Written by Gregg Brekke
A General Synod 28 committee will recommend that the main body take “no action” on a proposal to reduce the frequency of the national body’s meeting.
The move will also ask the executive council to create a working group to explore the question of frequency and provide information for action at a future synod.
A proposal submitted by the Illinois South Conference would have changed the UCC by-laws to hold regular meetings of the General Synod every three or four years.
While committee members were sensitive to the growing financial costs of holding General Synod, opposition to reduce frequency typically concerned the loss of community experienced at General Synod and the impact on Synod youth programs and activities which help nurture future leaders. In addition, suggestions to incorporate technology as a substitute for meeting failed to allay fears that an important sense of being “church” would be lost if delegates and visitors were not physically present and engaged with each other.
“General Synod is an investment in the future of the church,” said Ken Wells, a delegate from the Iowa Conference.
In delaying a decision the committee hopes that a future synod has more information on the financial impact of reducing frequency on finances, programming and the ripple effect on other constitution and bylaws that depend on a biennial gathering.
According to the proposed resolution, costs for staging General Synod rose 115 percent between 1981 and 2003. At the same time, each General Synod generates work for national staff members who are asked to implement Synod actions, work that is being performed by fewer people due to staff reductions in Cleveland.
As part of their report to General Synod, the committee’s is expected to make three recommendations. The first is to state the earliest such a change would occur so that any action would have no impact on the General Synod 29 planned for Long Beach, Calif., in 2013. Without that clarification, the proposal would be in effect at its adoption.
Second, the committee will then recommend “no action” be taken on the proposal.
Finally, the committee will ask General Synod to direct the Executive Committee to explore ideas for reforming General Synod.
Kevin Manz of the UCC's Executive Council stated that a four-year interval would have a “significant impact” on youth events. Other committee member concerns were raised about youth involvement - four-year cycle would mean that a youth could only attend one synod rather than two - and if other national gatherings would also reduce frequency in response to this action.
Numerous conversations about the frequency of General have been held throughout the years and a previous resolution on frequency in 2003 failed to pass. Following that action, however, the Executive Council created a “form and function” committee to explore ways General Synod could “promote the ministry and mission of the United Church of Christ.” That report, presented to General Synod in 2005, suggested some changes for General Synod 26 (2007) as part of the UCC’s 50th anniversary, such as suspending the standing rules regarding resolutions, and to gather comments on effectiveness of those changes.