Monday, 11 July 2016

Debates on equal marriage and UK attitudes to refugees at Southport URC Assembly

The URC has come to Southport for its General Assembly and as Mayor I was delighted to be asked to welcome the members.

It was a gloriously sunny day and Southport looked at its best, people I spoke to were very impressed with our town and the weather.(Regrettably I knew the weather forecast for the rest of their stay was wind and rain)

I stayed in the Floral Hall whilst International and Ecumenical guests were introduced. There was an impressive list of visitors including representatives of a churches in Pakistan and from the Coptic churches -two communities experiencing discrimination and pressure. The Coptic Bishop  Angaelos spoke later in the afternoon and his address has received some coverage especially his comments on refugees which include this passage:

As the Church, we need to address the issue of refugees. The infant Christ and the holy family were refugees; we must be able to look for the face of Christ in every refugee. The EU referendum showed that there are deep disagreements and misinterpretations about refugees in the UK. As the body of Christ we must be advocates for the fairness and justice that Christ not only preached but demonstrated, in his incarnation for us

Whilst I was  I was still in the Assembly a minister from the NW region opened a debate on refugees and urged members to be part of the effort to change the conversation about refugees and their contribution to our society. Other people spoke in favour. It had been explained to me prior to attending the session that the method of decision taking was not the one I was used to; there are no whipped votes and those attending were meant to listen to the points made, respect those with whom they found they did not agree and try to find a way to reach a consensus.

Later during the Assembly continued their decision making by returning to the issue of equal marriage which had been the subject of a special Assembly in 2015. The press were far more interested in this than they had been about the plight of refugees. The proposition that URC churches should be allowed to celebrate same sex marriages was approved by 240 votes to 20. More precisely the motion empowered local congregation to carry out same sex marriages -the decision lies with individual churches.

It did rain for the rest of the URC Assembly but the comments I gathered from those who came to Southport for the event confirmed the impression that I got from the IDTA the previous week; namely that the Floral Hall/Convention staff were very highly thought of and that the quality of hotel and guest house accommodation was equally highly praised.

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