At a smoothly executed constituency session on September 25 where all the incumbents were reelected without comment, the largest amount of total conference tithe ever received was reported ($46.4 million in 2021), four new congregations were voted into the sisterhood of churches—Sacramento Ukrainian, San Leandro Spanish, Sacramento Fijian, and North Highlands Spanish—and an important initiative to address homelessness took center stage, the most discussed item on the agenda went down to a very narrow defeat.
Image credit: Northern California Conference
One of the unique aspects of the Northern California Conference Bylaws is a provision for delegates to place an item on the conference constituency meeting agenda. The item must be approved at the local church in a business meeting before being sent on to the conference in a timely manner for inclusion on the agenda.
In the past, this provision has set the stage for some unusual constituency discussions. Among such items on the 2018 agenda were: “an upper room experience of coming together on the unifying authority and power of Scripture,” “that the NCC Executive Committee report to the constituents the measures they take and have taken when our official beliefs and practices have been publicly violated in our universities,” and “to cease the implementation of the Executive Committee votes of August 22, 2012, and December 3, 2014, pertaining to ordination without regard to gender in order to be in harmony with the World Church as represented by the General Conference session of July 8, 2015.” Some of these items proved to be contentious, so the bylaws committee subsequently went to work to amend the process.
The proposed new amendment added the conference executive committee into the initiative process, allowing it to evaluate the relevancy of a proposed item: if it pertains to a substantial portion of the churches or the conference as a whole, and whether it has been on the agenda in the past and a compelling reason has been given for its reconsideration. The item also should not pertain to confidential conference employee personnel matters or require action that is unbiblical, illegal, immoral, unethical, or unfeasible. Alternatively, if a church wanted to place an item on the agenda but did not want to work through this executive committee process, it could find 10 churches to join (by approving in business session) in submitting the item for placement on the constituency meeting agenda.
Presenting the new amendment for consideration, Judy Iversen, bylaws committee secretary, pointed out that agenda items should “affect the conference as a whole.” The agenda is not a forum for local issues or things that would be better handled in another forum. She said the committee spent a lot of time in discussion about how to accomplish that. “The committee considered the rules for calling special sessions (for instance), that require 30% of the conference’s 148 churches.” By contrast, finding 10 churches—about 6.7% of the conference’s 148—didn’t seem like a high bar.
Delegates disagreed about the number of churches required. There were amendments proposed to the amendment—first a suggestion for three churches and then a suggestion of six were defeated. At that point, President Marc Woodson called for a vote on the proposed amendment itself, with two-thirds yes votes required for approval. As the electronic vote of 310 yes to 163 no votes rolled across the screen, everyone waited for someone to do the math. The yes votes were 65.5%, just shy of that 66% required, and so the amendment went down to defeat. The current process remains, as described by Section 6, A of the bylaws: “Delegates shall have the right to place items on the agenda, as recommended by their respective church in business session. Agenda items should relate to issues impacting the Conference as whole. All such agenda items must be submitted in writing to the Chair at least sixty (60) days prior to the session.”
That was the only of the 10 proposed bylaws items to be defeated. Clarifications of the conference boundaries, the composition of the nominating committee, and the ways in which notification of meetings would take place all won approval. A surprising discussion did arise about the diversity proposed for the nominating committee. While diversity itself was acknowledged as good, several delegates did not want that diversity to be specified. Others responded that the details were the point. The newly approved language includes: “There shall be representation on the Committee from varied backgrounds, considering such factors as age, ethnic origin, locale, vocation, gender, or any other category deemed appropriate.”
For more information about the meeting from the Northern California Conference website, click here.
Bonnie Dwyer is editor emerita of Spectrum
Title image credit: Northern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
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