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About the URC

URC logo [big]The URC is part of the Reformed tradition of the Christian faith and believes in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Regarding the Bible as the supreme authority in the Church for conduct and guidance, the URC is always looking for renewal to carry out its witness and service in the name of Jesus Christ. The URC practises the sacraments of Baptism, both infant and adult, as well as celebrating the Lord’s Supper, or Communion. The ministry of all God’s people, women and men, is respected. The URC’s ministry comprises Ministers of Word and Sacraments, Elders, Lay Preachers, Church Related Community Workers (CRCW’s) and workers from partner churches.

The Nature, Faith, and Order of The United Reformed Church


With the whole Christian Church the United Reformed Church  believes in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The living God, the only God, ever to be praised

The life of faith to which we are called is the Spirit’s gift continually received through the Word, the Sacraments, and our Christian life together.

We acknowledge the gift and answer the call, giving thanks for the means of grace

The highest authority for what we believe and do is God’s Word in the Bible alive for his people today though the help of the Spirit.

We respond to this Word whose servants we are with all God’s people through the years

We accept with thanksgiving to God the witness to the catholic faith in the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds. We acknowledge the declarations made in our own tradition by Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Churches of Christ in which they stated the faith and sought to make its implications clear.

Faith alive and active: gift of an eternal source, renewed for every generation.

We conduct our life together according to the Basis of Union in which we give expression to our faith in forms which we believe contain the essential elements of the Church’s life, both catholic and reformed; but we affirm our right and readiness, if the need arises, to change the Basis of Union and to make new statements of faith in ever new obedience to the Living Christ.

Our crucified and risen Lord, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection.

Held together in the Body of Christ  through the freedom of the Spirit,  we rejoice in the diversity of the Spirit’s gifts and uphold the rights of personal conviction.  For the sake of faith and fellowship it shall be for the church to decide when differences of conviction hurt our unity and peace.

We commit ourselves to speak the truth in love and grow together in the peace of Christ

We believe that Christ gives his Church a government distinct from the government of the state. In things that affect obedience to God the Church is not subordinate to the state, but must serve the Lord Jesus Christ, its only King and Head. Civil authorities are called to serve God’s will of justice and peace for all humanity, and to respect the rights of conscience and belief.

While we ourselves are servants in the world, as citizens of God’s eternal kingdom

We affirm our intention to go on praying and working, with all our fellow Christians for the visible unity of the Church in the way Christ chooses, so that people and nations may be led to love and serve God and praise him more and more for ever.

Source, Guide, and Goal of all that is:  to him be eternal glory. Amen.

