History of the United Reformed Church

We are one of the churches of the West Midland Synod of the URC. The United Reformed Church (www.urc.org.uk) is a Christian church in the United Kingdom. It has approximately 56,000 members in 1,400 congregations with 608 active ministers, including 13 church related community workers.

Origins and history

The United Reformed Church resulted 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 (Minister of State at the Home Office) 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 2012, the United Reformed Church voted to allow the blessing of same-sex civil partnerships, that is, if the local congregation choose to do so. Similarly, in 2016, the URC voted to allow its churches to conduct same-sex marriages, again, if the local congregation choose to do so.

We are a family of Christians, worshipping in the name of Jesus in about 1500 local churches from Orkney to Cornwall. 'Reformed' means that we delight in the Bible, we do not fear change, and we try to run our churches in ways that take everyone's insight and contribution seriously. 'United' is an important part of our story. We started when English Presbyterians merged with English and Welsh Congregationalists in 1972. Churches of Christ joined in 1981 and Scottish Congregationalists in 2000. We still work as closely as we can with Christians of all traditions and styles. And we are one 'Church'. We aim to grow through supporting one another and taking decisions together. All our tasks and posts are open to women as fully as to men. We are an intercultural church, where people with varied ethnic roots enrich each other's Christian living. Our people hold a range of opinions about theology and church life.

In the words of the denominations Statement of Faith, Nature and Order. We say these words together on some of our big public occasions and they provides a vivid snapshot of what we are about. Those with well-tuned historical antennae will be able to pick up all sorts of references to our sometimes turbulent past and to issues that are still divisive among us. For those who say these words, some commentary may be helpful, along with an invitation to enter the debates. When the deeper implications of these phrases are appreciated they become not empty words to be parroted, but spine-tingling testimony to the kind of church we are or hope to be. Together we are firmly committed to 'God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The living God, the only God, ever to be praised.'

Congregation

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 local church. There is also an elders' meeting 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 and styles of worship.

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.

Synod

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 synod moderator. The synod and its committees provide oversight within the framework of presbyterian polity, 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 make many key decisions about finance, and about church property, which is usually held in trust by a synod trust company. Synods have committees and employ staff to encourage and serve local churches.

Hampton Park URC is within the West Midlands Synod (www.urcwestmidlands.org.uk). There are seven geographic ares within the Synod, North & Mid Staffordshire; South Staffordshire & the Black Country; Shropshire; Worcester and Herefordshire; Gloucestershire; Birmingham; Coventry and Warwickshire. There are 121 churches in the Synod representing 4527 members.

General Assembly

The URC has a General Assembly (currently chaired by two Moderators, one elder, one ordained a Minister of Word and Sacrament or a church related community worker) 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, receives reports from 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.

There are 11 standing committees appointed by General Assembly to carry out its policy and to advise the Assembly. Each committee relates to a different area of church life, including mission, ministries and education and learning. Mission Council, the executive body of the General Assembly, meets twice a year.

Finding out more about the United Reformed Church

If you would like to know more about what we believe then the course detailed below is a good place to start. This five-session course is designed for small groups of young people or adults in local churches; those preparing for church membership, those who are new to the United Reformed Church or for those who, for whatever reason, want to deepen their understanding of our traditions and beliefs.