Single governance proposal will not be presented to Synod
Written by J. Bennett Guess
March 23, 2009
A proposal to form a single governing board for the national setting of the United Church of Christ came to an abrupt halt on March 20, after the board of Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) voted 17 to 14, with three abstentions, not to move the process forward.
Meeting March 17-23 in Cleveland, the UCC's five autonomous boards were expected to consider wording changes to the UCC Constitution and Bylaws that would be brought to General Synod 27 in Grand Rapids, Mich., in June. Each of the five boards, including JWM, voted last year to take the governance changes to General Synod for approval.
"No matter what the outcome of our vote had been, I would have to stand before you and report there is considerable ambivalence on the Justice and Witness Ministries board," the Rev. John Gregory-Davis, pastor of Meriden (N.H.) UCC and chair of the JWM board, told a joint gathering of the boards. "We are not of one mind on this."
The boards of Local Church Ministries, Wider Church Ministries and the Office of General Ministries each voted overwhelmingly in favor of the proposal.
The Rev. John H. Thomas, general minister and president, said the delay was difficult and unwelcome news for many members of the boards, who have been engaged in the process for more than three years and at a cost of $246,543 in legal and meeting expenses for two differently constituted task-force groups.
"The inability to move at this time to a more coherent and effective governance structure is unfortunate at best," Thomas told United Church News. "The need for change remains and those who will lead our national ministries beyond General Synod will have to find ways to affect that change even as the pressing questions about our governance are delayed."
In her report to the Executive Council on March 23, Associate General Minister Edith Guffey said, "It is a challenging system at best and an exhausting system at worst."
Proponents have argued that, as the national setting is currently configured, the presence of five distinct boards and staffs makes strategic planning and comprehensive budgeting difficult, if not impossible. Supporters also have maintained that a smaller 86-member board, as proposed, would be more effective and efficient than the 250-plus persons who now serve in governance positions.
However, some in JWM still have concerns that centralization of power is never good for those in the margins and is not in keeping with the UCC's longstanding tradition of decentralized authority, Gregory-Davis said.
Even though women and people of color were to comprise more than 50 percent of the proposed single board, some opponents have argued that direct representation from the five organizations of historically-underrepresented racial/ethnic constituencies was not sufficient.
On the final day of its meeting, the Executive Council defeated a motion from its organizational life committee that would have asked the JWM board to reconsider its decision in hopes of still allowing the process to move forward as planned. Several spoke to the motion saying they felt it would be an untenable request given the short timeline and the emotionally charged atmosphere.
The Rev. Jim Moos, pastor of Bismarck (N.D.) UCC and chair of the Executive Council, said the impasse that now exists between the five boards is "symptomatic" of why the single governance proposal is needed.
"This has been a difficult and painful ride for those who serve in governance, and this has been a difficult and painful ride for staff as well," Moos said.