What do Elders need to know about the URC?

One of the debates at autumn Assembly Executive keeps nagging away at me. It’s the debate on the Marks of Mission of a URC Elder. Four very worthy Marks were listed in Paper H3 under discussion. But not one of them said anything about knowing anything at all about the United Reformed Church – which, as was pointed out by some Assembly Executive members, suggested the Marks ‘were not fully developed’ and there was something ‘missing’. 

Certainly seems so, to me. Especially in respect of the Marks of Mission as defined for the Elders Meeting, where Elders are expected, collectively, to participate in the ‘councils of the Church’, and be committed to the Church – in keeping with the URC Basis of Union – ‘always being renewed’. That, to me, seems to pre-suppose at least a working knowledge of the structures of the URC. 

Our churches tend to draw people from many different pathways – and that’s great! So many, having discovered us, feel that’s where they’ve always belonged. But we have a distinctive heritage. We have a Church Meeting. And we have Elders. Most churches don’t. We need to share this wonderful world and welcome newcomers into it. We can’t just be the ‘nearest friendly Nonconformist church’. 

I am not talking about giving long history lessons and or getting lost in deep theological debate. It’s not a catechism of questions with ‘right answers’ – very un-URC and absolutely anti-‘renewing’! As people grow more committed, most churches have their own ways of helping newcomers to deepen their understanding of what they might be committing themselves to. Our Ministers and Lay Leaders have been doing it for years. 

We are not a collection of separate mission churches, each striving on its own. We are part of a sensitive, supportive – and distinctive! – national structure that encourages, inspires and upholds us in the strength of Christ. That is the strength we can offer to all those who come into contact with our churches, be that deeply or fleetingly. And Elders need to know something of all that before they commit themselves to a church ‘always being renewed’. 

Judging from the Reports of the Communication Team on the URC website, the debate on Marks of Mission of an Elder and the Elders Meeting was intense. Some thought the proposed four Marks might not be displayed by all Elders. Though it is hard to see which of being a faithful disciple, having integrity, caring for others, and being accountable, could be easily dispensed with. 

Even so, when the paper was re-presented with alterations to take account of the discussion, what an Elder ‘should be’ was replaced by what the URC could ‘reasonably expect’ of Elders, and it as acknowledged that not all Elders would embody all four Marks to the same degree. And so, as was reported, ‘Following a lively discussion, the resolution passed.’ 

But there were still voices of concern about the importance of Elders ‘having knowledge of and understanding of URC structures’, so – possibly? – the debate will continue … Maybe on the pages of the Wales Synod Newsletter? It would be most interesting to hear what others in Wales think about it.

Jean Silvan Evans