2018 March Synod - Report

The East Midlands Synod of The United Reformed Church - Saturday 17 March 2018

Here are my* personal observations of some of the things that went on at Synod.   These are not official minutes, and can not be guaranteed for their accuracy.  I have concentrated on the things that struck me as interesting or important, and I will have omitted reporting on some issues which you may have picked up.

Would you like to have a go at reporting the events at Synod for the website?
Would you like to take the photographs?

Then please let the Synod Clerk know!

David Legge

Report Introduction
Aboots Road URC, outside
Aboots Road URC, Aboots Road URC

The 2018 Spring Meeting of the East Midlands Synod of the United Reformed Church was hosted at Abbots Road United Reformed Church, Leicester. Despite bad weather and not a good forecast for later in the day, there was a good attendance by church representatives.


Worship and News of the Church

Synod was convened and the Moderator invited Revd Richard Eastman to lead worship. We sang "The Spirit lives to set us free (Walk in the light)"
were led in prayer, reflected on Luke 24: 13 – 33 and sang "When we walk with the Lord (Trust and obey)".

Following worship, The Church Secretary shared news about the activities and work of the church.

The Synod begins - view from the side
The Synod begins - view from the back
The front of the church during Wortship
Worship leader Revd Richard Eastman
Abbots Road Church Secretary

Three people were presented to Synod:

  1. Revd Robert Bushby, the New Synod Mission Development Officer and Minister at Sleaford.
  2. Revd Margaret Taylor who was the first woman to be trained and ordained in the Presbyterian Church of England in 1964.
  3. Mr James Hodgkinson who recently became a General Assembly Accredited Lay Preacher.
The New Synod Mission Devlopment Officer
Revd Margaret Taylor received a certificate
newly accredited and recognised lay preacher
Pastoral Group - Deployment / View From 2025

Most of the morning was taken up by the discussion about how the Synod can deploy the reducing number of full time paid (stipendiary) ministers around the Synod. Driven by a large number on retirements, we are rapidly approaching a time when there will be only 18 minsters to serve all of  the (around 130) churches in the Synod. The URC has always tried to make stipendiary ministry available to all churches - clearly in the next few years what stipendiary ministers are able to offer to local churches has got to change - otherwise churches will be without access to a minister for a very long time (many years) or ministers will be asked to do an impossible job. Expectations have got to change - on the side of both local church and ministers.  (when I candidated for the ministry some 35 years ago, I was told by my minister and my moderator, that ministry would change during my time as a Minster, that ministers would become team leaders over ministry teams in several churches, and be less 'hands on' than they were when I started. The picture they painted for them back then was very similar to what the East Midlands Synod Pastoral Group is proposing. What is different is that they both expected that change to begin during my first ten years or so in preparation for where we are now. Instead we have waited until we are facing the cliff edge, and the speed of the change (we are talking about 2020 not 2025) is frightening to both ministers and churches.

Speaking on behalf of the Pastoral Group, Synod Moderator Peter Meek vacated the Chair, and presented from the floor a summary of how the proposals had changed since the last synod. Many were in the light of feedback from and questions asked during discussions at the county gatherings over period of consultation. We were reminded that the View from 2025 discussion document, and the final resolution had taken 2 years of discussion and revision at Synod's Pastoral Group.

The Chair was taken by The Deputy Moderator who with the help of the Synod Clerk steered Synod carefully though the Consensus process. The resolution, proposing that ministers will henceforth be deployed as Area Ministers, acting as a resource to support and enable the work of local churches within that area, was presented, and we woprked through the 'asking for clarification' stage, and then the 'discussion' stage.

It was a difficult decision to make.

Many churches were worried as they can not see much they recognise in the way they will be expected to work, and in the new role that minsters will be expected to undertake. It is a fear that has grown because many local churches have depended on stipendiary minister to carry them for a long time.  Others saw an opportunity to be different and to do something practical and even exciting.

Some of the ministers present spoke of their unease about not be able to share in the life of their congregation as deeply as the do now, and in having to work in a more focussed and advisory way.

Everyone seemed to agree that, if this is going to work, then flexibility,  encouragement, partnership are going to be vital ingredients..

Pastoral care was a key worry - in many churches it is left to the minister. However, it was made clear that the Area Minister would be able to help set up methods for ensuring that Pastoral Care is done properly in each local church,  perhaps doing some themselves at the specific request from the Elders or the churches local pastoral care team.

