Synod delegates prepare for the electronic meeting hall
The Rev. Eric Anderson, a delegate from Hawai’i, attended online General Synod training June 24. He shared this report.
The announcement last summer that General Synod 33 would meet online rather than in a convention hall brought some relief to those concerned about the health and safety of delegates, their families, and their neighbors. It also raised some anxiety among regular Synod-goers, because… technology.
Delegate and others with voice are involved in mandatory training sessions this week to teach them the technical points they need to know for the July 11-18 gathering.
Ghost of Synods past
Technology at General Synods has had its spectacular triumphs and its memorable failures. The great screens and prepared videos have added depth to worship and presentations. They have provided delegates with helpful visual cues about the business before them.
Wireless voting devices, however, rather infamously known as “clickers,” have often failed to persuade their users that they have functioned properly. Concern about their reliability forced a hand count of ballots in 2015.
Any augury about all-electronic voting for 2021 would forecast problems, breakdowns and errors.
UCC planners turned to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which had already held its General Assembly online using an established, 11-year-old tool. In its Synod incarnation as Meet.ucc, the platform verifies delegate registrations, facilitates their participation in debate and provides access to the business matters on the agenda as they develop.
How business will flow
Resolutions revised by committee, for example, will be available to all Synod delegates soon after the changes are reported by the committee chairs. Amendments proposed during floor debate will be visible to delegates, and any text changed by floor action will be adjusted as soon as the support team can type them.
Meet.ucc also provides the moderators with the names of those who wish to speak to an item of business. Rather than gather in line behind microphones, delegates will use Meet.ucc to indicate they wish to speak for, speak against or amend an item. Further options permit offering parliamentary motions such as the one to end debate, or to request a moment of privilege.
The software also gives delegates access to their committee and plenary schedules and will be the portal for the online display area. One thing it does not do is serve as the video conferencing platform. Planners will use a familiar video conferencing application for that, one many people have used extensively and one with a good record for stability in large meetings. Delegates will ask to speak on Meet.ucc, and then address the Synod via a known and tested video service.
During training, delegates responded well to the system as introduced. Jayne Culp, Julia Henderson and Nathan Young of the PC(USA), fresh from supporting last year’s General Assembly, were abundantly clear in their descriptions and quietly confident in the effectiveness of the system. There were some questions that they referred to the help desk.
Nothing will make some of the questions before this General Synod simple matters to resolve. They will require the deep thought and earnest prayers of all participating. The technology underlying the hard conversations should not, please God, be a hindrance to those discussions. When the delegates “arrive,” they will have tools to use and they will know how to use them.
The Rev. Eric S. Anderson is pastor of Church of the Holy Cross, UCC, Hilo, Hawai’i. Though a long-time reporter for the Synod News Team, this year he is a delegate of the Hawai’i Conference.
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