The future of the Church: Eight provocative propositions
Kathryn Price considers how the United Reformed Church can and must change
What will the Church look like in the future? How will we minister? What form will our participation in God’s mission take?
These are questions that I have been grappling with as I carried out research and reflected on the theology of ministry and ecclesiology. I interviewed United Reformed Church ministers and led contextual Bible study groups, read about the foundations of Reformed ministry and worked my way through reports to General Assembly and Mission Council, scoured Reform for letters and job descriptions and pulled it all together in my doctrinal thesis, ‘Towards a Theological Framework for United Reformed Church Ministry in the 21st Century’.
And then Covid-19 came to our shores, and I had to consider whether what I had written was still relevant. I had used Appreciative Inquiry – a tool for improving organisations through positive questions – as part of my methodology, so my conclusions took the form of eight ‘provocative propositions’ – positive statements about how the Church will be. These propositions are in the present tense, not because they describe the Church as it now is, but because they make a commitment to change. I offer them now as a contribution to the ongoing conversations, started by the synod moderators’ discussion paper about the ‘new normal’ (www.urc.org.uk/new-normal). See what you think. Agree or disagree, but engage. This is important.
The prime locus for mission in the United Reformed Church is the local church.
This does not sound all that provocative, and yet… For this to be true, we need to change the flow of the relationships between Church Meetings, synods and General Assembly. We have become, despite our talk of all-member ministry and despite all stipendiary ministers being paid more or less the same, a hierarchical Church. Look at the geography of General Assemblies: a stage with a table of (mostly) gowned people, with members being allowed to speak from the floor below; resolutions being brought by Assembly committees, ratified by synods and passed on (down) to local churches. Mission is primarily contextual – it happens where people are. We need a better way of giving local churches a voice and support.
Ministry is a collective term for all the work that enables mission.
The online edition of the URC’s Manual (section B), states: ‘Unless otherwise expressly stated or clearly excluded by the context, the expressions “minister”, “ministers”, “ministry”, and “ministerial” when used in the Structure shall refer to the Ministry of Word and Sacraments.’ What then of the ministry of the self-supporting minister, the elder, church related community worker, lay preacher, youth worker, support staff, organist…? We need to be more careful with our language. A church without a pastoral Minister of Word and Sacrament is not ‘vacant’, much less in an interregnum. Ministry is the particular gift of service every one of us brings to the party…
Kathryn Price serves as Minister to three churches and a community centre in north east Wales. This article is based on a talk she gave at the Meandering Off the Path conference at Westminster College, Cambridge
This is an extract from an article published in the July/August 2020 edition of Reform