Yesterday reminded me why I love the Presbyterians.
We held our mandatory annual congregational meeting for 2021 yesterday.
ASIDE: “Mandatory” says who? The Book of Order, the polity, “the way we do things around here,” the rules.
When people talk about “organized religion,” this is exactly what they’re talking about, whether they know it or not: the kind of religion that includes congregational meetings, and rules for “the way we do things around here,” and rules for how we make those rules, and how we change them.
The kind of religion that has a lot of people in it, and so, politics.
That’s Aristotle: people, the zōoi politikoi, political animals; people, who have “a way we do things around here,” and can’t stop talking about it.
The Presbyterians are known for thinking that there ought to be out-in-the-open, up front rules for that kind of thing – the politics, that is, “the way we do things around here,” including the way we talk about it. Known for thinking that everyone ought to have a say in what those rules are. For thinking that everyone has a responsibility to say the say they have. For thinking this is one of the ways the Holy Spirit shows up.
It wasn’t for nothing that King George III called the American Revolution “the Presbyterian revolution.”
When everyone has a say, and feels responsible for saying it when they have it, objections will be raised.
Yesterday, the objection someone raised was about nominating an actively serving deacon to the Nominating Committee.
ANOTHER ASIDE: The election of the Nominating Committee is one of the main things we do in the annual meeting. It’s usually pretty straightforward. Everyone looks around at everyone else and does a quick calculation about who hasn’t been on it for a few years and kind of mouths and points “Would you …?” and whoever mouths back “Oh, OK” and in a minute or two there are three names on the floor and someone moves and someone else seconds to close nominations and then someone else moves and someone else seconds to elect these members, and then on to the next thing. In more normal times, when we are not meeting by Zoom, the next thing is usually Pastor Who adjourning the meeting with prayer and then everyone drinking coffee together in the multi-purpose room. (Another place the Holy Spirit shows up, that whole process.) This year it was installation of officers, which is a story for another time.
The Nominating Committee is responsible for calling people to serve as church officers, elders and deacons, and presenting a slate to the congregation for election. So, it has a serious discernment task. (Again with the Holy Spirit. Not that I think the Holy Spirit can’t show up wherever the Holy Spirit wants to. Just that there are some places and tasks where people tend to be more alert and aware of that.)
“Congregations by their own rule” determine the make-up of their Nominating Committees, according to the Book of Order. Ours has: one elder who’s serving on Session, who moderates the Committee; one representative from the Deacons; and three members-at-large elected annually by the congregation. The Pastor meets with the Committee ex officio.
So, in the meeting, someone nominates Dorcas [not her real name], and then:
“Erm, I don’t think we can have Dorcas, she’s a deacon.”
“Yes, but as long as she’s not the Deacon representative, isn’t that OK? She’s still a member.”
“Hang on, I’ll look it up.”
As it turns out, the rule in the Book of Order doesn’t say anything about deacons. The rule is that a majority of the members of the Nominating Committee shall not be elders actively serving on the Session.
Which is to say: how we do NOT do things around here is letting people get on the Session and then pack the committee that nominates people to be on the Session.
Which is to say: how we do NOT do things around here is get a little power, and then use that power to keep it away from everyone else.
That seems like a good rule, eh?
Everyone is supposed to keep on having a say.
I love the Presbyterians.
Also, it looked like Dorcas was OK to be on the Nominating Committee, which is a good thing, because we don’t have that many people to do these jobs. So, whew.
Image: “Assertion of Liberty of Conscience by the Independents of the Westminster Assembly, 1644,” John Rogers Herbert, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – admittedly, a somewhat ironic image, given the content of the post