Our name is the Congregational Federation (CF). We are known nationally for bringing together many independent churches for their mutual support and the advancement of the Christian faith. This year we celebrate the centenary of the first woman to be ordained as a minister in England, Constance Coltman and we have the oldest independent chapel in England, in Horningsham on the Longleat estate.
The Federation has churches directly affiliated to it from England, Scotland and Wales. In 2017, there are 255 member churches, from the Shetland Isles in the very north of Scotland to the Isle of Wight in England, plus everywhere in between. There are 35 Churches in Scotland, 28 in Wales and 192 in England split into seven geographical areas. The administrative offices are based in Nottingham city centre in England.
The Congregational Federation emerged from a group of individual Congregationalists, both ministers and lay folk, who shared a concern about the drift away from independency and other unique qualities of Congregationalism. They had already come together, in the early 1960s in what they termed the Congregational Association. Among these champions of continuing Congregationalism were Reginald Cleaves, Viscountess Stansgate, John Wilcox, and, the leading woman Congregational minister, Elsie Chamberlain.
The Congregational Federation was formed in 1972 from many Congregational churches which did not wish to enter the Union of the Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Church in England and Wales to form the United Reformed Church (URC). These were later joined, in 2000, by many member churches of the Congregational Union of Scotland that chose not to join their merger with the United Reformed Church. The Federation’s declaration of intent stated:
On 14th October 1972 in a meeting in the Congregational Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, London and representing thousands more in our land, reaffirm our faith in Jesus Christ, and in the “gathered church” as that pattern of His whole Church which came to be designated as ‘Congregational’.
The Foundation Principle was in solemn renewal of the declaration made in the Congregational Library, London on 13th May 1831 and affirmed by the Conference in Lyndhurst Road Congregational Church, London on 13th May 1972 and by the Assembly on 14th October 1972, the Federation of continuing Congregational Churches is founded on a full recognition of their own distinctive principle, namely the scriptural right in every separate Church to maintain perfect independence in the government and administration of its own particular affairs; and therefore that the Federation shall not in any case assume legislative authority, or become court of appeal.
A key part of our governance includes a National Assembly every year, a National Conference for people to come together for fellowship, worship and learning. Our Young People are known as CF XTRA, there is a summer camp each year which is led by the young people.
We have had 4 General Secretaries since 1972 and each year all churches vote a President to serve them and set an annual theme. We provide support and guidance to member congregational churches both financially and otherwise. This includes making grants and loans to individuals and churches, and by providing a range of services:
• Ministerial and lay training
• Assisting with pastoral settlements
• Ministry with youth and children
• Mission initiatives including its partnership with Council for World Mission
• Ecumenical relationships
• Custodian trusteeship via Congregational Federation Ltd
• Advice on administration and finance
Terry Jin from the Presbyterian Church of Korea has been our Mission Partner for over 13 years. He has served four of our Congregational Churches as Minister and brought many valuable skills.
We have a friendship with the URC as we have a shared history, and we support each other when appropriate. Up until a decade ago, we also sponsored the children’s organisation Pilots which is the children’s organisation for the URC formed 81 years ago by the children who saved their pennies for LMS John Williams ships. We also have a close relationship with Union of Welsh Independents through the International Congregational Fellowship.
Mission Programmes/ministries of the Church
On a National level we run an Integrated Training course in Practical Theology accredited through York St John University for any member of our churches to study.
We have joined Christian Aid in its Community Partnership projects and we are currently supporting two projects: El Salvador/Honduras ‘Empowering Women and Girls’ and Ethiopia ‘Healthier futures for Women and Girls’. We aim to raise £10,000 across the two projects, and the European Union (EU) will contribute a further £4 for every £1 we raise. So the £10,000 contribution from Congregational churches to Christian Aid across the two projects will become £50,000 by the time it reaches Christian Aid partners in Africa and Central America.
General examples include:
• Messy Church which encourages families to worship, have fun and eat together,
• Food banks which supply food to those who need emergency supplies
• Dementia groups and dementia friendly churches to support those suffering and their families
• Pottery/ knitting/ craft clubs that bring communities together to help with problems of loneliness
• Holiday clubs for children in school holidays to learn about the bible and Christian faith
• Toddler Groups to bring new mums (and Dads) together and support young families
• Community Cafes which meet the different needs of the community eg. homelessness, help with claims, partnerships with local supermarkets
• A signing church which is based on sign language for the local deaf community
The following 3 churches won the Serving the Community Awards 2017 for the work they do in their local community
• Bellshill EU Congregational Church
Bellshill EU Church offers a safe and friendly place open to people from all walks of life; their foodbank provides a much-needed service to individuals and families who due to unforeseen circumstances find themselves in financial difficulty. They also operate a school uniform bank on a termly basis. In addition, the church offers a range of social activities and events for young and old to enjoy.
• South Cerney United Church
Over the past 20 years, South Cerney church worked alongside Cotswold District Council to develop a vibrant community centre within the village which is used by a diverse range of groups and organisations. This includes the ‘Singing for Fun’ group; ‘Cerney Seedlings’ for parents and carers with babies and toddlers; a ‘Strength and Balance’ class for seniors; holiday clubs for children and many more. The building is also used for a hearing aid clinic, ‘Café Society’ for carers run by retired NHS nurses; as a venue for local meetings, charity groups and other fundraisers.
• Zion Miners Chapel, Llanhilleth
Zion Miners Chapel has a developing programme of events to provide social engagement to help combat loneliness and isolation that affects many people particularly carers and family members. In 2016, the chapel was recognised for becoming the first Dementia friendly chapel in Wales and offers support to people and their carers living with dementia. Advice for people living alone is given and monthly friendship groups are supported by ‘Age Cymru’. Social events including craft groups, coffee mornings, singing sessions lunches and much more are offered on a regular basis.
There are lots of challenges too that our local churches face which include:
• Declining numbers
• Ageing populations
• Old buildings to maintain and heat
On a national level we have just restructured and brought together Mission, Learning and Development and Youth and Children’s Departments to form a Church Support Team. The challenge is to engage with churches in a practical and real way to help them grow.
Looking to the future
The Congregational Federation is going forward into the future stronger and with a new Mission Statement at the heart
“To equip, enable, engage and empower the churches in their mission to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
We have new staff members and so feel encouraged to see everything in a new way. There is to be a review of the functions and powers of Council and the Secretariat, communication will improve and we hope it will strengthen relationships with our churches.
The website has been updated, a new In-touch newsletter is produced each month, young people will be empowered in new ways, we have a prayer hour every Friday and a National Day of Prayer in July.
Our concerns are a continued decline in churches and membership.
We would love you to pray for Congregational Churches who feel vulnerable and lack inspiration or people to be a worshipping community, Ministers who are struggling, national staff to feel uplifted and encouraged in their work, volunteers on Committees, Boards and Council to have wisdom and God’s vision and will to be clear in all we do as the Congregational Federation.