Difference between revisions of "United Reformed Church"

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Revision as of 19:47, 18 May 2020

The United Reformed Church was established in 1972 by the union of the Presbyterian Church of England and the majority of local churches belonging to the Congregational Church in England and Wales. It was subsequently enlarged by the addition of the Churches of Christ in 1981 and the Congregational Union of Scotland in 2000, but a proposal in 1982 to establish a closer relationship with the Church of England and the Methodist Church came to nothing in the face of opposition from the Church of England. The United Reformed Church currently has about 46,000 members in about 1,400 local churches.

The union between the Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Church in England and Wales was prompted, and facilitated, by the many points of similarity between the two denominations. Both are Non-conformist Protestant churches founded during the Reformation in the sixteenth century and suffering persecution in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, until William III’s Act of Toleration granted freedom of worship to Non-conformists in 1689. Both churches take the Bible and the individual conscience, rather than tradition or ecclesiastical authority, to be the source of truth in matters of religious belief. And both dispense with an elaborate clerical hierarchy and, in particular, differ from Anglicans and Roman Catholics in not recognising the office of bishop.

As well as reflecting what its constituent denominations have in common, the constitution of the United Reformed Church preserves what is distinctive of each, viz., Congregationalism’s emphasis on the autonomy of every congregation or local church with regard to matters of religious belief and practice; and Presbyterianism’s emphasis on the central and authoritative position of the Board of Elders within each congregation. Thus in the United Reformed Church, each local church is governed by the Church Meeting, which is attended by all the members of the church and is the ultimate decision-making body, with responsibility for, among other things, clerical appointments: it chooses the church’s Minister (or Ministers); At the same time a small group of senior and respected members of the congregation, elected to serve as Elders, offers advice and guidance to the Church Meeting and, together with the Minister, has responsibility for the congregation’s pastoral and spiritual welfare, as well as dealing with day-to-day administrative matters. Local churches are grouped on a regional basis into synods, of which there are 11 in England and one each in Scotland and Wales. Representatives from each local church attend the twice-yearly meetings of their regional Synod to discuss issues of common concern requiring an agreed response at the regional level, and representatives from each regional Synod are sent to the National Synod, which also has twice-yearly meetings to discuss issues of national concern. The decisions of both the National Synod and the regional Synods are expected to influence, but do not bind, local churches.