• Dale Miller-Bouton

Forward Chats #21 - September 22, 2019

Bylaws: Question and Answer Session


The Forward Chats on September 22 was once again a question and answer session on the bylaws. There were very few questions this day, and if memory serves, most of them revisited issues discussed the previous week – we of course had a different set of attendees. Those issues are discussed in the notes for September 15.


Articles on Purpose and Faith

When there appeared to be no more questions, Elsie presented a question from the Interim Search Committee. One candidate had really done their homework about us, reading all the Forward Chats notes and also the proposed bylaws. That candidate asked why we had changed the section describing “faith” from the language inherited from the 1950s or 60s to something much less traditional. We spent about half of the meeting on this topic, with the committee first explaining its process. The committee asked for a written account, a version of which follows below since it covers the same material we discussed in Forward Chats:


The Bylaw committee was established in October 2018 and consisted of seven people plus the pastor ex officio. Pastor Fred Meade, who had arrived in July, led the process for five months. The first three months were spent tweaking the committee structure. Then he led us through the existing bylaws paragraph by paragraph from the beginning, tweaking the language. We got through about 20% of the document before mid-March, when the pastor turned in his resignation to the church. The next day he resigned from the committee.


In the last month of the pastor’s involvement with the bylaw committee, we had one discussion about the Purpose, Faith and Covenant articles in the bylaws. Both pastor and committee felt that the existing language no longer reflected the beliefs of the congregation. As evidence of this, for example, during one sermon the pastor asked the congregation to respond to a series of about ten questions about what aspects of Christian belief were most important to the respondent. When he asked whether the concept that Christ died to atone for our sins was important to our personal faith, he was surprised that not one person raised their hand. Most of our members seem to have only a vague understanding of traditional Christian theological concepts, and people tend to be horrified by churches that aim to foster a conviction of sinfulness, that preach the need to be “born again,” or that engage in overt proselytizing.


The pastor volunteered to rewrite these passages in a way that would be acceptable in a church where people held a variety of beliefs and where adherence to one doctrine was not required. “The UCC has no rigid formulation of doctrine or attachment to creeds or structures. Its overarching creed is love.” (https://www.ucc.org/about-us_what-we-believe).


By late winter, the committee had decided to reconsider the organizational chart we were working with. We agreed that the Church needed a Central Board to replace the current decentralized structure. The pastor resigned soon after this change of direction (not because of it!), so in the end, the committee reorganized and rewrote the bylaws on its own. We outlined the entire bylaws under broad topics and worked down from general concepts to specific details, and then refined the language at the end.


The sections on purpose, faith and covenant were discussed and edited in our committee meetings in mid-May. We started over with new language here as in the rest of the bylaws. Our goal was never to be prescriptive about articles of faith but instead to be descriptive about the beliefs that we thought most people really held in our church. We wanted to focus more clearly on the sense of loving community that seems central to our identity, and to have language that was easy to understand and apply to real-life situations. The committee made improvements to the new draft, but the basic thrust was never in dispute, and we didn’t spend a great deal of time on it.


If the new bylaws were passed and the Central Board got to work developing a mission for the church, we assumed that this language would be revisited and probably revised following consultation with a new pastor and wider discussion in Forward Chats. But for the moment, it wasn’t a hot-button issue. Everybody understands that the bylaws are not a monument in concrete, and that they can and will be amended over the coming year, so nobody felt an urgent need to take a theological stand.


And in fact, the definition of faith never came up at all in the discussions and Q&A sessions about the bylaws until the Search Committee read the candidate’s letter asking about it at Forward Chats. After Elsie read the candidate’s question, we discussed the issue for the first time. Nancy read the language in the bylaws aloud on that occasion, which is probably the first time most people in the room paid any attention to it, although it has been publicly available on our bylaw website since July 1. The response in the room at that time was along the lines of “so what’s wrong with that?” We were left feeling as if the current language did indeed reflect the generally shared beliefs of this congregation, though it is quite possible that a deeper and more informed discussion of the topic might lead us eventually to a different statement.


Below are the three versions of the relevant sections on purpose and on faith: (1) the original, (2) the early draft by Fred Mead, and (3) the later draft by the committee.


LANGUAGE DESCRIBING PURPOSE


Original from 1950s or 60s

The avowed purpose of this Church shall be to worship God, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to celebrate the Sacraments; to realize Christian fellowship and unity within this Church and the Church Universal; to render loving service toward humankind; and to strive for righteousness, justice and peace.


Draft by Pastor February 2019

Unchanged.


Draft by Committee, Summer 2019

Our purpose is to live together as a compassionate Christian community, worshipping God, caring for our neighbors and drawing others into our circle of love. How we do that – our mission – is defined from time to time by the congregation.


LANGUAGE DESCRIBING FAITH


Original from 1950s or 60s

This Church acknowledges as its sole head, Jesus Christ, the son or God and our Savior. It acknowledges as brothers and sisters in Christ all who share in this confession. It looks to the Word of God in the Scriptures, and to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, to prosper its creative and redemptive work in the world. It claims as its own the faith of the historic Church expressed in the ancient creeds and reclaimed in the basic insights of the Protestant reformers. It affirms the responsibility of the Church in each generation to make this faith its own. In accordance with the teaching of our Lord and the practice prevailing among evangelical Christians, it recognizes two Sacraments: Baptism, and The Lord's Supper or Holy Communion.


An expression of this faith may be found in the Statement of Faith adopted by the United Church of Christ in 1959 and revised in 1976.


Draft by Pastor February 2019

The Church acknowledges our common belief in the importance of knowing God in our daily walk. Although there are many ways to know God, we hold the teachings of Jesus Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to be our guiding light. We look to be inspired by Scriptures as well as other sacred texts. We affirm the responsibility of the Church in each generation to make this faith its own. In accordance with our denominational traditions we recognize two Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion. We profess that knowing God is a life-long journey.


Draft by Committee, Summer 2019

We choose to live as children of God, even when we doubt. We look to Jesus as the model for our personal lives and for our life together. Through the sacraments of baptism and holy communion we enlarge our community and renew our faith. We are nurtured and inspired by the holy scriptures, and we stand ready to respond to the transforming counsel of the Holy Spirit because we know that God is still speaking,

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