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This afternoon, Saturday 9 July 2016, the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church (URC) voted in favour of allowing its local churches to conduct and register marriages for same-sex couples. This means that the URC is now the largest UK denomination to freely permit the celebration and registration of marriages of same-sex couple in its churches.

A two-thirds majority was needed to allow the proposal to be confirmed as the denomination’s final decision – Assembly voted in favour of the resolution by 240 votes to 21 votes. United Reformed churches in England and Wales wishing to register their buildings for the marriage of same-sex couples are now able to start that process immediately. (In Scotland the legal framework is rather different, but the effects of the Church’s decision will be broadly similar.)

Read more: The URC empowers its local churches to conduct marriages of same-sex couples

The Revd David Grosch-Miller and Mr John Ellis shared their thoughts as outgoing moderators of General Assembly, each conveying both observations from their experiences of office and hopes for the future.

Reflecting on his extensive travels as moderator, both around the UK and around the world, Mr Grosch-Miller said he had tried to travel as a pilgrim, noting that “the tourist travels through places while the pilgrim pauses and allows the place to pass through him or her.”

Read more: Outgoing Moderators' reflections

During the first session of the United Reformed Church General Assembly on Friday 8 July, the Revd Nicola Furley-Smith, Moderator of the URC’s Southern Synod, spoke about the ‘Unity, Identity and Mission’ report, which developed from conversations taking place at a joint URC/Church of England consultation group.Resolution 20 commending the report was passed as part of en bloc business.

Ms Furley-Smith (who is co-convenor with the Rt Revd James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle, of the committee responsible for the report) asked Assembly: ‘What does the goal of unity mean for members of our churches today? What kind of unity is needed for the effectiveness of mission in a contemporary context?’ Discerning where the spirit is at work must be critical to our response to these questions, the meeting was told.

Read more: Assembly told: 'The ecumenical landscape is changing'

Newly-inducted Moderator of the United Reformed Church Alan Yates began his term of office urging the Church to take up the challenges of a renewed focus on discipleship.

Taking an informal style he offered to Assembly some of his hopes and fears for the United Reformed Church.

Mr Yates said that the next four days would be a journey in which – through Bible study worship, social gatherings and business – we could sharpen our understanding of what it means to be people of the way.

Read more: Moderator's address: walking the way