Written by Gregg Brekke
After discussion and debate that stretched from afternoon into the evening, delegates to the UCC’s General Synod 28 approved the Unified Governance revisions to the constitution and bylaws by a vote of 613 in favor, 161 against and 10 abstaining.
The UCC’s 38 Conferences will now be asked to ratify the constitutional amendments before the next General Synod in 2013. The amendments will combine the five existing governance boards into a single, 52 member United Church of Christ Board.
Delegates wrestled for quite some time with the desire of some to amend the proposal. Because of the notification requirements of the constitution, the Executive Council had offered a clarifying ruling that substantive changes to the proffered amendments would be rules out of order.
“The General Synod has their own collective insight,” argued the Rev. Graylan Hagler, pastor of Plymouth Congregational UCC in Washington, D.C., and moved to open the debate to allow substantive revisions of the amendments.
Assistant Moderator Caroline Peters Belsom of Hawaii ruled the motion out of order prompting Hagler to challenge the ruling of the chair, putting the decision about amending the proposal squarely in the hands of the delegates. The Rev. T. Michael Rock of Minnesota supported expanding the revision mandate, noting that local churches generally open their bylaws revisions in their general meetings. “What is our authority?” he asked.
Synod delegates, however, voted to uphold the chair, and did so again when the Rev. Madison Shockley of the Southern California Nevada Conference submitted an amendment to a section defining local churches as believing in the “triune God.” Shockley objected to the language because he believed it limited the acceptable theologies of UCC churches. But again the delegates would not consider the amendment.
After over two hours, the plenary session recessed for the evening’s dinner break, and General Synod voters refreshed themselves before returning to the debate. Robb Kojina of Hawaii endorsed the plan, saying, “This structure of governance is a missional model for us to do ministry in a post-modern world, that makes us responsible to discern God’s voice in our settings.”
Ryan Mathews of Ohio, a board member of the Office for General Ministries and active with UCC Disabilities Ministries, was troubled that people with disabilities and LGBT members are left with only one reserved seat each. “It’s a message that’s being sent that it doesn’t matter that you have these gifts, because we only need one token,” he said.
Jeff Whitman, Conference Minister of the Missouri Mid-South Conference, questioned the race and gender allocations specified for the new Board. “I have great trouble,” he declared, “with guaranteeing 50 percent of this board to 10 percent of the body of the UCC. Have you really considered who will be denied a spot at this table because of the color of their skin or their gender?”
Shortly thereafter, the delegates voted to end debate and subsequently voted to approve the amendments to the constitution and bylaws.
If the amendments are ratified by two-thirds of the Conferences, the governing Boards of the Covenanted Ministries and other affected organizations will need to revise their own governing documents to accord to the new constitution and bylaws. The Executive Council will coordinate the process until the formal creation of the new United Church of Christ Board.