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The United Reformed Church was formed in 1972 by the union of the Congregational Church in England and Wales and the Presbyterian Church of England. Since then the United Reformed Church has continued to express its deep commitment to the visible unity of the whole Church. In 1981 it entered into union with the Re-formed Churches of Christ and in the year 2000 with the Congregational Union of Scotland. The United Reformed Church is in frequent dialogue on unity with other traditions and has more than 400 Local Churches united with other denominations.
Though one of the smaller of Britain’s ‘mainstream’ denominations, the United Reformed Church stands in the historic Reformed tradition, whose member denominations make up the largest single strand of Protestantism with more than 70 million members world-wide.
Along with other Reformed churches the United Reformed Church holds to the Trinitarian faith expressed in the historic Christian creeds and finds its supreme authority for faith and conduct in the Word of God in the Bible, discerned under guidance of the Holy Spirit. The United Reformed Church’s structure also expresses its faith in the ministry of all God’s people through the structure of Councils by which the Church is governed.
Notes about this Constitution Document:
There is an increasing expectation that Local Churches will have a written Constitution. The Charity Commission does not wish to see it as part of the registration process but has indicated it would expect to have sight of one if problems arise in the future. Also, grant funders and even banks are asking for details of how Local Churches are constituted to verify their collective identity and that of their signatories and better understand their governance. Not only to satisfy the outside world, but also to make the Church’s workings transparent to new members and to obviate later disagreement within the fellowship, it is helpful to have a clear stated understanding of how local decisions are taken and appointments made.
This document has been prepared with the benefit of legal advice and it is therefore commended to Local Churches. However, it has been drafted according to the law of England and Wales. The URC congregations in Scotland do not require by law to have such a document. Churches in Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man will be advised on meeting the requirements in those jurisdictions.
Local Churches may already have their own written rules of operation, or established but unwritten ‘custom and practice’, on some or all of the matters covered in this model. Those whose rules are written are encouraged to compare them with this model; some Churches may wish to incorporate useful material from the model into their own rules, others to adopt a version of the model in place of their old rules. Those whose rules are unwritten are urged to consider adopting a version of this model (incorporating local practices when appropriate). If a written constitution exists it is important that people should be able to rely on it; so once adopted it will prevail over any inconsistent unwritten custom. Subject to the Scheme of Union, which prevails over local practice whether written or not, Local Churches decide for themselves how they will operate and are free to adopt this model as it stands or with variations; however there are reasons for everything contained in the model and Churches are urged not to amend it without careful consideration and competent advice.
In a few cases a Local Church may have appointed persons other than the members of the Elders’ Meeting to serve as charity trustees of the Church’s general funds. The Church does not now recommend this practice and would encourage those Congregations which have a designated group of Trustees to adopt the pattern of governance agreed with the Charity Commissioners and approved by the General Assembly. Nevertheless, where separate groups of trustees exist references to trustees contained in this document should be taken to refer to those bodies.
The Manual of the United Reformed Church which contains full details of the Basis of Union; the Structure of the Church; Rules of Procedure; Baptism; Ministries; the Disciplinary Procedure for ministers and Church Related Community Workers and other aspects of the Church’s work can be accessed on the Church’s website at www.urc.org.uk under the heading “Our work”.