We hold our services, which last for about an hour, on the stage at the front of the building, as this has a feel of inclusiveness and warmth to it. There is a freedom in our worship as we don’t follow a set liturgy: our various worship leaders adapt the service structure to suit their own theme, although we tend to follow the Revised Common Lectionary readings in the main. Our main hymn books are “Rejoice and Sing” and “Common Ground.”
We celebrate communion on the first Sunday of the month and children are always welcome to participate, usually at the discretion of their parents.
Our service is followed by refreshments at the back of the church, a time when we can get to know each other better and find out what our needs and aspirations are.
Though small we have a richness of talent and contribute to the life of St. Mary’s in many different ways and in accordance with the joint Mission Statement. For example we have six places on the Joint Church Council, have members on the Live Arts management committee, help to run the Mustard Seed bookshop and Messy St Mary’s, and play a part in joint worship activities and civic services. We see ourselves as partners with the Church of England in the care and development of St. Mary’s church buildings and in mission to the surrounding communities.
Our ministers are Rev’d. Barrie Cheetham (half time stipendiary) and Revd. Lynda Spokes (non-stipendiary). Banbury URC is part of the Bernwode Forest Group of United Reformed churches and Barrie and Lynda also work with three other small churches in north Buckinghamshire. Lynda also has responsibilities at St. Francis, a Local Ecumenical Partnership in the north of Banbury, and is a governor at St. Mary’s Primary School. Rev’d. Duncan Wilson (retired URC minister) chairs St. Mary’s Live Arts management committee. Retired ministers within the congregation often lead and contribute to worship, along with lay preachers, Elders, musicians, and many of the members. We value the simplicity and orderly informality of our worship, along with congregational involvement and a leaning towards liberal theology. We also value our tradition of conciliar decision making though the quarterly Church Meeting, supported by the Elders (3) and the two joint Church Secretaries who meet with the ministers at least bi-monthly.
The main decision making body in any United Reformed Church is the Church Meeting. It meets at least once per quarter. The Church Meeting is charged with ‘finding the mind of Christ’. It will set policy and direction, particularly in relation to its local mission, ensures that the local church is run properly, oversees the finances of the church, provides for the pastoral care of its members, encourages ecumenical work and supports the day to work of the ministers. Each church member has the responsibility to help run effectively the local church and to contribute to decision making. Meetings are usually chaired by one of the ministers who will act as a moderator, giving advice and guidance, and enabling discussion and decisions to be made. Decisions are made by consensus if possible or by majority voting.
The Elders Meeting supports the Church Meeting in many of its functions and will advise the Church meeting on issues and may recommend courses of action. The Elders Meeting has a number of other functions which include ensuring regular worship and the offering of the sacraments, arranging for the pastoral care of members, keeping the roll of members and advising the Church Meeting on membership issues, advising the Church Meeting on its mission and supporting the ministers. Currently there are three Elders at Banbury who along with the two ministers and two Church Secretaries (one of which is one of the three Elders) meet at least once every two months. The Church Treasurer will advise the Elders on financial matters.
The Banbury United Reformed Church entered into a Sharing Agreement with the Church of England to share the St. Mary’s church buildings in 1993. The URC building in South Bar was in poor condition and it was deemed economic sense for the two congregations to share premises rather than have their mission impaired by two expensive buildings in need of major repair and restoration. The move was very controversial at the time, especially for the URC. After a trial period of 18 months the URC members agreed to make the move permanent, and so entered into the formal Sharing Agreement. The Anglicans were pleased to welcome the URC and costs were originally shared equally as the size of the two congregations were roughly the same. Anglican growth and URC decline has meant that currently the URC congregation contributes 25% of the normal maintenance and running costs of the buildings.