Dear Friends,


As I write these words, I've just come back from General Assembly, which this year was held in a sweltering Nottingham between 6 and 9 July. And I have high and low points to share with you.

I have good memories of Assembly. I was proud, as we welcomed representatives from churches in this country and overseas, from Christian Aid and from other faith communities, that the URC is known and admired elsewhere. I particularly remember our Muslim and our Jewish guest telling us, with one voice: 'Speak up for your faith! Be proud of who you are!' I remember excellent points of debate made by our young people, their scurrilous daily report on Assembly proceedings, and the service they led in which the whole of Assembly vigorously threw away their sins in the shape of paper aeroplanes. I remember journeys in the Hebrew Bible being brought to life for our own walk together through inspired Bible study. I remember a whole conference hall singing with one voice. And I remember conversations with old friends and with people I'd never met before, sharing joys and sorrows across the church.

On the other hand, I also remember sessions where discussion foundered because the rules of engagement weren't clear to everyone.

The huge amount of time we spent on the future of General Assembly - though I think the outcome was a good one. And a few people very eager to raise their voices, whatever the subject.

Like Church Meeting, General Assembly has all the pros and all the cons of any group of people meeting together. It can offer a new take on a familiar topic, brought by experts who love their subject and make you care about it too, or a moment of empathy when someone unlike yourself shares their experience. It can enthuse and inspire those who take part by reminding them that they are not alone: others also care about what motivates them.

Yet, just like Church Meeting, General Assembly is also prone to power play. Questions of who decides what we believe and do, and on what basis, have always bedevilled groups of Christians. Some churches have specific authority figures who make decisions on their behalf - though the leader who reckons God speaks to him alone (and it usually is 'him') can go off the rails if he does not consult with others. Other denominations, such as ours, believe that God's spirit speaks through everyone, not just our leaders. But of course we can't consult with each member of the URC on every decision to be taken. Imagine the cost, and the time that would be taken, if we did!

At the moment Assembly only meets every two years. So between times, when decisions have to be made, a body called Mission Council, with representatives from every Synod, has been tasked by Assembly with making them. This has worked for a few years, but not everybody is happy with a relatively small group having that much power. This year, Assembly decided to return to an annual meeting, though one with fewer people, so we don't bankrupt ourselves.

It may have felt like a navel-gazing exercise, but the way we believe God's Spirit speaks through everyone together, not just VIPs on their own, is one of the things I really value about our church. So please pray for wisdom and patience for all those putting the decisions of General Assembly into effect. For us participating in our church meetings. And especially for Clare Downing and Peter Pay from our Synod, the next Moderators of General Assembly.
Sarah Hall