This week I went to a course on governance, which in part also focussed on running meetings. While the speaker had extensive experience on commercial boards, she now often works with charities, trusts and membership organisations. She told us that what many think are essential procedures at meetings are just tradition, not requirements. For example, most people think that a formal motion needs to be moved and seconded. That is normally not the case. Only very few constitutions or rules require that motions be dealt with in this way. In most cases it is sufficient that the wording of a motion be proposed, opportunity for discussion given and then voted on. And yet, so strong is the tradition that many would dispute the validity of a motion if not done in a certain way. Only slowly are people realising that many of our meeting procedures are more tradition than requirement.
In church life we know only too well that people regard some traditions as absolute requirements. They may have been introduced for a certain purpose, but now people follow them without questioning, just because they think that they must be important.
Once a new vicar in Canada was accused of not distributing communion correctly. In the church it was the custom that the vicar gave both the bread and wine to the congregation as they came up. Unlike the previous vicar, the new vicar did not touch the wall before he offered the chalice to the people. One of the parishioners became so upset at this lack of respect during Holy Communion that she brought complaint after complaint. The new vicar did not understand what she was talking about and so contacted the old vicar. After some thought, the old vicar worked out the issue. In that particular church building he had had a problem with the carpet in the sanctuary. As he walked across the carpet he became charged with static electricity. He knew a spot in the wall where there was metal stud. He would touch this before offering the chalice to the next group of people, so that the first communicant would not get an electric shock as he or she would take the chalice. When explained to her the complaining parishioner could hardly believe that what she had thought was a holy action was just a very practical precaution.
I hope that we can distinguish the truly important from the customary and at times be open to doing things differently. I might use some of the tips from the course for our vestry and parish meetings. Be assured that I will carefully read the statutes so that we do things correctly. For the AGM this year we will need to follow slightly different processes from those we’re used to, because the diocesan statute was amended at the last synod. But more about that later.
Blessings – Tim