Another concern was that the Resource Church can change, and that might be seen as a sanction Synod could take if they did not share as a resource churches in their area. Reassurance was given that it is simply to show flexibility; the resource church in an area may change because circumstances can change, churches change, and ministers change.

When asking for consensus, three blue cards remained. Between them the holders had two reservations.

Firstly, this resolution creates two classes of church - one of which will receive a slice of what looks like traditional Ministry.
The response was that this is not a perfect solution - there is no perfect solution; and resource churches are expected to give support and have some responsibility for the other churches in the area - it will cost!

Secondly, that the resourced churches feel uneasy at not being able to take part as at present in the call of their prospective Minister - they will be only able to send a church representative to any interview of preaching with a view. (It seems to me that it will be similar to the Methodist system where only the one or two church stewards are involved). The response was that this is a practical solution to deploying a minister to the oversight of a large number of churches in which they will be seen infrequently leading worship in and particular church.

Having heard the answers, they allowed the resolution to pass.

Moderator presenting the report "Deployment - View from 2025"
The Deputy Moderator took the chair
The Deputy Moderator and the Synod Clerk consult over procedure
Report from the CWM Global Youth Forum 2017
Poster for CWM Youth Conference 2017: "Building Disciples in the Context of Empire" – Re-imagining Church
Victoria Paulding - CWM Global Youth Forum
Victoria Paulding - CWM Global Youth Forum

Victoria Paulding gave a moving report of the CWM Global Youth Forum which met in Johannesburg in 2017.
Her text is given here in full.

“I screamed at God for the starving child until I saw the starving child was God screaming at me.”

Moderator, members of Synod, thank you for your invitation to speak to you this morning.

Last August I attended the CWM Global Youth Forum in Johannesburg – a meeting of young adults from churches across the world – and I bring you greetings from the 42 members churches of CWM. The theme of the week was ‘Growing disciples in the context of Empire: reimagining Church.’ The event consisted of key speakers and debates over five days. It has been extremely difficult to condense so many intense conversations and discussions into 20 minutes but I hope to be able to share some of the ideas and overarching themes that were discussed and the hopes and dreams for the future of the Global Church that were expressed.

‘Growing disciples in the context of Empire: reimagining Church’. Prior to the event, I was left with many questions about what the organisers meant by ‘in the context of Empire’. To me the first thing that comes to mind is the British or Roman Empires, but I assumed that that couldn’t be what was meant. To me the British Empire is something archaic that doesn’t really exist anymore. However, the Oxford English Dictionary defines empire as ‘Supreme political power over several countries when exercised by a single authority’, or ‘absolute control over a person or group’. When Empire is defined in that way, it becomes a much more relevant issue. Through sharing with delegates from across the world, I saw how empire in the form in the British, Spanish or Chinese Empires are something that are still very real for many people across the world who still feel impact of living in a colony; they feel oppressed by having a culture, language and even religion imposed upon them. Delegates from South Africa spoke passionately about the aftermath of apartheid, where the British and Dutch empires are still very real to them. Delegates from Taiwan spoke about the legacy of a Chinese Empire which still impacts on them; whilst delegates from French Polynesia spoke about the French Empire dictating their culture.

However, when Empire is defined as something that has absolute power over individuals or groups, there are so many other ways in which it can be expressed. Key speakers spoke about human traffickers who force people into modern slavery; the effects of climate change, caused by people, which currently hold absolute control over the lives of the people of the Pacific Islands; the control held over young people across the world who don’t have access to free education; and therefore lack the opportunities to become what they want to become.

And then we move to consider the Church. How often has the Church held absolute control over people or groups? Women have been oppressed and not been allowed to hold positions within the Church. We have recently celebrated the centenary of the ordination of Constance Coltman, but in many places across the world, women still do not have the right to be ministers. How often have children been silenced and left to one side? The Church has side-lined those who do not fit with its image. Throughout history the Church has oppressed and held control over people.

During my time in South Africa, I experienced a range of emotions. For the first few days, I found in very difficult to be a European delegate in discussions about the pain and hurt caused by our ancestors. My eyes were opened to how real that pain still is for many people. Then as we began to discuss the Church, I became proud of how far the URC has come in some ways – as a denomination we do recognise the role that women have to play in Church; we do recognise that children have gifts to offer; we have let local churches make their own decisions about same-sex marriage. And then, I began to think about how far we still have to go. Are we truly liberating those in and outside our churches, or does the Church still oppress and hold control over people? We say that everyone is welcome – but are they welcome as they are, or welcome if they conform to an image. Are they welcome to come and speak out about the failings of the Church, or do they have to conform to a particular theology or doctrine?

