>Synod: Personal Observations

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(Photo and information credit: Glenda Mathes and Christian Renewal)
Rev. Karlo Janssen (right), fraternal delegate from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands(liberated) visits with delegates during a coffee break at Synod 2007

I had promised my many readers more news from the floor of Synod, but I discovered that I had little time for writing or posting while at Synod. Most of the time, it took all my concentration to take accurate notes.
It’s true that there are times when the discussion gets bogged down and seems to make no progress, but I’ve long since discovered that just about the time I think it’s safe to go get a drink, I come back to hear an announcement that “the motion passes” and I have no idea what motion. Because the debate can quickly change to another topic, it’s difficult to multi-task while observing Synod.
After I return from one of these major ecclesiastical assemblies, I closet myself in my office and spend the next few days generating thousands of words in reports on decisions.
Those comprehensive reports will appear, along with John Van Dyk’s reports, in the August issue of Christian Renewal. But I wanted to let readers know something of what happened as well as my personal observations.
The URCNA is growing up. It was an adolescent at Synod 2004, and it was a teenager at Synod 2007. It’s still in an awkward stage, but it’s closer to becoming an adult.
I’m not referring to its decisions or its theological stance, but to the way it conducts business. A general fear of hierarchy and structure has created resistance to rules and regulations, but the URCNA has learned that some are necessary for smooth functioning. Synod 2004 appointed a committee to draft synodical rules, and the committee brought its report to Synod 2007.
I’m not sure how many delegates actually read this lengthy document, and I’m not sure how much they thought it would impact this year’s Synod. The rules will be presented to the churches for approval, but they were provisionally utilized during this year’s deliberations.
At times, it was obvious that not everyone was thoroughly acquainted with these rules. In fact, it was sometimes apparent that not everyone was acquainted with basic rules of parlimentary procedure. I am not speaking of the officers, who handled things well, but of men who stood up to speak to issues that were not on the floor, or of men who spoke to directly to other delegates or mentioned them by name. I’ve observed quite a few major ecclesiastical assemblies of different denominations, and I’ve seen how basic parlimentary rules facilitate smooth and appropriate debate.
I believe (and hope!) that, as the federation determines and adopts synodical rules and as delegates become more familiar with them, the URCNA will grow out of this awkward stage and we will see less time wasted on the floor of Synod.
Readers who have never attended a major ecclesiastical assembly may wonder how Synod manages to accomplish, in just a few days, all the work that has accumulated over three years.
Part of the answer is that much of the work of Synod takes place in committees, before matters are addressed on the floor of Synod.
Overtures, appeals, and reports in the agenda are assigned to these advisory committees, generally according to topics. The advisory committees are mandated with the task to discuss the issues and bring recommendations to the entire Synod.
This year the compostion of advisory committees was determined by the convening consistory, and delegates received their advisory committee assignments when they registered at Synod on Monday afternoon.
Advisory committees met on Tuesday. Some were able to complete their work during the morning, some during the afternoon, and some needed more time on Wednesday.
But once the committee reports to Synod, its work is not always finished. Frequently, Synod asks for further clarification or additional work that is better handled in an advisory committee meeting than on the floor of Synod. An advisory committee; therefore, may meet several times and may submit several reports to Synod.
If one has never observed a major ecclesiastical body in action, one may be under the impression that Synod merely addresses each matter in a chronological manner. The reality is that Synod addresses advisory committee reports that deal with the matters in the agenda, each of which may have several related recommendations, and that Synod often recommits a matter to committee or temporarily postpones discussion until the committee has done further work.
It takes astute officers to always keep in mind where the discussion stands on each particular issue, and delegates need to keep their committee reports and notes organized in order to stay on top of dicussions.
The nature of advisory committee work makes it seem as if little gets accomplished during the initial plenary sessions of Synod, and that most major decisions are made during the final sessions. But one has to recognize the huge amount of effort put into each decision on the advisory committee level, before the issue even reaches the floor of Synod.
I hope to post more later on specific issues at Synod Schererville 2007.
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