As the pandemic continues to impede regular church operations, one of the areas affected is polity. Congregation Councils have moved to synchronous tele/videoconferencing platforms with reasonable success. Holding a congregation meeting poses additional challenges because of the size of assembly and varying degrees of technical proficiency (on the part of the congregation as institution and on the part of the members). What options do we have?
Since the question of business meetings of the congregation
(whether they be of the Congregation Meeting or the Congregation
Council) are temporalities of the church, they are legal questions
that involve both your congregation’s governing documents
(constitution, bylaws, and continuing resolutions) and the laws of
the state/commonwealth in which your congregation is incorporated
(or resides if not incorporated). The details in your
congregation’s governing documents take precedence over anything
said here that is based upon The Model Constitution for
Congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Likewise, our congregations are spread across two states and a
commonwealth. Those state/commonwealth codes are very similar but
not identical. Checking your congregation’s governing documents
for variance from The Model is a good idea. Lastly, Robert's
Rules of Order, Newly Revised, latest edition, is the
parliamentary authority in most (if not all) our congregations. It
includes helpful material for many of the issues we face.
There is a lot to cover in one document. Let’s work backwards,
beginning with the possibility of not holding a congregation
meeting, and save details about how to hold a meeting for Part II.
Condition 1: The business is not a reserved power of the Congregation Meeting.
Response: There are some things that only the Congregational Meeting can do. *C5.03 enumerates them. Take a look. If it is not on that list, the Congregation Council may handle it in its capacity as the interim legislative authority and board of directors of the congregation.
Condition 2: The business is a reserved power of the Congregation Meeting.Q: What about the budget in the absence of a Congregation Meeting?
Response: Look to RONR §40. You have some options. One option is to schedule another meeting (adjourn to a specific time and place); this would be a continuation of the same session. Another option would be to take measures to secure a quorum. For example, if you are only short a few people, you can call delinquent members and ask them to come---good luck with that. The final option should be avoided, but, sometimes, it is the best option: take emergency action and hope the body will ratify it later. This last option is particular risky for a multitude of reasons. Think long and hard before using it. Take seriously the discussion in RONR §40 on emergency action.
Condition 1: The budget that was last adopted had no year attached to it, i.e., there is no year indicated on the proposal and there was no year specified in the motion that adopted it.Q: What about elections in the absence of a Congregation Meeting?
Response: That budget remains in force until rescinded, amended, or replaced.
Condition 2: The budget that was last adopted had a year attached to it, i.e., there is a year indicated on the proposal or a year was specified in the motion that adopted it.
Response: Such a budget has a sunset and expires at the time indicated. The good news is: budgets are not strictly necessary (unless you have a rule in your governing documents that require it). In the absence of a budget adopted by the Congregation Meeting, your Congregation Council can make fiscal decisions on a case by case basis (e.g., the bills can be read out at each Congregation Council meeting with votes on whether to pay the bills…Gettysburg Volunteer Fire Department did it this way). At the same time, the Congregation Council can adopt some continuing resolutions or standing rules that authorize the congregation treasurer to pay certain recurring bills (e.g., subscriptions, utilities, insurance, etc.). In essence, the Congregation Council can adopt a provision budget which expires once the Congregation Meeting acts to replace it. As for the clergy and staff compensation, those require no special action because the last adopted budget is considered an employment agreement. Clergy and staff compensation continues at the rate previously approved.
Next, we will take up how to hold a Congregation Meeting because there are some things that are reserved powers of the Congregation Meeting (e.g., calling a pastor). There are not only considerations for safety but also for good order and compliance with governing documents. If you thought this page was fun, get ready for the next.