Synod to vote on meeting rules, gender and racial language, ministers’ group
The 2021 General Synod of the United Church of Christ, meeting July 11-18, will consider 11 resolutions and several bylaw changes. This is one in a series of articles about them. Readers can view an initial summary here and find full texts at the Synod website.
Business meetings of General Synod have always followed Robert’s Rules of Order. They might not have to in the future, depending on how the 2021 Synod votes this month.
Not requiring Robert’s Rules anymore is one of several proposed UCC Bylaws changes that delegates will consider this month.
Among other things, the various Bylaw amendments would also:
- Allow the Synod to meet electronically again, if needed, in the future.
- Expand language about Synod delegates and UCC Board members to reflect diversity in gender, gender expression and sexuality.
- Clarify that most at-large members of the UCC Board must be people of color.
And in a separate resolution also involving the Bylaws, delegates will consider formally recognizing the Alliance of Associate Conference Ministers.
Future meetings and their rules
COVID-19 is partly responsible for the two meeting-related proposals: permitting future “remote” Synods and making Robert’s Rules optional.
“One of the things we have learned from the pandemic is the need to be able to quickly respond to changing circumstances and needs,” said the Rev. Carla Gregg-Kearns, pastor of Good Shepherd UCC, Cary, N.C. She chairs the Governance Committee of the UCC Board, which brought all the proposals for Bylaw changes.
“The UCC Bylaws are silent on the use of electronic General Synod meetings and we wanted to explicitly include a provision for electronic meetings,” Gregg-Kearns said. “Our current plans and discussion are with the understanding that this 2021 electronic meeting of General Synod is indeed a ‘special edition’ and we will return to an in-person General Synod. However, we are including this provision to allow for maximum adaptability in the future.”
Robert’s still in effect
Likewise, Gregg-Kearns said, the Board wanted future Synods — whether in person or virtual — to be free to decide how to conduct business. Hence, the proposal to remove the Bylaws’ reference to Robert’s Rules.
However, that widely used from of parliamentary procedure will remain in effect as long as it is specified in another document — the General Synod Standing Rules. “At this time there are no plans to change the Standing Rules provision for using Robert’s Rules,” she said. And, thus, no alternative has been proposed.
But removing the mention from the Bylaws will “eliminate redundancy and allow for future flexibility” should the Board and Synod want to make a change, she said.
“The Standing Rules are more nimble and easier to change than the Bylaws,” Gregg-Kearns said. “It makes the most sense that we spell out our parliamentary process in the Standing Rules.”
The diversity-related changes were requested by the 2019 Synod in a resolution, “Calling On The United Church Board To Bring Bylaws Revisions That Include Non-binary Gender Language.”
Those changes would reword Bylaw paragraphs that describe the diversity of Synod delegates from UCC Conferences. Instead of calling for “affirmative action” and listing specific racial-ethnic groups and women, the Bylaws would now refer to “the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion” and call for delegates to “be representative of people of diverse races, ethnicities, genders [and] gender expressions.”
Changes would also occur in paragraphs describing members of the UCC Board. Some examples:
- “Multiracial and multicultural” would instead become “diverse, equitable and inclusive.”
- “Reflecting the racial and ethnic diversity of society with a balance of leadership between women and men” would be changed to “reflecting a balance of leadership among people of diverse races, ethnicities, genders, gender expressions, and sexuality.”
- “50% or more shall be women” would be replaced by “A majority shall be persons who identify as women, both transgender and cisgender; non-binary persons; or gender non-conforming persons. The remaining members may be persons who identify as men, both transgender and cisgender.”
“The UCCB is pleased to present these proposed changes that bring the language of our foundational documents in line with our core values and mission,” Gregg-Kearns said. “We hope that the proposed language will more clearly articulate an expansive welcome of all genders and gender expressions into the life and leadership of the United Church of Christ.”
‘Voices of people of color’
And while at work on those changes, the Governance Committee also took the opportunity to clarify the racial makeup of the Board’s at-large members. The proposal is to change “50% or more” to “A majority shall be persons of color.”
“The desire of the UCC to amplify and center the experiences and voices of people of color was clear to us, and the current language seemed inadequate,” Gregg-Kearns said. “We wanted to give General Synod the opportunity to explicitly state that the UCC wishes to give not just half but a majority share of the at-large member slots to people of color. This language change is one step we can make in our governance practice as we seek to live counter to a culture of white supremacy that diminishes the voices, leadership and experiences of people of color.”
An online hearing on all the Bylaw changes will be open to Synod delegates and registered visitors who want to learn more. It will also address two other Bylaw changes to the makeup of the Synod Credentials Committee and in references to the UCC’s Common Services Corporation. The hearing will be at 2:30 p.m. EDT Saturday, July 17. Details are at the Meet.ucc portal.
Alliance of Associate Conference Ministers
A separate resolution, if passed, would grant the Alliance of Associate Conference Ministers status in the Bylaws as a “Self-Created Group.” The Bylaws currently list eight such groups. Five are racial and ethnic groupings. Three more focus on mental health, disabilities and LGBTQ concerns. They are “related in covenant to the United Church of Christ, through a primary relationship with the United Church of Christ Board.”
A committee of delegates will take up the AACM resolution — submitted by four UCC Conferences — starting on July 15. For approval, it will require “yes” votes from a simple majority of delegates in a plenary session.
At a question-and-answer section of its website, the Alliance said its members do receive support from national UCC ministries. But formal recognition would help with “justice issues” and a desire for “networking, sharing of resources, and mutual support.”
“Not all Conferences are resourced the same,” the Alliance said. “Some have multiple staff who can support each other on a team, while others are lucky to have one ACM, and even then, may be part time.
“… This can be lonely and exhausting work, because ACMs are prevented from building friendships with local clergy in the areas in which they serve because of necessary and important boundaries. This can be made easier through a means for training, equipping, and networking with each other.”
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