By John Ellis
The United Reformed Church is never short of meetings. One of the special honours bestowed on Assembly Moderators is that we are members of every denominational committee. In practice we attend selectively but the diary recently saw me in London for four days in one week attending eight different URC meetings.
I suspect nobody at any of those meetings would claim that committees are the glamour end of Church life. Reflecting on their business, I could nevertheless easily produce a lengthy list of people who would be annoyed, hurt, disappointed or exasperated if those meetings had done their work poorly. Some of them would have complained. If the committees do their work well, few notice.
We owe a substantial debt to the 500 people who serve on our various denominational committees and linked meetings. Many travel long distances and some serve in time that their employers treat as holiday. A wide range of friends and relations informally provide accommodation near to wherever the committee is meeting, saving the Church money.
None of this of course is unique to the URC. When visiting our partner Churches in Southern Africa, I was on several occasions invited to sit in on one of their committees. The Church Council at the Congregational Church in the Johannesburg township of Soweto felt much like the Elders Meeting of any URC village chapel. The Mission and Discipleship Committee of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa had an agenda so similar to our Mission Committee that its Chairman suggested he should develop closer links with his URC opposite number. Both of those meetings were also a reminder of how critical to the energy levels of a meeting is the way it is chaired.
Necessary though some meetings are, personally I welcome the recent call by Mission Council for a fresh review of the committee structures we are currently using. The labyrinth does not look greatly different from it did when the Church was very much larger and communications technology much less sophisticated. We now spend more money on the committee structure around the General Assembly than we spend on the Assembly itself.
And if you are just off to a meeting, think of the Anglican Bishop who insisted on having as the last, summary item on the agenda of his meetings “Territory gained”. If holding this meeting has not produced some clear advance, who will ask the difficult questions about purpose and process?