Latest News » The History of the United Reformed Church
The United Reformed Church (URC) is a Christian church in the United Kingdom. It has approximately 68,000 members in 1,500 congregations with some 700 ministers.
By Paul Corney
4th November, 2015
The United Reformed Church results from a union of the Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Church in England and Wales in 1972. In introducing the United Reformed Church Bill in the House of Commons on 21 June 1972, Alexander Lyon called it “one of the most historic measures in the history of the Christian churches in this country”.
The URC subsequently united with the Re-formed Association of Churches of Christ in 1981 and the Congregational Union of Scotland in 2000. In 1982 the United Reformed Church voted in favour of a covenant with the Church of England, the Methodist Church and the Moravian Church, which would have meant remodelling its moderators as bishops and incorporating its ministry into the apostolic succession. However, the Church of England rejected the covenant. In 2011, the United Reformed Church in the United Kingdom allowed the blessing of same-sex civil unions.
The URC is a trinitarian church whose theological roots are Calvinist and whose historical and organisational roots are in the Presbyterian (Reformed), Congregational and Churches of Christ traditions. Its Basis of Union contains “A statement concerning the nature, faith and order of the United Reformed Church”, setting out its belief in a condensed form.
The URC is governed by a combined form of congregationalism and presbyterian polity.
Each congregation (local church) within the URC is governed by a Church Meeting consisting of all its members, which is the ultimate decision-making body in the congregation. There is also an Elders’ Meeting (similar to the presbyterian Kirk Session in the Church of Scotland) which advises the Church Meeting and shares with the minister the spiritual and pastoral oversight of the church. Elders are normally elected to serve for a specific period of time.
Within the present structures, congregations are able to manage themselves and arrange their services as they choose, reflecting their circumstances and preferences. As a result, congregations, even neighbouring ones, may have quite different characters, types of service and eligibility for communion.
Congregations, through the Church Meeting, are responsible for the selection (issue of a “call”) of ministers to fill vacancies. They also select Elders from within the membership and accept new members.
At a regional level, representatives of the congregations assemble in a synod. There are 11 English synods, roughly corresponding to each region of England, one in Scotland and one in Wales; each is served by a moderator. The synod and its committees provide oversight, giving pastoral care and making important decisions about where ministers serve and how churches share ministry. Through the synods, the URC relates to other Christian denominations at a regional level such as Anglican dioceses. Synods usually hold property in trust and make many key financial decisions. Synods have committees and employ staff to encourage and serve local churches.
The URC has a General Assembly (chaired by a Moderator) which gathers representatives of the whole of the URC to meet biennially. Advised by the Mission Council, the General Assembly plans the activity of the URC across Great Britain and makes key policy decisions about the direction of the life of the denomination. It also appoints central staff (i.e. those responsible Britain-wide), receives reports from national committees, and deals with substantial reports and initiatives such as Vision4Life. The synods are represented along with the convenors of the Assembly’s standing committees.
The URC is a member of many ecumenical organisations, including Churches Together in England, Cytûn (Churches Together in Wales), the Enfys covenant, Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS) and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches, the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Council for World Mission.
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