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  • Writer's pictureNancy Rexford

Forward Chats #19 - September 1, 2019

Ten people attended on this Labor Day Weekend. Since attendance was small, we decided to wait to discuss Alternative Worship until another session. Instead people had questions about the bylaws. Topics included:

  • How will elections be handled under the new bylaws?

  • What happens during the transition from the old to the new bylaws?

  • Why is the bylaw committee recommending against making amendments during the congregational meeting on September 29?

Those questions will be answered below. For more information, please visit the bylaw website and attend the presentation during worship on September 15 and the Q&A discussions at Forward Chats on September 15 and 22. We will meet to decide on adopting the new bylaws at the congregational meeting after worship on September 29.


The Bylaw Committee believes that the Congregation should elect the Central Board directly so that the members understand that they are explicitly giving authority and responsibility to a specific group of people. This gives legitimacy and accountability to the Central Board and weakens any argument that it didn’t have the right to make a decision.

Elections, however, raise their own problems. If the number of candidates is equal to or less than the number of open slots, the slots are filled by whoever volunteers, and the election has no meaning. If there are more candidates than slots, we may have bruised feelings and factions.

To avoid these problems, the new bylaws establish a system that puts every eligible church member on the ballot without exception, and then asks the top vote-getters if they are willing to serve, going down the list until all slots are filled. The details for this process are as follows:

Preliminary actions

  • Clerk reviews and amends list of active members in advance of the election so that it is up to date (this has already been done for fall 2019).

  • Central Board collects and distributes information about members’ skills, talents and qualifications insofar as they are willing to provide it, to help people learn about members who are less well-known. We’ve made a first step in this direction by distributing a questionnaire at Worship on Sunday One.

Balloting process

  • A ballot is prepared containing the name of every individual active member (about 144 as of this writing) with a cover sheet providing clear instructions.

  • The ballots are distributed at worship, on the website, by email, and if necessary by mail.

  • They are returned by a stated deadline in sealed envelopes, which must be signed with the voter’s name (to ensure one person/one vote).

  • The names of voters as provided on the envelopes are listed and counted to ensure a quorum (15% of the active members), and then separated from the ballots, so that the ballots are more or less anonymous to the people counting.

  • On the ballots everyone votes in two ways:

1. A vote of confidence (an X) by the names of all members the voter feels would be adequate and acceptable as a member of the Central Board. There is no limit to the number of names that may be checked.

2. A vote of preference for the five people that the voter would most like to see serving on the board (by circling the name).

Tallying the vote

The results are tallied giving 1 point for each vote of confidence and 5 points for each vote of preference and then compiled according to the number of points received, from greatest to least.

Asking top vote-getters if they are willing to serve

Starting at the top of the list, the group conducting the elections (for this transitional election, that’s the bylaw committee) contacts a number of people equal to the number of open positions and asks them whether they are willing to serve. If all open slots cannot be filled from this first group, the next persons on the list, equal to the number of remaining slots, are called and asked to serve, this process being repeated until all open slots are filled. The final list of names shall be presented at the annual meeting and voted into office by acclamation.

Notes about the process

The goal is to arrive at a group of seven people who have the confidence of the congregation and are willing to serve. This group will have legitimacy because they are as representative as possible.

The chief point of confusion during the Forward Chats conversation was that some people felt they should take into account whether a candidate might be too busy or simply not want to do the work. But it is not the voter’s job to figure that out. The voter’s job is to identify people with good leadership ability. Whether a candidate feels able to serve is a question for that candidate, not for the voter. The ballot is only the first of a two-step process:

STEP ONE – is to rank all our members in order of our confidence in their leadership ability (not their availability). ALL names of eligible (i.e. active) members are on the ballot. Voters are NOT being asked to guess whether those people are willing to serve. That is not their job

STEP TWO – is to find out which of the top preferred people are available. We don’t ask the members at large, we ask the people directly who are at the top of the confidence list whether or not they are willing and able to serve.

Another question was whether members could publicly indicate their interest in serving on the board. The answer is yes, though the bylaws do not require that. If we wanted to do that formally, we’d have to invent a process – this would probably happen as part of the information-gathering process.


A plan for the transition is built into the new bylaws. They permit all current officers, boards, and committees to remain in office until the Central Board is elected and has time to establish the new system. The congregational business meeting to elect the new board and officers will probably be held on Sunday October 28, and most of the transition will occur between then and Christmas.

The first working teams are likely to be the same as our current boards and committees. Any immediate reorganization will be discussed with the existing groups in October and early November. Some current boards may eventually choose to divide. For example, the current Prudential Board may prefer to divide into Finance, Property and Investments. Property may find it convenient to divide into Maintenance and Rental Oversight. This may not happen all at once, but gradually the current groups will decide on the most efficient way to get the work done. Likewise, Deacons could divide into smaller groups overseeing communion, Sunday worship coverage, visitation, new member development and coffee hour. People on any of these smaller committees do not have to DO all the work. They just have to make sure it gets done. Gradually, as the new system takes hold, our hope is that the work of the church will get done more efficiently, with fewer people who feel greater ownership but spend fewer hours of meetings while creating significantly greater impact.


The Bylaw Committee recommends that the Bylaws be adopted as they are, without changes, in their entirety, at the September 29 Congregational meeting. There are two reasons for this recommendation:

(1) Amendments to any one article made spontaneously from the floor may affect or conflict with elements in other articles, and the resulting document may turn out to be inconsistent, unclear or ineffectual.

(2) Our current bylaws require us to follow Robert's Rules of Order, but Robert’s process for amending a complex document is very laborious:

1. Read the bylaws out loud in their entirety (23 pp)

2. Read aloud and discuss the first paragraph.

3. Propose amendments to the first paragraph, amend the amendments as needed, and settle on exact language.

4. Vote on all amendments to the first paragraph.

5. Continue this process paragraph by paragraph

6. At the end, call for amendments that add new sections (as opposed to amending material already there). Discuss, amend, settle language and vote on each suggested amendment to the whole.

7. Finally, vote on the entire bylaws as amended.

Spending an average of just 5 minutes on each paragraph would require more than ten hours of meetings to get through it – perhaps many more. Assuming two congregational meetings in most months, it would be Easter before the bylaws could be passed and elections held – assuming we were able to maintain a quorum for all those meetings. Spring is a poor time of year to launch a new system, so in effect, using this process would delay us until fall 2020.

Process recommended by the Committee

Recognizing that changes will almost certainly be needed, we suggest the following process:

1. Begin the Sep. 29 meeting with a motion to consider the bylaws a whole, rather than paragraph by paragraph.

2. During the discussion, instead of making formal motions to amend, members make informal suggestions for later action, writing down their ideas on a simple form that we will provide.

3. These forms will go to the Central Board when it is elected. The Board can present them for public discussion in Forward Chats. If the consensus is favorable, they can be presented for a vote at a congregational business meeting. If the Central Board does not wish to sponsor the amendment, any 5 people in the congregation who feel strongly about it can call a meeting to bring it to a vote.

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