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Other Churches: 6     The United Reformed Church

Over the years there’s been a lot of talk about church unity, but not much actual church unity – not until you look at the United Reformed Church. This October the URC celebrates its 30th birthday, having been born in 1972 from a merger of the Congregational Church in England and Wales and the Presbyterian Church of England. In 1981 it entered into union with the Churches of Christ and, in 2000, with the Congregational Union of Scotland.

The participating churches shared in different ways the traditions of the Reformation sparked by Martin Luther in 16th century Germany. This part of the reformation family emerged from Geneva under the leadership of John Calvin and [in Scotland] John Knox.

Common characteristics of these churches were the centrality of Biblical authority and decision-making by councils of lay people and clergy working together. The Congregationalists believe the local church is the important factor while the Presbyterians had a more centralised discipline and order. The Churches of Christ emphasised a shared ministerial leadership, practised believer’s baptism1, and had communion weekly.

The URC seeks to have authority shared broadly rather than controlled by those in privileged positions. It is perhaps the most democratic church amongst the mainstream denominations of this country. The church’s meeting of Elders2, chaired by the minister, takes its major decisions to the whole church meeting for ratification. Decision making, because shared, is often slow. Beyond the local church there are District Councils, Provincial Synods and a General Assembly for decisions affecting the whole church.

The URC is one of the smaller denominations in this country3, but it is part of a wider “Reformed” tradition whose member denominations make up more than 70 million members world-wide. Its membership embraces congregations of evangelical, charismatic and liberal understandings of the Christian faith.

Although there were some churches in each denomination which did not go in with the URC 30 years ago, this is the one big success story of the modern ecumenical movement.