by Rev. Dr. Dale Azevedo, Sr. Minister
Not only did I survive my time at General Synod earlier this month, but I enjoyed myself as well!
If you missed my last blog, General Synod is the biennial national meeting of the United Church of Christ. Or, at least, it was. It is now the triennial meeting. But more on that later. At this meeting we receive reports from the national office on the state of the church and our ministries throughout the world. We also pass a budget, elect officers, and evaluate any resolutions that come before the body. Here are some of the things I would like to share with you as I reflect upon my experience:
- The 34th General Synod of the United Church of Christ met in Indianapolis, IN, from June 30-July 4.
- There were 737 delegates representing local churches from 36 conferences. There were over 2000 attendees if you include special guests and visitors.
- We voted on one bylaw amendment, a new General Minister and President, and 14 Resolutions of Witness.
- My shortest scheduled day was Friday, which ran from 12:30 PM – 9:00 PM.
- My longest day was Monday, which ran from 6:30 AM – 9:30 PM.
- It took me three days to realize there were snacks available during our plenary sessions. This was not helpful. I ate too many fruit snacks and Snickers.
One of the highlights of my time at Synod was reconnecting with old, and making new, friends. Many of you may not realize it, but I am an introvert. I REALLY like being alone. After spending each Sunday morning in church, I go home and hibernate. You may be able to imagine, then, what it is like for me to spend 6 days away from home with over 2000 strangers! Fortunately, I was able to carve out time for myself; to be alone or to gather with small groups of colleagues.
While in Indiana, I was able to reconnect with a clergy friend whom I was close with in CT but whom I also lost contact with once I moved to Rhode Island, and she departed our conference staff. About four days in, I found someone who knew her contact information and reached out. We were thrilled to see each other and enjoyed a wonderful lunch at a local restaurant.
I was also able to develop deeper friendships with some of our conference clergy. As one colleague put said to me, “You know, we’ve known each other for years but I don’t think I’ve really ever gotten to know you! This has been great!” And I agreed! We often ate meals together and just found time to hang out. It was wonderful.
Did you ever think your vote didn’t matter? In some cases, that may be mathematically accurate; like when a resolution passes by 600 votes. Did your one vote make a difference? But what happens when over 700 people vote, and the vote passes by literally ONE vote. That happened. When voting on the bylaw change that impacted the frequency of General Synod meetings, the motion needed a two thirds majority to pass. This is always the case with bylaw changes at the national setting. When the votes were tallied, the change was carried by one vote. I don’t think I have ever seen anything like that in my 30 years of ministry! And, yes, there were hard feelings.
As I mentioned above, there were 14 resolutions of witness. These are resolutions that signify the Synod is standing in support of a particular point of view on an issue. I don’t have room to discuss all these resolutions, but you can find them all here. However, below are some interesting highlights I want to mention:
Gun violence prevention
One of our resolutions was voicing our support for Guns to Gardens and other examples of gun violence prevention. During the debate, an older man with white hair and beard came to the microphone. I believe he introduced himself as from the Midwest and happened to be wearing all red (maybe a coincidence?). In summary, he testified saying something like, “I am a veteran. I own guns. I own a number of guns. My wife also owns guns. There is nothing more that we enjoy than going to the range and shooting. I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. Yet, this resolution is an example of reasonable gun legislation that I can wholeheartedly believe in. I urge you to support this resolution!” I share these words because they brought me hope. We can be so polarized on so many issues. Guns are one of them. Yet this resolution and this man’s words told me there can be common ground. I’d like to see people today find more common ground on more issues.
This was, I believe, the only resolution that didn’t pass at Synod. It was also a fascinating experience to listen to the debate and realize the issues presented go much deeper than I thought or realized. One piece of advice we received before flying to Indianapolis was to not prejudge any motion as we may be surprised by the insights presented by other members of our denomination. We are often inclined to evaluate a motion or resolution through our own lens and can learn a lot from those who come from another perspective.
The first thing to acknowledge is that the subcommittee in charge of previewing this resolution made extensive rewrites before sending it to the floor for a vote. The motion we voted on was about 90% different than what was first presented. Changes to this extent are unusual, and in this case, was a factor in the motion being defeated. The amended resolution was much more rigorous and made specific recommendations to local churches (and other levels of the denomination) of policies they should adopt or actions they should take. The more specific resolutions become, the harder it is for them to pass.
Additionally, as I mentioned above, the debate provided some interesting insights into why people would be opposed to this resolution. Arguments against the resolution came in three varieties: financial, economic, and cultural.
- The financial concerns were the ones raised by local churches. People shared that their local church did not have the finances to provide both meat-based and plant-based (salads were condemned as “not good enough” as an option) options at every event.
- Economic concerns were raised by those who represented meat producing communities. These folk lamented meat-packing plants and whole mass-market meat industry, but said their communities consisted of small farmers who relied on people eating meat. These farmers would cease to be profitable, and their churches would close, if they were lumped together with the meat-packing industry (as was the case in the revised resolution).
- Finally, several people criticized the resolution on cultural grounds. They argued that while the resolution was well meaning, it lacked cultural understanding and nuance. The resolution was considered colonialist and dismissive of the eating norms of minority cultures.
As you can see, what may seem a simple resolution supporting a vegetarian diet and condemning the exploitation of animals was far more complex for a great many of the delegates at Synod. Fascinating!
This was the resolution for my sub-committee. It was a resolution lamenting the growing divide between those with access to, and the ability to use, highspeed quality internet and those without. It is a reality in our community, our state, our country, and around the world. Access to technology is creating greater advantages and disadvantages for people of all ages to overcome. The resolution passed our committee and the general plenary easily. However, I bring it up because it was such a weird and frustrating experience. My subcommittee spent a significant amount of time wordsmithing this resolution and debating things like punctuation and grammar. In the end, we spent three hours and forty-five minutes discussing this resolution only to make no changes and pass it unanimously. I honestly thought some people just had nothing better to do than discuss periods and commas for no purpose. Gosh, I love the church!
One example of hilarity (if I wasn’t so frustrated) is the example above. Another example was the next day, when we spent 30 minutes debating a resolution on the floor only to finally vote and find out the vote was over 700 in favor and three opposed. Only three opposed! And yet, we discussed it for half an hour. Oh, and no one raised any objections during that debate. It was just one person after another getting up and agreeing with the previous person. SMH. As I said above, I love the church!
So that’s about it! Synod was a great experience and, although it was more work, I enjoyed being a delegate over a visitor. I was more engaged and invested. However, these are only my reactions. Everyone’s experience is different. If you want to hear more about what happened at Synod or would enjoy hearing some other peoples’ takes the conference published blogs throughout the event that are still available on the conference website.
And, if you want to know more, feel free to reach out to me. Have a great day!