June 13, 2022–from your SDB General Council. News about the novel coronavirus of 2019 became real for many people when governments around the world started issuing stay-at-home orders. Official predictions of short lockdowns gave way to weeks and months of restricted movement and gathering.
In the wake of these extended lockdowns, all manner of meetings shifted online: elementary and high schools, colleges, businesses, churches, and governments. Even the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson hosted official Cabinet meetings on Zoom.
You may have noticed all those online meetings and thought, “If these groups can find a way to meet by Zoom or some similar technology, why hasn’t the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference done the same thing for the annual meetings of our delegates?”
When the 2020 session of the General Conference was canceled, General Council asked a similar question. We explored the feasibility of shifting our assembled business sessions online.
Here is what we found:
The General Conference decided in the early 1980s to organize as a corporation in Wisconsin using the name “Seventh Day Baptist General Conference USA & Canada, Ltd.” When we made that decision, our Conference agreed to operate in a manner that is consistent with the laws of Wisconsin. As part of the incorporation process, we presented Articles of Incorporation to the state and agreed to adopt bylaws.
Along with Wisconsin’s corporation law, our Articles of Incorporation and bylaws establish the legal framework that governs how we operate as a Conference.
Our bylaws declare Robert’s Rules of Order to be the parliamentary authority for our annual sessions—the processes and procedures laid down in the book define the ground rules for how our meetings will be organized. The most recent edition of the book includes a section that explains how to run an “electronic business session.” However, the book also states that an organization’s bylaws must authorize an electronic business session. Without that explicit authorization, the only way to hold a valid meeting is when delegates are physically gathered.
General Conference bylaws make no provision for electronic meetings of the annual sessions. Therefore, General Conference cannot now conduct a legally recognized electronic business session.
While we cannot hold a valid electronic business session now, with the appropriate bylaw amendments, Wisconsin law would permit the General Conference to legally conduct an electronic business session.
Your General Council will explore the electronic business session options available for large deliberative bodies and will likely bring recommendations for bylaw changes to the expected 2023 General Conference sessions. As a reminder, amending the bylaws requires action at two General Conference sessions. Before a bylaw amendment proposed in 2023 could become effective, it would require action at the next session, presumably in 2024.
In the meantime, General Council recognizes that many people have questions about the operation and direction of the General Conference during this extended lapse between sessions. While we don’t yet know the details of how it will work, General Council will work with the Conference Directors to schedule an unofficial electronic gathering of “delegates” this winter—creating a chance for people from the churches of the Conference to engage in discussions about the activity and direction of General Conference ministry. We expect to provide more information about the plans for this unofficial virtual winter gathering over the next month.
The image of Boris Johnson using Zoom was obtained from https://www.flickr.com/photos/number10gov/50877383406/in/photostream/ on 6/6/2022 and is distributed under this license: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/]