>URCNA Synod -13, Point of Personal Privilege

>It sometimes happens during a major ecclesiastical assembly that a delegate will request a “point of personal privilege.” Generally the delegate wishes to convey some personal sentiment that doesn’t directly address the issue at hand, but is nevertheless important for the body to hear.

Before I leave the campus where Synod was held and spend a long day driving and flying home, and before I write more reports about Synod actions, I’d like to take my own moment of personal privilege.

Over the last ten plus years, I’ve observed as a writer for Christian Renewal major ecclesiastical assemblies of the RCUS, the OPC, the CRC, and the URCNA. On the basis of carefully studied reports and extensive communication with officers and other attendees, I’ve written about major assemblies of other federations, such as the CanRC, the RPCNA, the PCA, and the RCA (to name just a few that come to mind).

It’s been interesting to compare and contrast the different atmosphere and functioning at these assemblies. I have often spoken and written of the URCNA as a child whose growing maturity I witnessed at the previous two Synods. This year it seemed to me that the URCNA was an awkward teenager, stumbling over its own feet.

Fraternal observer Rev. Peter Kloosterman, from the RCNZ (or “RCNZed” as he says), used the same teen analogy when he addressed the brothers at Synod. Additionally, he made some great points about teens’ desire for independence and their tendency to see the crisis of the moment as the crisis of their lifetime.

This “awkward teen” Synod went through some of the most excruciating growing pains I’ve ever witnessed at a major assembly. Those who have attended CRC Synods know that they function like a well-oiled machine. OPC and RCUS assemblies function efficiently also, but have entirely different dynamics. This Synod did not function well through no fault of the Chairman, who repeatedly brought speakers back to the subject at hand, explained exactly where Synod was in its deliberations, and frequently had to spend time telling advisory committee reporters how to do their job.

Synod took a baby step to address this issue by asking that the convening consistory choose experienced men as chairmen and reporters for committees and provide them with resources to help them efficiently perform their tasks. But the real responsibility lies with each delegate. Prior to Synod, each delegate ought to be familiar with Robert’s Rules of Order as well as the agenda. Delegates know their pre-advice committee assignments ahead of time; they ought to be very familiar with the issues they will be addressing. Reporters must know how to type up a helpful report that summarizes the issues and presents recommendations with grounds. They ought to know how to present it on the floor and do so quickly.

Reporters shouldn’t have to constantly ask, “Do you want me to read this, Mr. Chairman?” Delegates should clearly state that they rise to speak either for or against an issue. I’ve never heard so many delegates preface remarks with “I’m not sure…” or “I just question…” If a delegate questions wording, he ought to come forward with a proposed amendment that Synod can vote up or down. He shouldn’t stand at the mic while delegates try to figure out how to say what he himself isn’t quite sure he wants to say.

Part of this awkwardness is because the URCNA is a young federation, part of it may be because the URCNA only meets once every three years, and part of it may be that many delegates have never attended a Synod before. But whatever the reasons, it is not an efficient way to conduct the business of the church and delegates ought to take the responsibility to become better educated in church polity and to be better prepared before rising to speak.

Synod was blessed for four extraordinary officers: Chairman Ralph Pontier, Vice Chair Ronald Scheuers, First Clerk Doug Barnes, and Second Clerk Bradd Nymeyer. These men fulfilled their roles admirably. Revs. Pontier, Scheuers, and Nymeyer often demonstrated the amazing amount of church order and polity knowledge they store in their minds.

There were many other good things about this year’s Synod. Synod did some very good work that will greatly benefit the churches. As usual the cammaraderie among delegates who came from all over North America, as well as fraternal observers from all over the world, was amazing. Some of these men are very isolated in their ministry or mission work. Some struggle against overwhelming obstacles. It was a blessing for all attendees to gather with like-minded brothers to do the business of Christ’s church.

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