A good question: What is the United Reformed Church for?
One question, four answers
‘A community of tenth lepers’
Luke tells us that one day when Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, he passed through the borderlands of Samaria and Galilee. Ten lepers, keeping a safe Covid distance, pleaded for mercy and healing. Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests, and as they did they were made whole. Nine went about their business – the thrill of reunited families perhaps, or new opportunities arising for healed people. Just one, a Samaritan, turned back and praised God.
The Church of Jesus Christ is the community of ‘tenth lepers’, those who complete the circle of creation by revelling in God’s providential, gracious gifts – life itself, human consciousness, a mind-bendingly immense and exquisitely crafted universe, life and love in the kingdom where Christ is Lord – and returning to give thanks. The Church’s task (on behalf of the whole world) is to return to God the praise and thanksgiving which is God’s due…
David Cornick was General Secretary of the United Reformed Church from 2001 to 2008
‘To be that drop’
It is now eight years since I left the United Reformed Church to return to my roots in the United States. These have not been easy years. From afar, I have watched the numbers of people attending URC worship continue to fall. Churches have closed. Members are older, and the challenges I knew – the deployment of ministers, ageing buildings, and ecumenical disappointments – have all intensified. Life has been difficult outside the Church as well. Some are using the language of trauma to describe our experience of pandemic.
What is the URC for? The easy answer is that it is for what every Church is for: to give praise to God in joyful worship, to preach the word and share the sacraments, to dedicate itself to service and foster faithful discipleship, to respond to the call of the living God. The URC does these things exceedingly well. I miss the inspiration of URC Bible study. It doesn’t happen in my new home. I miss the mutual accountability and support of a conciliar church where congregations know their neighbours and work together on the use of resources. I miss the aspiration that children should be included as full participants in church life. I miss the mission clarity of community involvement as the default setting for local church life. Most of all, I miss the ecumenical conviction that seeks to turn competitors into partners in the Gospel. The URC gets a lot of things spectacularly right. The 30 years I spent with you have blessed me beyond measure….
Roberta Rominger was General Secretary of the United Reformed Church from 2008 to 2014
‘Following and spreading mere Christianity’
It happened every decade. I paused to think about the question on the census form. In England in 2021, for example: ‘What is the main activity of your organisation?’ The organisation you work(ed) for, that is. For me that was the United Reformed Church. What are we in business for?
One year I wrote something like this: ‘Following and spreading the Christian faith.’ I still think this is what the URC is for. Of course we are distinctive. We contribute to the wider community and the life of God’s world in some ways that other Churches do not. But our main calling – as it surely is for every Christian denomination and fellowship – is to pursue and promote ‘mere Christianity’…
John Proctor was General Secretary of the United Reformed Church from 2014 to 2020
‘A sign of possibility’
We are to glorify God. At its simplest this is what we are for. It is our vocation, along with the whole Church universal. We do so in our worship, witness, evangelism and service.
We are, at our best, ever alert to the movement of the Holy Spirit. We read and re-read scripture, finding things we had not noticed before. In the light of hearing the new thing that God is always speaking to us, we speak the Good News of the transformation Christ offers afresh for each time and place. The freedom we find within our worship to shape its words, images, and activities anew is the sign of a faith alive and active.
We are a sign of possibility. In 1972, a ‘top-down’ and a ‘bottom-up’ pair of Churches came together in ways that should never have worked. And yet, they have. As a ‘united’ Church, our vocation is to bear witness to the impossible things that God has done, and continues to do. This sustains an ecumenical vision of something far beyond who we are…
John Bradbury is General Secretary of the United Reformed Church
This is an extract from an article published in the October 2022 edition of Reform