Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Synod Resolutions: The Practical

This category is for resolutions that address structural and governance issues, whether it's meant just for Synod or the denomination as a whole.

There are two that fit this category: Changing the Composition of the General Synod, and Renewing the Covenant with the Rural Church.

I'm torn on the resolution on Synod's composition. As it currently stands, voting delegates to Synod are elected by their Associations or Conferences and are understood to be representatives of their Conference. In the best of circumstances, delegates solicit input from the churches of which they're members. Occasionally, churches are proactive enough to send letters to all delegates within their Association or Conference with their opinions on resolutions as well.

This resolution proposes that Synod's representation be altered from Conference representation to local church representation: every church gets to send a delegate and every authorized minister is able to be a delegate. It provides some caveats: churches need to contribute to OCWM (Our Church's Wider Mission, the UCC's basic offering used to fund all its wider expressions), and there's a weird bit of wording about churches that have over 400 members being able to send extra delegates.

Why do this? The resolution answers this in a couple ways. First, it observes that many UCC churches have slipped "into a kind of 'localism,'" and this would help them to think about wider forms of ministry and mission. This resolution seems to mean localism in the sense of isolationism, which I agree is not observant of our covenental partnerships with other UCC churches. The resolution rightly observes that many churches have become more disinterested in wider church matters, and seems more concerned with churches' non-participation and less about the possibility that they're engaging in "localism" in the sense that they're too preoccupied with local mission to be bothered with wider church matters. The proposal here is that by giving each church the opportunity to send a delegate to Synod, they'll feel better connected and more aware of what the wider church is doing.

This is a nice idea, in theory. A few critiques:

  • Money. Synod costs $500-$2000 per person. Conferences help with these costs as best they can, but that's still a lot to ask, especially since this resolution would probably shift that burden more to the delegate and his/her local church.
  • Time. In my experience, church members don't want to give up a Saturday for an Association meeting. Would they want to give up an entire week (in many instances, vacation time) to travel to Synod?
  • Location. If the Synod in Hartford, for instance, was set up under this new delegate system, we'd probably see a greater number of delegates from Connecticut and surrounding states than we would from points further away, because money and time would be lesser factors for those who live closer. Would that truly be representative of the UCC in the way that this resolution pictures it?

I don't disagree with the basic premise and spirit of the resolution. I simply wonder if it will make the difference that supporters believe it will.

Originally, I had the resolution concerning rural churches in The Fluffy category, but then I read it over again and found that it might make a difference in structure and governance. So now it's here.

This resolution is pretty cool. It describes the situation that churches in rural settings face: limited financial and technological resources, economic and justice issues related to agriculture, sometimes a lack of partnerships with other UCC churches due to proximity, the struggle to call pastors, and so on. If people lamenting "localism" search for reasons for such a mindset, I'm guessing that the struggles found in these churches are among the biggest.

The resolution notes that rural churches make up 60% of the total number found on UCC rolls. It also notes that when the UCC originally came together, there was a specific department devoted to addressing these churches' needs. It was eventually phased out. This resolution calls for the re-establishment of national staff positions and other resources specifically for these settings. According to this resolution, this would involve a joint effort between Local Church Ministries and Justice & Witness Ministries. I think the resolution is excellent. Practically speaking, maybe we should pass this one and revisit the one on composition after rural churches are given some hope and reason to build stronger partnerships with the wider church.