So how do we move forward? So many issues were raised at the Global Youth Forum that it can feel as if the world is too broken to be mended. However, when the forum was asked to reimagine what the Church could be, the overwhelming vision was a Church of love. A Church so full of love that empire ceases to exist, that the barriers between us break down and no one person or group has absolute control over anyone else. A love so strong that not even darkness and evil can keep it out. It was a vision of a Church that stands with the oppressed, and not with the oppressor. A Church that is prepared to take action and to be where the need is.

I want to share with you a song and video that was played at the Global Youth Forum. As you watch and listen, concentrate on the words. Some of the words may not be the words you were expecting at Synod – but the passion of the Forum was that God is for everyone.

("God of the Moon and Stars by Kees-Kraayenoord" was played.)

. . . . continued

I was to tell you about a man I met at the Global Youth Forum. His name is Rikko Vorberg. He is a minister in the Protestant Church of the Netherlands and runs a pop-up church in Amsterdam. His church does not have a building – it meets wherever they can find a hall or a room to hold them and it invites anyone who wants to learn about Christianity, not just Christians, to attend. Their similarity is that they want to world to be different. They meet, eat together, discuss issues and seek guidance not only from the Bible, but also from art and other holy texts,

The first time that Rikko’s name hit the Dutch headlines was in 2014 when he headed a Facebook campaign to allow a convicted paedophile to live on his street because he believed that the man should be treated humanely after serving time.

In 2016 the migrant crisis was hitting Europe with thousands of refugees. The Dutch government had pledged to home 4,000 refugees, but after six months, none had arrived. This issue was brought up in Rikko’s church one Sunday. They did some research and found that the government’s excuse was that they didn’t have any way of collecting the refugees from the border. So the church decided to take action to solve the problem and do what was needed. They, and their friends, turned up outside the Dutch government with 350 cars and said, “We’re here to collect the refugees, we have room in our cars and room in our houses.”

Of course, the Dutch government did not take them up on the offer. However, a week later Rikko had a spphone call from three of the best lawyers in the country, saying that they thought he had a case for suing the government for what they were doing and wanted to represent him. So they sued the government. The judge ruled that the first case had insufficient evidence but they are now appealing.

This highlights the Global Youth Forum’s vision for the Church. The Church should be a voice that speaks for the voiceless and the oppressed and that is making a difference to those that need it.

I want to share two quotes with you. The first is from Maina Talia, from the Congregational Church of Tuvalu in the Pacific Islands, who finished his presentation to the Global Youth Forum about the devastating effect of climate change on his home with the plea, “Don’t pray for us. I’m fed up with people praying for us. Do something.” The second is a meme on Facebook: “I screamed at God for the starving child until I saw the starving child was God screaming at me.”

As you continue your work at this Synod meeting, and as you return to your local churches, I leave you with blessings and warm wishes from the Global Youth Forum and pray that you bear in mind the young people’s vision of a reimagined church; a Church of love for everyone; and a Church that takes action to make a difference in the world.

Lunch time
Dinner Time in the Hall
The Fairtrade Stall

After the notices, we had 40 minutes for lunch, served in one of the two halls.
It was good to see Sylvia back at the Fairtrade Stall.

During lunch in the church the "Stepwise" film was shown.


Stepwise (subtitled)

This is the introductory video for Stepwise, the United Reformed Church’s intergenerational discipleship programme, which was shown in the church at Synod over lunch.

The Synod Structures and Priorities Review Group

A large part of the afternoon was given over to the report and proposals from the SSPRG (The Synod Structures and Priorities Review Group). The SSPRG was set up in 2016 because the Assembly Synod Review panel which considered the re-appointment of Revd. Peter Meek as Synod Moderator also recommended a serious review of the way the Synod worked because of the particular challenges that result from the geography and number of congregations in this Synod. To put it simply, the Assembly panel asked us as a Synod to reduce complexity and ease the burden of meetings on both Ordained and Lay people.

This report described the changes and enhancements and details that have been incorporated following the presentation at the last Synod and the feedback which flowed from that. A full written report will be published soon after Easter and will appear on this website. In the meantime you can see below slides from the Presentation given by SSPRG convenor Geoff Shaw.