This Statement is taken, with permission, from the Service Book,

copyright The United Reformed Church, 1989

Congregational Union of Scotland
History at Glasgow 2000


United Reformed Church

Among the various Puritan groups which emerged from the English Reformation were the Presbyterians and the Independents, or Congregationalists. The first group was much the larger and varied. All Puritans were for simplicity in worship, the public exposition of scripture and corporate leadership of the Church. They were against elaborate ceremonies and prelacy. Some of these Puritans felt so strongly about their beliefs that they endured fines, imprisonment and exile rather than compromise. After their triumph under the Commonwealth, when Cromwell was particularly sympathetic to Independents, they were forced to abandon the idea of a National Church of England based on presbyterian or congregational principles by the 1662 Act of Uniformity. From 1689 they were tolerated by the Establishment, but not encouraged. Although excluded they retained a large view of the church. William Bagshaw, ejected from his Derbyshire living of Glossop in 1662, exercised a ministry throughout the Peak District and said of himself in his will of 1701 that he professed himself “a member of the truly called Catholic and Universal Church, and an honourer of that famous part thereof that is in Old and New England & elsewhere, holding my inward communion with all the faithful and outward with all the owners of truth so far as I can without sin. . . “By the middle of the eighteenth century many of the nominally Presbyterian congregations in England were turning to Unitarianism. Attempts to bring Presbyterian and Independent congregations into national union had failed. Some Independents still carried on a vigorous life, under the leadership of such ministers as Isaac Watts and Philip Doddridge. The old evangelical Puritan traditions were rekindled by the awakening preached by John Wesley and George Whitefield. Whitefield, a Calvinist, exerted particular influence on old dissent in England and Wales. By 1800 old Presbyterian and Independent causes were being revived and new ones begun. What were to become the Churches of Christ can also be traced from this time, especially amongst Scots Baptists. County associations of Congregationalists were begun, culminating in the formation of a Congregational Union for England and Wales. Scottish migration helped revive and reconstruct Presbyterianism, particularly in northern England. The various strands came together in the Presbyterian Church of England. Though never as numerically strong as the combined branches of Methodism, Congregational and Presbyterian churches, and their members, played a leading role in civic and national life, especially after full civil liberties were extended to Dissenters and Roman Catholics. R. W. Dale of Carr’s Lane Birmingham is the archetype of all these intelligent and creative minds, usually aligned politically with the Liberal party, since the Conservatives supported the Church of England. They played a significant part in opening up provincial universities, libraries and art galleries and in promoting commerce. Their traditions of scholarship were carried into our own times by such people as H H Farmer, John Oman, George Caird, C H Dodd. Congregationalists, Presbyterians and the Churches of Christ were also involved in forming the Evangelical Alliance, out of which grew the modern ecumenical movement.In the twentieth century various attempts were made to bring Presbyterians and Congregationalists in England into a single denomination, but this was not achieved until 1972, when a minority of Congregationalists still felt it right to stay apart. The Reformed Association of the Churches of Christ, in England and Scotland, enlarged the numbers and widened the polity of the United Reformed Church in 1981. The denomination exerted an influence in ecumenical affairs out of proportion to its numbers. In the language of liturgy and hymnody members of the United Reformed Church were at the forefront of change from 1960 onwards. Questions of social justice and international issues, what were termed the “life and work” issues of the ecumenical agenda, much occupied Congregationalists and Presbyterians. They, too, tentatively pioneered the way on the ordination of women and the remarriage of divorcees in church. The willingness to change is evidenced by the many local URC congregations in England and Wales which constitute ecumenical projects and the numbers of ministers of other denominations represented on the pastoral roll.Out of this background of evangelical and ecumenical commitment the United Reformed Church comes to this moment, hoping that our experience of creating a church defined by conviction and not by territory will contribute to the church catholic. Stephen Orchard (Revd)

Congregational Union of Scotland

Scottish Congregationalism in common with the rest of Christendom derives from the early Church – the foot of the cross and Pentecost. Contrary to a popular assumption it is not an import, but as native as tartan. With the rest of the Scottish Church it shares the heritage of Ninian, Columba and the Celtic Church, and that church’s later translation to an Episcopal, Roman model.

Scotland’s Reformation was as confused, messy and complex as that of any nation. It was born during forty years of struggling regency. Protracted arm-wrestling between Kirk and Crown on the issues of Presbytery-versus-Bishop and Church-versus-State turned the visionary, Presbyterian Church of the Scottish Reformation by the time of the Civil Wars into an intolerant one. The time was not ripe for a Scottish Congregationalism. Cromwell’s New Model Army did attempt to hard-sell Congregationalism to Scotland, during its eight-year occupation, but these efforts barely survived the Restoration.

In the 18th Century voices dissenting from the Kirk could be heard in Scotland. The Glasites, the Old Scots Independents and the Berians, three indigenous forms of Congregationalism, came and went as movements concerned to synthesise the primitive New Testament Church. Their example however was still in currency when a more dynamic movement began.

In 1798 Robert and James Haldane with others founded The Society for Propagating the Gospel at Home. Its purpose was evangelical revival, and it used lay catechists and preachers as well as ordained. Sunday Schools for adults and juveniles were part of the agenda which was ecumenical in vision, driven by mission and more concerned with promoting faith and spirituality than founding a new denomination. Excluded from Presbyterian pulpits they established tabernacle preaching stations, which would become Congregational Churches. Ten years later a schism occurred when the Haldanes became Baptists. Greville Ewing gave leadership to the on-going Congregationalists, and was instrumental in founding the Theological Academy in 1811. The Congregational Union was formed the next year with the twin aims of mission and church aid.

In the middle years of the 19h Century hard-line Calvinism was being questioned by James Morison in the Secession Church and by John Kirk in the Congregational Union, both of whom moved steadily towards Universalist doctrines.

