The Future of General Synod: We Must Find the Means
“Nobody wants to hold this meeting less often, and yet we can no longer afford it the way it is currently constructed.”
General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey Black somberly presented the report of a presidential commission assigned by the United Church of Christ Board to consider options for the future of the denomination’s national gathering. As well as doing business, the biennial event renews its participants. It provides a setting to network, a school for practical ministry, and a family reunion.
It comes at a high cost.
The event’s budget is $1.4 million, said Black, but that does not count the expense of national staff time, hours drawn from other ministries, the production of exhibits, or the amounts paid by covenanted ministries. Conferences bear a further financial burden as they fund the travel and lodging expenses of their delegates. With costs distributed so widely around the church, said Black, it is impossible to calculate a total amount. It is certainly more than $1.4 million.
The commission has begun to consider options but has not made specific recommendations. Some options include making the meeting shorter and giving it a semi-permanent home, going outside its primary city once every three years. Another idea is to move the allocation of delegates from conferences to congregations. The added registrations, with costs borne by delegates themselves, should cover the costs of Synod.
Other option is to reduce the amount of business at General Synod and create a prayerful experience, or to change the current resolution process so that the gathering weighs only two or three matters as a true body of discernment.
Black has begun discussions with incoming General Minister and President the Rev. John Dorhauer to enable him to continue work on these recommendations, seeking feedback from conferences and other settings of the church. If the church so discerns, he said, General Synod 2017 will consider concrete changes at its meeting in Baltimore.
“While we love this gathering,” he said, “and I know we all do love and value this gathering, we must find means of financially supporting it into the future in different ways.”
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