Surprises at Potomac Conference Zoom Constituency Session

Surprises at Potomac Conference Zoom Constituency Session

Written by: 
Published:
March 18, 2021

Charles Tapp was elected president of the Potomac Conference on March 14, one of the first African Americans to be named president of a state conference in an area where regional conferences are also present. As pastor of Sligo, the largest church in the conference, Tapp is well known to the constituents, but his election was surprising given the strong leadership of Bill Miller, who has been president of the conference for the past fifteen years.

Miller presided over the first several hours of the constituency meeting in which the reports of the past five years were presented, showing positive financial news and growth of baptisms. The seven hundred and some delegates had each received a large packet of materials 166 pages long that would seemingly answer all their questions. But when it came time for voting on officers and the second round of discussion on changes to the constitution and bylaws, things took a decidedly difficult turn that was complicated by Zoom. Why some changes were being proposed was not explained, and that led to more surprises.

Columbia Union Conference President David Weigley chaired the portions of the meeting dealing with elections, because he had also served as chair of the Nominating Committee. After Tapp’s name was read as the nominee for president, delegates asked for the nomination to be returned to the Nominating Committee. Scores of delegates asked to speak with the committee, and for the next hour and a half, the committee listened to them in a separate Zoom chat room where they were each given one minute to state their objection. Then the Committee returned the nomination of Tapp to the meeting for a second time, again without any explanation. Neither did the Committee offer any reason for why Miller was not re-nominated in the first place. And other than Nancy Lamoreaux, the secretary of the Nominating Committee who read each of the nominations aloud, the members of the Nominating Committee were never identified. This also became an issue.

Under Potomac’s constitution, only five officers are directly elected by the constituency: the president and four vice presidents. The newly elected team consists of Tapp, president; Rick Labate, vice president for pastoral ministries, Dave VandeVere, vice president for finance; Jose Vazquez, vice president for administration; and Steve Laing, vice president for education.

Rick Labate, who has served as an associate for pastoral ministries, was elected to replace Rick Jordan in that vice-presidential spot. Labate was also a non-voting consultant to the Nominating Committee. But the constituents were not told that, or why Jordan was being dropped.  Incumbents VandeVere, Vazquez, and Laing were returned to their offices.

After the president was elected, Jeanine Jarrett, a delegate from the Seabrook Adventist Church, asked for the remaining slate of nominated officers to be referred back to the Nominating Committee, because a woman was not included in any of the positions. Weigley responded that the request had been asked at the wrong time during the meeting and that the entire slate could not be referred back. Potomac Conference has a long history of supporting and ordaining women in ministry and under Bill Miller has ordained and placed a significant  number of women pastors. But the appropriate time never arrived to consider Jarrett’s request, even though other delegates also tried to bring it back. Instead, Weigley said there had been vigorous discussion on the Nominating Committee about women’s representation, and that the situation would be addressed in the coming weeks. Presumably, that would mean as the other positions in the conference office are filled; however, that still would leave a woman out of the top officer ranks.

The question about who the members of the Nominating Committee were came at the point when the names were presented of those who would serve on the Conference Executive Committee. Again, the list of names was simply read with no clarifying information, such as whether individuals were incumbents or newly nominated or had been added from the Nominating Committee itself. At each constituency session about half of the names are usually new. But when Sligo delegate Charles Sandefur asked how many of the people on the list for the Executive Committee had also served on the Nominating Committee, there was no ready answer. After a few minutes of discussion, the chair and secretary eventually suggested that possibly five was the answer. If so, that would likely represent approximately half of the new people on the Executive Committee. Figuring out such a basic question was complicated, because delegates were not informed who was on the Nominating Committee, and when Sandefur requested the list he reported being denied in writing and told the information was unavailable to delegates.

The meeting had begun with a vote to amend the Bylaws to allow for a Zoom meeting. The rest of the Bylaw items came later in the day. Most significantly, without much discussion, the constituency approved limiting the number of delegates per church to 25. It was a surprise to some that this measure passed, because it changes representation from being based on membership numbers to being by congregation. According to one conference official, the measure affects the four largest churches, especially Sligo; its representation, for instance, drops from around 60 to 25, a reduction in representation of 60%. The four churches that are losing delegates, some have noted, are the congregations that are the most ethnically diverse and have been enthusiastic supporters of women’s ordination.    

There were more proposed changes to the Bylaws and they prompted a parliamentary debate that dragged on for over an hour. Eventually, the items were referred back to the Constitution and Bylaws Committee, meaning that they will come back for consideration at the next constituency meeting in five years.

Once the decision to return the items to the Bylaws Committee was made, the meeting was adjourned at 6:30 p.m., three hours past the time originally designated for conclusion. It had been a long day on Zoom with no official breaks. That there were also no official explanations for why major changes were being made, left some delegates saying they felt railroaded into decisions.

Shortly after the meeting was over, the notice of the election was posted on the Conference website. It closed with a quote from newly elected President Charles Tapp: “As we move forward together, we will lean on the promises of Zechariah 4:6, ‘…not by power or by might, but by the Holy Spirit.’ As we move forward into uncharted waters, it is not by us that we will be a success, our success will be totally dependent on God and being attached to the Vine. May God bless the people of the Potomac Conference. As we move forward, we move forward together.”

 

Bonnie Dwyer is editor of Spectrum.

Photo from left to right: Rick Labate (VP for Pastoral Ministries), Dave VandeVere (VP for Finance), Charles Tapp (President), Jose Vazquez (VP for Administration), Steve Laing (VP for Education). Photo by Tony Ventouris, courtesy of the Potomac Conference website.

 

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