Resolution on seminary aid sparks most debate at General Synod

It took a while to resolve, but the General Synod of the United Church of Christ voted in favor of a resolution on Tuesday, July 2, which aims to address issues in offering financial assistance to seminary students who are swimming in debt. But how that funding will be implemented is something that remains to be answered, though the answer will likely come at General Synod 2015.

The resolution was the most-debated among those that came before the delegates in Long Beach, Calif., and was amended twice on the floor after the language was altered in committee.

Several delegates thought the amended resolution was watered-down with the modifications to the language. One seminary president, the Rev. David Greenhaw of Eden Theological Seminary, believes the amended resolution “has lost its focus” because the original intent was to create an all-church offering.

Crystal Silva-McCormick, the committee chair and delegate from Iowa Conference, told the General Synod body that Committee No. 5 made changes to the language so as to offer “a resolution that stressed urgency,” she said. “This issue has been making rumblings for over a decade.” In addition, the committee added language that allowed the officers of the church to consider “other funding initiatives.”

There were other reasons for the committee’s changes, including a staggering amount of accruing educational debt and the fact that most seminary students rely on loans for their education. Another reason was the desire to implement alternative methods of funding instead of just asking for a sixth all-church offering, which Silva-McCormick and others noted have declined.

Carol Stanley, a delegate of the Pacific Northwest and a member of the Executive Council, said that adding a “sixth offering when our offerings are diminishing is a real concern to me,” she said. “I think we need to consider that carefully before adding a sixth offering.”

The first amendment from the floor was an alteration to a single word: changing the language from “an annual all-church offering and other possible funding initiatives” to “an annual all-church offering or other possible funding initiatives.” The amendment eventually passed –albeit with a revote because of some clarification to the final language – with 51.3 percent of the votes in favor.

Even the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, the UCC General Minister and President, came to the microphone and spoke in favor of the amendment. “We have studied this carefully and we hold a firm conviction that seminary education is important, and it’s important to find appropriate ways” to fund that education. He claimed the requirement of the all-church offering would “tie the Collegium’s hands,” he said. “We believe the option of special offerings or other options would be helpful.”

The second amendment from the Synod floor asked that the officers of the church explore the feasibility of low-interest loans, with a report to be presented at General Synod 2015. That amendment passed with 51.7 percent approval.

The resolution came to the General Synod floor toward the end of evening plenary on Monday night, and resumed Tuesday morning, debating for about 40 minutes.

Despite all the debate, there was some lighthearted humor to break the tension. At one point, there was one question about how many amendments had been approved to the resolution, to which moderator Libby Tigner jokingly replied, “Don’t you trust me?” drawing a laugh from the floor.

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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