A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a long weekend in Southport. As is the case with Southport the tide was out for the duration of my stay, so instead of paddling in the sea I attended the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church.
It is said the General Assembly is like the Church Meeting for the whole denomination. Thankfully, I have never encountered a church meeting in Dyserth lasting for 4 days, nor have we ever had over 400 people in attendance, but in other ways the Assembly in Southport did display some similarities.
As we worked through the agenda it revealed that the concerns of the local church were very much alive in the business of the General Assembly. Here are a few examples that were evident in some of the debates and presentations that took place.
We demonstrated that we are a church that cares. For example, we expressed our solidarity with migrants and refugees and our concern about implications of Brexit for those working in the UK. We discussed the situation in Israel and Palestine. We adopted an updated environmental policy, and perhaps most notably completed the process which began two years ago to allow those local churches who wish to conduct the marriage of same-sex couple to do so.
It was also evident that we are a denomination that is struggling. As with the local church we agonised over numerical decline and lack of resources – human as well as financial. We also struggled at times to hold together our differences in theology and expectations. All this meant that we found it difficult to look to the future in confidence and faith although there were many signs of hope, not least in the representation and contributions from the under 25s reps who were present.
And as with most gatherings of the wider church we demonstrated that we are a church that likes to celebrate together. We celebrated our faith in moving and meaningful worship. We celebrated our place in the family of Reformed churches across the world. We celebrated our diversity as people of faith but also our one-ness in Christ as we shared communion on the Sunday morning.
Assembly began with the induction of the new Assembly Moderators – one of whom is the Revd Kevin Watson, who was minister in Dyserth and Rhyl in the 80s. The Moderators’ theme for Assembly and then for their two years of service is ‘People of the Way’. I’m sure that Kevin will say more about this when he visits Dyserth in October, but for now it reminds us that whoever we are, we are all People of the Way, travelling together. This remains true whether this be at General Assembly, in our 13 Synods or in the local church which, after all, is the place from which all of us express our faith most often.
You can read more about the General Assembly and other URC related news at www.urc.org.uk