I confess that I was somewhat surprised at synod struggling to agree to something that will simplify and streamline Synod, reduce costs, and make its working more transparent, but we did!   I suspect we were somewhat weary from the morning debate, and had forgotten what was said and circulated at the last Synod, and we found it quite hard to take it all in.

With the agreement of the SSPRG synod passed the resolution in principle, reserving the final decision to October Synod when hopefully we will be in a position to effect the changes quite easily.

Geoff Shaw, Convenor SSPRG
SSPRG diagram

As far as I understand it -

There will be one ‘committee’ in the formal sense of the word.
It will be called the Synod Council.
It will oversee the work of the Synod and draw up the synod’s policy.

It membership will be

  1. Ex-officio

    1. Synod Moderator

    2. Deputy Synod Moderator

    3. Synod Clerk

    4. Synod Treasurer.

  2. A council member for the following functions

    1. Ordained Ministries

    2. Lay Ministries

    3. Training and Development (Lay & ordained)

    4. Children & Youth Development

    5. Finance

    6. Focus Groups

Each council member may choose to work with a small team of people who are not council members in order to undertake their function.

Other synod officers will report to the Council.
For example

  1. Property Office

  2. Trust Officer

  3. Safeguarding Officer

  4. Pastoral Resource Officer

The council will set up and resource ad-hoc focus groups from time to time to undertake pieces of work (usually time limited and specific) such as

  1. Mission,

  2. Ecumenical,

  3. Justice & Peace,

  4. Environmental

In each area the Council will communicate with and relate to Areas and Local Churches through a system of Networkers or Consultants (similar to the current Pastoral Consultants, Finance Networkers and Property Networkers)

Local Churches and/or Areas will be encouraged to appoint Local Enablers who will act as the local point of contact

A detailed report of how this is envisaged to work will be circulated to all churches soon after Easter, and will also be posted here on this website.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
gdpr picture

David Greatorex, our Synod Treasurer and GDPR guru (only because he has attended at least three different training sessions) presented on overview of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which all churches are required by law to comply with by the end of May.

Due to the shortness of time, the presentation was given quite quickly, so here are the presenters main points for you to read at leisure.
The main thing is that this is something that you have got to do, and the fines for no complying can be huge. However, it should not be too onerous once the paperwork is done - it is mainly a matter of being organised, and being careful and considerate.

GDPR – 25 May 2018

  • Applies to churches because they process personal data

  • Builds on 1998 Data Protection Act

  • Applies to paper and electronic records

  • Common rules for EU – and will apply post Brexit

  • Establishes legal bases for processing

  • Requires Privacy (Information) Notices

  • Confers Individual Rights

  • Establishes a requirement of Transparency

Personal Data

  • Personal Information about living individuals

  • Identifies an individual

  • Includes all people: members, adherents, visitors, employees

  • Special Category Data (Sensitive) includes

    • Racial/ethnic origin

    • Political opinions

    • Religious or philosophical beliefs

    • Trade Union membership

    • Genetic/biometric data

    • Health

    • Sex life and sexual orientationm

Processing – Fair, Transparent, Lawful

  • Fair – data is used in a way that is
    consistent with the way and purpose for which it was collected

  • Transparent – data use is consistent with the information in the privacy notice

  • Lawful – requires a lawful basis under the act

Lawful bases for processing

  • Consent – the individual has given clear unambiguous consent

  • Contract – the processing is necessary for a contract you have with the individual

  • Legal obligation – the processing is necessary to comply with the law

  • Vital interests – the processing is necessary to protect someone’s life

  • Public task – the processing is necessary to perform a task in the public interest or official functions, and has a clear basis in law

  • Legitimate interests – the processing is necessary for the organisation’s legitimate interests

Consent vs Legitimate Interest

  • There is no requirement to obtain consent to process data
    that is not ‘special category’ if you can show a legitimate reason for processing it.

  • So,
    maintaining membership records,
    keeping contact details for publicising events
    are legitimate reasons for a church to process data
    – this provides the LEGAL basis for processing under GDPR

  • But this must be made clear and TRANSPARENT in the Church’s privacy notice.

  • The data should be used only for the purposes
    stated in the privacy notice and not be shared with anyone.
    It must be FAIR.

