“Get on with it, get on with it, get on with it.” The words of one of the General Synod representatives echoed round the hall, encouraging General Synod to move on with their relations with the United Reformed Church.
This tone was echoed by other speakers, particularly those speakers involved in URC/Church of England Local Ecumenical Partnerships. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, spoke in favour of the report and praised the work of URC minister the Revd Dr John Morgans, in Penrhys (1989 – 2004) as a shining example of what the creativity of the URC has achieved. Others spoke similarly about the experience of URC creativity and ecumenical enthusiasm.
Last night – Monday 11 July – the General Synod of the Church of England debated and voted on the proposal that the Church of England and the United Reformed Church should continue their work to move the two denominations closer together.
General Synod had set aside one and a half hours for the debate, and even that was not long enough to hear all those who had asked to speak. Anglican representatives demonstrated high levels of knowledge of the URC, with many speaking positively of their experience of the United Reformed Church, locally and regionally. Many stories were heard of specific, successful, local initiatives such as Lent courses, pre-school activities and sharing of buildings. There was strong affirmation of the URC’s ecumenical commitment, and the question asked: “Has not the time come to agree the goal of full visible unity?”
The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, opened the debate by referring to 1662, a date that resonates for both churches, in radically different ways. For the Church of England, it was the time of a breakthrough taking them forward peacefully out of a turbulent period. For the United Reformed Church, it was the year of the Great Ejection, when clergy were evicted from their parishes. Bishop Christopher invited us to look at what the two denominations can hold in common, for example, reclaiming ecumenical heroes such as Richard Baxter.
The Revd Graham Maskery, URC representative on General Synod, drew attention to the issue of the difference of size between the two churches, and the need to hold this within an international context. He pointed out that the URC, through its membership of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, is part of an international body of a similar size to the Anglican Communion.
Appreciation was expressed of the proposal to hold a joint service in Westminster Abbey in February 2012, including an act of penitence and prayer for the healing of memories, as well as a commitment to move forward further together. Archbishop Rowan suggested looking at the way in which conscientious suffering can be a gift to the whole body of Christ, to be received by different traditions which have been involved in making martyrs.
Reference was made to significant issues which still need addressing, such as theology of Holy Communion, personal episcopacy and financial and structural issues.
At the end of a powerful and moving debate, General Synod voted overwhelmingly in favour of the two resolutions being put – to hold a joint service in Westminster Abbey and to continue the discussion of outstanding issues between the two churches. There were no votes against, only warm encouragement to move closer together.
The acceptance of both resolutions by General Synod follows the acceptance of the same proposals by the URC’s Mission Council which met in May.