Written by Rebecca Woods
Members of the Unified Governance Working Group responded to questions about the proposed revisions to the United Church of Christ’s Constitution and Bylaws, mostly from delegates and visitors who expressed uncertainty or opposition to the change.
As described by Working Group Chairperson the Rev. Bernard Wilson, pastor of the Norfield Congregational Church UCC in Weston, Conn., the governance proposal has five main points:
· Stressing the important role of General Synod,
· Creating a single smaller, diverse, and more active governing Board,
· Moving from a model where board members represent a constituency to one where a group of diverse skills and backgrounds serves the entire church,
· Increases the responsibilities of the Nominating Committee to ensure that diversity, and
· Shifts to a focus on mission, as opposed to seeing governance as mission.
Though questions and answers were respectful in the main, stresses grew clearer as the hour grew later. The Rev. Graylan Hagler of Plymouth Congregational Church UCC in Washington, D.C., argued forcefully against a move away from representational structure, saying, “In the process of unified governance, we have denied the process of creating the United Church of Christ.” Later in the evening, another delegate testified to the pains of the proposal with tears in her eyes.
Some speakers found the twin poles of a board to be recruited based on competencies rather than representation, yet which is also required to have certain proportions of members who self-define as people of color, confusing in some cases and contradictory in others. Others questioned the wisdom of requiring half the at-large members to be persons of color in a denomination where they make up 10 percent. “I’m trying to understand how this artificial diversity is going to help create authentic diversity in the pews,” said one.
Working Group member Will Tanner responded, “We went for proportions that reflect the church we want to see.”
As the end of the line of speakers came to the microphone with the clock turning past the 9:30 closing, a first-time delegate, and one with experience in many churches, brought a comforting word. Accompanied by a woman he’d never met until the day before, who had rolled with him in her wheelchair, he spoke about the trust he’d discovered in the United Church of Christ that he’d never found anywhere else. “I’ve never seen so many people who could disagree, and continue to worship God together.”
And with that, he and his new friend wished the body good night and left the hall.
Synod delegates are scheduled to debate the revisions to the Constitution and Bylaws Monday afternoon.