Morison with others who had been expelled from the Secession Church formed the Evangelical Union in 1843, and John Kirk and others from the Congregational Union who had been disassociated soon joined them. It formulated a Doctrinal Declaration to explain its position to other bodies, but treasured freedom of conscience and never required a credal affirmation from its membership. From 1843 until 1896 Scotland had two unions of voluntary, independent churches with similar membership standards and an aversion to creeds. At first they were alienated by theological differences but, as decades of more liberal theology came in, the small print of Calvinism lost much of its importance to both bodies. Negotiations lead the two Unions to a Uniting Assembly on 1st October l896.

In the weaving trade, a tartan is defined by its thread count. The numbers and arrangement of the threads on the loom determine the blocs of colour in the ground together with the lines, which give it its distinctive character. In the story of Scottish Congregationalism certain colours stand out.

The first is mission. It has been one of our raisons d’etre. Mission drove the Haldanite revival and the theology of Greville Ewing. It motivated both Unions in their engagement with the social issues of the Nineteenth Century. Inspired by the World Missionary Conference of 1910 in Edinburgh, the recently united Union was constant in its support of the London Missionary Society and in its participation in the Council for World Mission. There were also in the Twentieth Century three periods of planned church extension, and at least three periods of soul-searching and reappraisal in which commitment to mission was reaffirmed. In 1993, after the last of these periods, we took on the working practices of a church and built mission into our structures, from local to national.

Ecumenism also runs broadly through our history. The Society for Propagating the Gospel at Home was originally intended to serve the whole Church in Scotland. The founders of our two parent Unions were excluded from their original churches, and the form of church government chosen by each was a principled but pragmatic response to their exclusion. The Union formed in 1896 played its part in the formation of Scottish Churches’ Council in the 1920’s. It made an Ecumenical Committee part of its structure in the 1940’s in a period of ecumenical enthusiasm which saw the founding of the Church of South India and the World Council of Churches. From recognition that the visible disunity of the Church was hampering mission and squandering resources, there came a growing commitment to what became known as the Ecumenical Imperative. Between 1965 and 1988 the Congregational Union of Scotland explored unity with the Church of Scotland, the Churches of Christ, the United Free Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church in the United Kingdom. Although the proposals from the latter won in our Assembly a 65% vote in favour of Union it fell short of the legal requirement. We reaffirmed our commitment to the Ecumenical journey in 1991 and in 1996, having survived schism, and having set our house in order, we concluded that Christ was leading us to approach again the United Reformed Church.

If mission and ecumenism are the two background colours of the CUS tartan, the pattern is completed by the lines which cross it.

Education is the first. From its beginnings, the Congregational Union was at the heart of the Sunday School movement for teaching adults and children. Both parent Unions were founded with theological training institutions up and running, and the priority of education was reclaimed most recently in the new structures of 1993.

Church Aid – the second line – was a founding aim in the formation of the Congregational Union and, from sharing the financial responsibilities of ministry and mission to mutual empowerment and dealing with outside bodies, interdependence was being constantly rediscovered.

The third is perhaps more of a loose thread than a line. In 1928 the Revd Vera Kenmuir became the first woman ordained to the ministry in the CUS as well as Scotland’s first woman minister. In 1951 she became the first of six women called to the presidency of the denomination. Women in the ministry and in leadership have been part of the Union’s life since early in the twentieth century. Six presidents in fifty years with never a woman in the chair, however, makes ‘the community of women and men’ unfinished business at the dawn of a new century.

The achievements of the Congregational Union of Scotland did not come painlessly. The early Scottish Congregationalists had experienced schism before the Union was founded. Controversy, healthy and otherwise, seems to be one of the ways in which we have grown up. As recently as 1993 we haemorrhaged about a third of our member churches in a time of divergent visions, differing agendas, and fear, suspicion and mistrust. Adopting the working practices of a Church, reasserting our commitment to the Ecumenical journey, and achieving the unanimous vote in Assembly that brings us to this point of Union have all been costly, but it has been the price of faithfulness – faithfulness to a vision and an imperative to which there was no honourable alternative.

So the tartan that is the Congregational Union of Scotland is offered today, a little frayed, slightly bloodstained, but guaranteed colourful and hardwearing.

Alan G M Paterson (Revd)

History at Glasgow 2000


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