  • There are more rigorous conditions for processing ‘Special Category’ data

Special Category Data

Churches will usually be able to rely on two of the conditions for processing special category data to hold safely ‘religious belief’ data about members:

  • processing is carried out in the course of its legitimate activities
    with appropriate safeguards by a foundation, association or any other not-for-profit body with a political, philosophical, religious or trade union aim
    and on condition that the processing relates solely to the members
    or to the former members of the body
    or to persons who have regular contact with it in connection with its purposes
    and that the personal data are not disclosed outside that body
    without the consent of the data subjects; and  

  • processing relates to personal data which are manifestly made public by the data subject.


Use consent if there is no other legitimate means of collecting or processing data
A consent request should be prominent, concise,
and separate from other terms and conditions
and easy to understand

It should include:

  • the name of the organisation requesting the consent;

  • the name of any third parties who will rely on the consent;

  • why you want the data;

  • what you will do with it;

  • the fact that individuals can withdraw consent at any time.



  • which data are being gathered

  • how are the data gathered

  • why the organisation needs the data

  • what it will do with it

  • how long it will keep it

There is a template on the URC website

Rights of Data Subjects

Anyone we collect data about has the following rights:

  • right to be informed

    • Information in the privacy notice

  • right of access

    • access to an individual’s own personal information

  • right to rectification

    • individual can have personal data rectified if it is inaccurate or incomplete

  • right to erasure (right to be forgotten)

    • individual can have data erased and to prevent processing in certain circumstances

  • right to restrict processing

    • individual can have data processing restricted

  • right to data portability

    • right to obtain own personal data and reuse it elsewhere – only applies if processing is carried out by automatic means

  • right to object

    • relates to: processing in the public interest, direct marketing, processing for scientific/historical research

  • rights in relation to automatic decision making and profiling

    • provides safeguards where decisions are taken without human intervention

Pastoral Concerns and News – to share or not to share

Strictly, under GDPR, you should get explicit, unambiguous, ‘opt in’ consent.

but let’s be practical……

  • ideally check with the individual that they are happy to be named

  • be more careful regarding people who are not members of the congregation
    and might not understand the common practice

  • only include the names of those you know will not object in circulated prayer lists/newsletters/magazines

  • you do not need to worry about anything that an individual has ‘disclosed’ publicly eg on Facebook

  • avoid recording sensitive details in minutes


  • If you compile (for general circulation) a directory of officers and/or members
    including addresses, phone numbers, email addresses,
    then you should obtain consent

  • Certain officers of the church will already have made freely available their contact details which are published in various places – this is necessary for the running of the church
    e.g. The Minister, The Church Secretary(s), other ‘contect people.

Be aware of

  • Subject Access Requests (SAR) – when and individual requests ALL the data you hold about him/her – you have 30 days to comply, and no fee to charge.

  • Data Breaches – when some data is left in a public place – e.g a church directory, a USB pen, a laptop, perhaps even a prayer list depending on the detail
    the you must notify data breaches to the data subject within 72 hours.

What do we need to do?

At the very least you must visit either the URC website www.urc.org.uk or the Synod website for

  • Checklist - Establishing Good Data Protection Practice in Your Church

  • Template Privacy Notice

  • Hints and Tips

  • Consent Proforma

Download them, read them, agree them at the Elders (who are the churches ‘data controller’)
pass them at a church meeting.

Then DO It – implement your policy!

Other Information Sources

The Information Commissioner’s website www.ico.org.uk

especially the booklet – Guide to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

www.parishresources.org.uk/gdpr/ the Church of England Resource

https://www.baptist.org.uk/Groups/220864/Legal_and_Operations.aspx and search ‘GDPR’ Baptist Union of Great Britain


The last part of Synod was the Children and Youth report.
The moderator began by introducing Natalie to Synod - she is and a member in the East Midlands, and is the new URC Youth Moderator Elect.

On behalf of the young people, Jane our CYDO presented Peter with a Finger Labyrinth - one of several made by the young people during in their session of Synod.

Four of the young people then delivered their report on the recent Youth Assembly.

Natalie drew Synod to a close by taking a Synod Selfie!

Due to the bad weather, the closing communion service was postponed to the next Synod to allow representatives to get home before the snow storm!

The Moderator presenting Hannah, Chair elect of URC Youth to Synod
The young people present their experience of Youth Assembly
The young people present their experience of Youth Assembly
Taking the 'Synod Selfie'