United Reformed Church

For the similarly named Dutch Reformed federation in North America, see United Reformed Churches in North America. For the similarly named denomination in Africa, see Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa.
United Reformed Church
Classification Protestant
Orientation Reformed
Polity Presbyterian
Moderator Kevin Watson and Alan Yates
Associations World Council of Churches,
World Communion of Reformed Churches,
Council for World Mission,
Conference of European Churches,
Community of Protestant Churches in Europe,
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland,
Churches Together in England,
Action of Churches Together in Scotland,
Christian Aid,
World Development Movement
Region Great Britain
Origin 1972
Merger of The URC is the result of a union between the Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Church in England and Wales in 1972 and subsequent unions with the Re-formed Association of Churches of Christ in 1981 and the Congregational Union of Scotland in 2000.
Congregations 1,400
Members 56,000[1]
Official website www.urc.org.uk

The United Reformed Church (URC) is a Christian church in the United Kingdom. It has approximately 56,000 members in 1,400 congregations with 608 active ministers, including 13 church related community workers.[2]

Origins and history

The United Reformed Church resulted originally from a union of the Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Church in England and Wales in 1972. In introducing the United Reformed Church Bill in the House of Commons on 21 June 1972,[3] Alexander Lyon called it "one of the most historic measures in the history of the Christian churches in this country".[4]

The URC subsequently united with the Re-formed Association of Churches of Christ in 1981[5] and the Congregational Union of Scotland in 2000.[6]

In 1982, the United Reformed Church voted in favour of a covenant with the Church of England, the Methodist Church and the Moravian Church, which would have meant remodelling its moderators as bishops and incorporating its ministry into the apostolic succession. However, the Church of England rejected the covenant.[7] In 2012, the United Reformed Church voted to allow the blessing of same-sex civil partnerships.[8]

In 2016, the URC voted to allow its churches to conduct same-sex marriages.[9]


The URC is a trinitarian church whose theological roots are distantly Reformed and whose historical and organisational roots are in the Presbyterian (Reformed), Congregational and Churches of Christ traditions. Its Basis of Union contains a statement concerning the nature, faith and order of the United Reformed Church which sets out its beliefs in a condensed form.[10]


The URC is governed by a combined form of congregationalism and presbyterian polity.


Each congregation (local church) within the URC is governed by a Church Meeting consisting of all its members, which is the ultimate decision-making body in the local church. There is also an elders' meeting (similar to the presbyterian Kirk Session in the Church of Scotland) which advises the Church Meeting and shares with the minister the spiritual and pastoral oversight of the church. Elders are normally elected to serve for a specific period of time.

Within the present structures, congregations are able to manage themselves and arrange their services as they choose, reflecting their circumstances and preferences. As a result, congregations, even neighbouring ones, may have quite different characters, types of service and eligibility for communion.

Congregations, through the Church Meeting, are responsible for the selection (issue of a 'call') of ministers to fill vacancies. They also select elders from within the membership and accept new members.


At a regional level, representatives of the congregations assemble in a synod. There are 11 English synods, roughly corresponding to each region of England, one in Scotland and one in Wales; each is served by a synod moderator. The synod and its committees provide oversight within the framework of presbyterian polity, giving pastoral care and making important decisions about where ministers serve and how churches share ministry. Through the synods, the URC relates to other Christian denominations at a regional level such as Anglican dioceses. Synods make many key decisions about finance, and about church property, which is usually held in trust by a synod trust company. Synods have committees and employ staff to encourage and serve local churches.

General Assembly

The General Assembly of the United Reformed Church meeting in Cardiff, July 2014
Over United Reformed Church, Winsford, Cheshire

The URC has a General Assembly (chaired by two Moderators, one elder, one ordained a Minister of Word and Sacrament or a church related community worker) which gathers representatives of the whole of the URC to meet biennially. Advised by the Mission Council, the General Assembly plans the activity of the URC across Great Britain and makes key policy decisions about the direction of the life of the denomination. It also appoints central staff (i.e. those responsible Britain-wide), receives reports from committees, and deals with substantial reports and initiatives such as Vision4Life.[11] The synods are represented along with the convenors of the Assembly's standing committees.

There are 11 standing committees appointed by General Assembly to carry out its policy and to advise the Assembly. Each committee relates to a different area of church life, including mission, ministries and education and learning.

Mission Council, the executive body of the General Assembly, meets twice a year.

Church related community work (CRCW) is a distinctive ministry within the URC. CRCW ministers use the principles of community development to respond to issues facing their neighbourhoods, working alongside local individuals and organisations, developing initiatives to transform communities.

Between them, CRCW ministers enable churches to widen their mission by:


Formed in an act of ecumenical union, the URC is committed to ecumenism. The denomination is a member of many ecumenical organisations, including Churches Together in England, Cytûn (Churches Together in Wales), the Enfys covenant, Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS) and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches, the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Council for World Mission.

United Reformed Youth

United Reformed Youth is for young people aged 11–25. Formed in 1974, with the name the Fellowship of United Reformed Youth (FURY), it is led by an advisory board elected at the annual URC Youth Assembly.

Reform magazine

The United Reformed Church has published Reform magazine since 1972, as a forum for "News, comment, inspiration debate". A digital edition of the magazine, accessed through an app or online, was launched in April 2015. Reform was called "a prophetic voice" by the theologian Robert Beckford in 2013.


The denominational archives of the United Reformed Church are held in the Congregational Library, housed at the Dr Williams's Library, in London, as are the archives of the Congregational Union of England and Wales.[12] The papers of the Presbyterian Church of England are held at Westminster College, Cambridge[13] The papers of associated missionary societies (London Missionary Society, the Council for World Mission (Congregational), and the Foreign Missions Committee (Presbyterian)) are held by the Archives of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.[14]

Local church records are the responsibility of the church concerned, and will normally be found either in the relevant local record office, or at the church concerned.

See also


  1. 2016 Yearbook (United Reformed Church, 2015), 12
  2. 2016 Yearbook (United Reformed Church, 2015), 12
  3. The United Reformed Church Act 1972 (a private bill) at section 2 provides that 'United Reformed Church means the church or denomination which on its formation is to be described and known as the United Reformed Church (Congregational-Presbyterian) in England and Wales, or as the United Reformed Church (Congregational-Presbyterian) or as the United Reformed Church'.
  4. House of Commons Hansard, 21 June 1972
  5. Section 2 of the United Reformed Church Act 1981 mentions 'the church thenceforth to be known as the United Reformed Church in the United Kingdom'.
  6. The 2008 Year Book published by the URC explains that, after the 2000 union, it is now known simply as the United Reformed Church, as defined in the United Reformed Church Act 2000. In any case, the URC does not organise in Northern Ireland, a fact recognised in URC (2004) A Gift Box (ISBN 0-85346-222-4); but it does have congregations in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, both outside the United Kingdom.
  7. The Rev Caryl Micklem: Obituary in The Independent, 18 June 2003
  8. United Reformed Church:United Reformed Church votes to host same-sex civil partnerships
  9. "United Reformed Church approves gay marriage services - BBC News". Retrieved 2016-07-10.
  10. The Basis of Union. United Reformed Church website
  11. Vision4Life
  12. http://www.dwlib.co.uk/congregational/index.html/
  13. http://www.westminster.cam.ac.uk/archives/ Westminster College, Cambridge
  14. http://www.soas.ac.uk/library/archives/
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Polity information

Organisations for young people

Internal groupings

Continuing churches that did not unite organically with the URC

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