To the URC Faith and Order Committee


Introduction

We are extremely grateful for the useful kick start to our thinking about the future of both the URC and St John’s URC Ipswich provided by the booklet, ‘What is the Spirit saying to the Churches?’.


We have a long way to go on our journey, and so we can only respond to your request at this juncture by describing the how, what and why of what we have actually done so far, and then outlining what we are going to try to do as a result of the request. The latter, as it seems to us that it is not only straightforwardly necessary that we do it, but it is also the main thing which the spirit is saying that we should do. The process raised some questions relating to the future of the URC Administration. We have also indicated what we found helpful and unhelpful in the booklet.


How we have gone about the task

Our attention was drawn to the request at the Elders’ meeting by the Church Secretary. He outlined what the request was about, indicating that the document was not easy to digest. One of the Elders said he would take on the role of recording our thoughts at a special meeting we agreed we would have to consider the matter. The ‘recorder’ felt that it would be better to summarise the 48 pages for the meeting, using the booklet statements which seemed most relevant to our particular situation. He prepared a four page briefing document, initially for himself, which was then distributed to the other Elders before the meeting. All particpants, which included some non serving Elders, read the booklet and summary. The summary suggested that we should concentrate on three main areas and also picked out relevant statements which were graded on their need for action (high or medium) together with the likely effort and resources required.


It was at this stage that a simple “thinking tool” about effective organisational change was introduced to the group within the summary.

EC=DxVxF > X  where EC=Effective Change, D=Dissatisfaction, V=Vision of where we want to be, F=First Steps (how we intend to get going), >=Greater than, and X=All the costs: actual, physical and perceived.  

St John’s will try to assess the physical, financial, and above all the personal costs to individuals in trying to move to any new situation. The critical point in understanding this formula is that, if there is little dissatisfaction, then however strong the vision and however clear the first steps are, no change will take place. Similarly, if you cannot clarify where you want to get to, or you do not know how to get started, change will not happen and it only needs one of these to be weak to completely overcome two others that are strong. However, it helps identify the major elements in effecting change: dissatisfaction; vision; or how to get started. However, if the costs are understood and are too high, then change perhaps should not happen. On the other hand, the spirit may be saying: you need to change despite the costs - just find who needs help to cope, and how to provide help to those who need it.

This “thinking tool” will be used to structure our efforts. There are two main points of focus for our efforts: 1) our individual church  - St John’s Ipswich; and 2) how the URC should function in the future.

The summary suggested (and this was accepted) that we should concentrate on three key questions:

1) How do we increase the level of Christian awareness (mission) and involvement of the ‘younger than us’ generations?

2) How do we physically manage and run our church over the next 10 years in the light of diminishing capability due to aging and the lack of new and younger members?

3)  How do we involve ourselves effectively with other URC churches so that there is synergy and benefit rather than a drain on our energy?

Our first meeting, lasting 90 minutes, covered a fair bit of ground, was sound recorded and the points raised placed into mind-mapping software which enabled ideas to be clustered and the document to be prepared. Much of the content of this document was verbally presented by the Minister to the Church Meeting four days later. The Church Meeting agreed to the group presenting our deliberations to the URC once they had been formulated further, as much work remained to be done.

We then held a second meeting, lasting 2 hours, which focused on: the approach to our response to the URC; issues around involvement with other Churches; the functioning of St John’s meetings; and ideas for coping with the change to ministry in 2 years’ time. It was agreed that our actions in response to the challenges will continue for at least two years. The points from this meeting were added to the mind-map developed after the first one.

The idea is to use the ability of electronic mind maps to categorise and reorganise discussion points to make informative visual presentation possible. This is so that the congregation can then respond by putting their own ideas and views anonymously into a box and then they can be added at the appropriate place.  These will be disussed at future Church meetings.

An early draft of this response was discussed at the July Elders’ meeting which gave further input to the final document.

Our First Steps

Involving the congregation: A must! Church meetings; notices of progress to be shown at start of services; poster presentation and written responses; negative views equally encouraged; using Advance (our monthly newsletter); use of our website - document downloads and response forms.

Change to meeting arrangements: e.g. moving the Church meeting back into the sanctuary.


Making our response available on our website


Some questions about the URC Administration

It has become clear to us that there needs to be alignment between what we and others do locally and how we go about it and what is required from the centre of the URC to support those changes for all churches. This raises questions about how and what the centre needs to change. As yet, we do not know how the centre is thinking about its own change and what the vision is of a new way of supporting churches during these major changes. The use of resources throughout the whole URC has to change in the light of, not only costs and the ability to fund change, but also the deployment of its human assets. Our initial thoughts are that the following points should be considered.

1. Technology could be the main lever to change and higher quality results may be achieved from using technology well; however, direct fellowship is still crucial.

2. Offices in expensive places and travel to them could be removed from costs now that technology allows us to communicate from anywhere. Also, current meeting arrangements demand travel to Church House which is difficult, crowded and expensive at peak times.  

3. It is easier to ensure that everyone has had the opportunity to contribute using technology i.e. potentially greater concilliarity.

4. It would also provide an opportunity, should they wish it, for people who have had to give up direct local ministry in order to take up positions of authority, to return to an active role in churches whilst still giving support to the centre; and also for lay people to do some of the tasks needed by the centre whilst remaining in their local churches.

5. Communication via technology could enable greater local links and area links, channels of communication which we feel have been much reduced in recent years; allowing the sharing of skills and expertise as membership in some churches ages and declines.


Strengths and Weaknesses of the URC Document

Weaknesses

1. The Scenarios were not helpful. For all sorts of reasons these had a negative response and their inclusion hindered things. This was agreed fairly rapidly in the first meeting and they were put to one side.

2. Biblical and assertion issues.  Several statements were considered problematic and debatable e.g. the one on gospel not being believed. We take issue with the assertion that we have lost confidence in the Gospel across the URC (described as 'functional atheism'). We have put these issues aside to concentrate on what we think matters but we did feel that we should say to the URC in our response that these did trouble us. A particular concern was that Acts 15 is not a good example of conciliarity. It was about using the law of Moses and imposing that on non-Jewish Christians: whilst allowing them to be uncircumcised, they were still commanded to avoid certain foods if they were to be Christians. The justification for this was that the law of Moses had been around a long time; it was not about the spirit of God showing that something new should apply. The realisation of what the spirit was actually saying  only happened many years later.  

3. It took too long to digest and work out what we should focus on. A simpler summary with booklet as backup would have been beneficial.

Strengths

1. It has provided the stimulus for us to take action.


From:


The Minister and Elders of St John’s United Reformed Church Ipswich


25 July 2015


© St John’s URC Ipswich