The Presbyterians love deliberative bodies.
This was brought home to me once again yesterday, because it was annual congregational meeting day, and also because I have been reading The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, in which one of the central concerns is why we think the unfreedom of various authoritarian arrangements is an inevitable feature of “complex societies” and the adoption of agriculture and so on. The authors of that book work hard and convincingly to demonstrate that our ideas about all that are myths, in the sense of being “tales of changeless truths,” that are not only unsupported but actually contradicted by empirical evidence. Loads of it, in fact.
We wouldn’t describe those deliberative bodies as “autonomous,” exactly, because we have theology that reminds us that we are responsible to God, that Christ is the Head of the Church, and that our deliberations are meant to be about discernment, so that we can follow the leading of the Holy Spirit more nearly. Nevertheless, what that looks like in practice is a bunch of people getting together in a meeting room – which in the case of a congregational meeting is the sanctuary – and moving things and seconding them and occasionally discussing them where discussion seems called for and then voting on them one way or the other.
Democracy, in fact. Because we have the idea that human freedom matters. Indeed, that it is one of those good and perfect gifts that cometh from above, from the Author of Light.
This year, the congregational meeting got an assist from new technology: something called “Meeting Owl” (they have a website, of course), which allowed us to make the meeting hybrid, on Zoom (they have a website, too, as if you didn’t know that already), so everyone who wanted to participate could actually see and hear everyone else, unlike the congregational meting we tried to have hybridly last year where no one could hear anyone. [Well … there are minutes, though; we HAD a quorum.]
Another example of deliberative bodies being able to make changes, not just prevent them.
Innovation, in fact. We Presbyterians don’t think of ourselves as loving novelty. But innovation is more like the same old story than we might think.
I am about to do a new thing;Isaiah 43:19
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
Image: “AMARYLLIS” by Dorian Wallender from Lake Havasu City, Arizona, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons