Who is the United Reformed Church?

The United Reformed Church is often referred to as the URC.

We are a family of Christians, worshiping in the name of Jesus in about 1500 local churches from Orkney to Cornwall.

Our title is often mis-spelt and misunderstood and, no doubt, there are many who assume we are some kind of funny ‘sect’. The ‘reformed’ part of our title refers to our roots in the period called the Reformation.  500 years ago, in Germany, Martin Luther challenged the authority of the Pope by teaching that the Bible is the only source of knowledge from God. Some church communities who followed Luther’s thinking, like John Calvin’s church in Geneva, came to call themselves Reformed. It’s worth remembering that the early reformers never wanted to set up a separate ‘Reformed’ church, but who wanted to reform the whole Church. These reformers became known as protestants.

As a denomination we continue to change the way we structure our church life and to seek new ways of living in obedience to Christ. The URC also respect the rights of personal conviction and conscience, and the right of the church, in things that affect obedience to God so being independent or ‘free’ of the state which is what being a dissenter or non-conformist means. Both these freedoms, of conscience and from the state, are anchored in the gospel and were upheld even though until the 1870s non conformists couldn’t get a university degree or hold many civil offices. Not surprisingly, given our free thinking history, it was in one of the root churches of the URC that the first woman minister, Constance Coltman, was ordained 100 years ago in 1917.

‘United’ reflects our more recent history. The URC was born when English Presbyterians merged with English and Welsh Congregationalists in 1972. Churches of Christ joined in 1981 and Scottish Congregationalists in 2000. Heath, New Hope and New Providence were formerly Congregational. We still work as closely as we can with Christians of all traditions and styles and are part of a worldwide body of reformed churches and still have a vision (albeit very long term!) for the unity of all Christians.

The term Congregational describes how our church works – that is the congregation, in the church meeting, make most of the decisions about what we do and how we do it, as we believe it is easier to discern God’s will collectively. Everyone who is a church member (a bit like confirmation in the CofE) has a vote at the church meeting. The church is a charity, and the charity trustees are the Elders – not a very flattering term but of biblical origin – and becoming all too descriptive! The elders guide and inform the church meeting, but can’t make bigger decisions alone. This does mean that decisions are often not made very quickly! At Heath we have 6 elders including the secretary and treasurer.

The Yorkshire Synod oversees things like legal issues, allocation of ministers etc. and puts on events such as shared learning events. Each church sends a rep to vote at twice yearly Synod meetings which are overseen by a Moderator which is the nearest we get to a Bishop– no fancy robes though.

Finally, there is the biannual national General Assembly which is attended by lay and ordained representatives from each Synod. Decisions that need to be made for the whole denomination are made here, even if the decision is to let the individual churches make their own choice such as with same sex marriage. Also URC wide policies are discussed and eventually agreed such as the URC’s Environmental policy. General Assembly is let by 2 moderators who serve for 2 years. One is a minister and one is an elder.

Find out more about the URC nationally  here

Find out more about the URC in Yorkshire here