who is being elected – not so that it’s competitive but so that those who are less well known are actually seen and heard, and people have some sense of who they are, rather than a name on a piece of paper.’

At the end of the lengthy and far-reaching discussion, Mission Council agreed by consensus to revisit the subject at the March 2018 meeting of Mission Council.

Session Eight:

Paper F1: Faith and order committee update

The Revd Dr Alan Spence, convenor of the faith and order committee, introduced the short paper, saying it was self-explanatory and asked for questions.

Richard Church, Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship) asked if the faith and order committee (FAOC) would be able to on responsibility for the oversight of the prayer and worship resources of the URC. Alan Spence said he felt that there is certainly a FAOC element to it, but felt it was not really a job for them, although he’d be happy to have a worship focussed sub-committee attached to FAOC, if that would be helpful.

There was also a question on the state of formal conversations with the Church of England, as well as a request for a concise, more modern, version of the Statement of Faith and Order.  On the first question, the Revd Philip Brooks, Secretary for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations confirmed the talks were still in the ‘in tray’; and on the second question, Dr Spence said it was an important piece of work, but would need to be something that FAOC was ‘commissioned’ to do by General Assembly or Mission Council.

Dr Spence also said that there were plans afoot to write ten short papers on what the URC believes on subjects as wide-ranging as ‘God’ and ‘Mission’.

The work and direction of the faith and order committee was commended.

Verbal update (D1)

The Revd Fiona Thomas, Secretary for Education and Learning, gave a verbal progress report on the development of lay training and congregational development. The education and learning committee, she said, had set up a task group to a lead a consultation, chaired by the Revd Stephen Heap, a Baptist minister and professor of theology. The committee will bring a strategy to Mission Council in March.

Paper I3: Update on Walking the Way

Paper I3 was presented by the Revd Richard Church and Ms Francis Brienen, joint convenors of the Walking the Way steering group. The paper is an update on the ongoing work around Walking the Way.

Comments from the floor included some mixed views around the two films prepared for the Autumn synod meetings, and very positive feedback around the Prayers of Preparation.  In response, Mr Church said the films had received a mixed response, but added, ‘We’re making resources available to the Church – if they’re helpful then all well and good – if not – then don’t use them!’

Paper I2: Commitment for Life Review

Paper I2 was presented by the Revd Bernie Collins, convenor of the mission committee. The paper is for information only and precedes a further paper and resolution on the matter planned for General Assembly 2018.  The report details the findings of the review of Commitment for Life which took place between September 2016 and September 2017.  In his short introduction Mr Collins noted the recent 25th anniversary of Commitment for Life, and commended the programme.

Questions and comments were invited from the floor. Some discomfort was expressed around the percentage of Commitment for Life funds that are used for administration. In response, Mr Collins agreed that the giving:administration ratio was a cause for concern.

Paper U1: Criteria for the appointment of a General Secretary

This paper was presented by Mr John Ellis, immediate-past moderator and convenor of the General Secretary nomination group that sought and appointed a General Secretary in 2013. The debate was started in the last fifteen minutes of the time allocated to session three, and rejoined in session eight.

Mission Council discussed at length the advantages and disadvantages of opening the post of General Secretary to lay people. A suggestion to defer discussion of the matter to General Assembly was voted on but did not gain support.

A number of variations on the proposal in U1 were considered, then Mission Council voted on simply whether they wanted to see some change or no change. This vote was inconclusive.

Mr Ellis advised members that the Mission Council Advisory Group had asked for discussion and that had now had it. He said the question would not need to come before a later meeting of Mission Council unless the council required further information.

The Moderator of General Assembly, the Revd Kevin Watson, declared that it was inappropriate to continue with the discussion due to its inconclusive nature.

Day three – Thursday 9 November 2017

Session nine:

Paper G1: The Budget

Mr Ian Hardie, Treasurer and convenor of the finance committee, presented Paper G1.

Mr Hardie highlighted some noteworthy areas of the draft budget; he said that, although there was a continued modest decline in M&M, other sources of income will rise – specifically an increase in dividends and the rent from the second floor of the newly refurbished Church House. The costs of ministry are expected to decline slightly, and other costs will hold – and this will result in a deficit of around £1000 for the year.

Mr Hardie went on to explain that the financial projections for 2019 and 2020 show a clear deterioration in the URC’s financial position – a result of the pressing need to increase contributions into both the ministers’ and the lay staff pension funds. He said this need was challenging, adding: ‘There may be hard choices ahead about how we close these gaps … these gaps are unsustainable,’ but said he planned to bring suggestions as to how it might be addressed to either the March 2018 meeting of Mission Council or General Assembly 2018.

A short discussion followed around paragraph 11 of Paper G1 which outlined a plan to address a deficit in the lay staff pension scheme with a one-off £2 million contribution from URC Trust reserves.

The resolution agreeing the 2018 budget was passed unanimously, the vote was taken under majority voting rules.

Paper G3: Rule changes in calculating Ministers’ Pension Fund benefits

Mr Ian Hardie introduced Paper G3 concerning rule changes in calculating ministers’ pension fund benefits.

He asked for Mission Council to recognise:

• That the method set out in the present rules, relating to benefits for part-time members in ill health retirement cases, may, unintentionally, discriminate against those members;

• The UK Supreme Court recently clarified the law about the pension entitlement of same sex spouses and civil partners. The Church is advised to amend the rules to reflect the newly understood legal position;

In July 2017, the court judged, in Walker v Innospec Ltd, that Mr Walker’s husband had the right to a survivor’s pension calculated on the same basis as if Mr Walker were married to a woman. Provisions in the Equality Act allowing schemes to limit equality for civil and same-sex spouses to retirement benefits was declared contrary to EU law and ineffective.

The paper was discussed at length and an amendment to the draft resolution, recalling the policy set by the General Assembly that the Ministers’ Pension Fund rules about same-sex relationships should offer exactly what the secular law requires, was proposed.

The amendment was passed under majority voting rules, as was the resolution.

Paper L1: Report on properties

The Revd Dick Gray, convenor of the URC Trust, presented Paper L1, an update report on two major property matters that the Trust has been involved in:

Church House: Mr Gray reported that the refurbishment had been a success; with one significant problem – a damp problem in the lower ground floor. The builders have taken ownership and are actively seeking solutions to the damp issue. The top floor of Church House has been let to Greenbelt, and they have now moved in. in.

The Windermere Centre: The Trust has accepted an offer of sale from a third party and the sale process is now underway.

This concludes the business.

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