Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Some Initial Reflections on the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance

Since returning from the North Wisconsin District Convention, I now feel I can spend a moment or two reviewing some of the proposals for the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance (BRTFSSG). As with the other district conventions, a representative from Synod presented a survey form for the delegates to complete reflecting their views on the proposed changes. My initial reaction was not positive, but mainly because I was being asked opinions on matters for which I had not yet spent any time contemplating. The discussion of the points in the BRTFSSG only came after we filled out the survey, not before, which felt backwards and somewhat counterproductive, especially for those just now hearing about these changes (which would mainly involve the laity in this case.) Needless to say, I filled out most of the survey with noncommitted responses.

For what it is worth, here are some of my initial reactions to the proposals. My blog report will probably require more than one post. You can read information on the entire BRTFSSG online at the Synod's website here.

  • An effort is being made to increase representation while still reducing the overall number of delegates. The reasoning behind the latter is a matter of cost-effeciency. Makes sense to keep costs lower. We encourage faithful stewardship at all levels. However.....
  • My first concern with the change in representation involves skewing it in favor of one group, the "mega churches." The proposal allows for extra delegates from congregations of 1,000 or more members. By increasing delegates from these larger parishes, we will reduce in input of smaller parishes. Right now much of the tension in Synod involving such important matters as worship seems largely concentrated in the move of the mega churches toward an evangelical, non-liturgical model, verses the smaller churches that often hold fast to the hymnal. While tension is not always desired, we need to retain it at this level if the identity and direction of Synod is not to be lost to the evangelical-leaning sectors.
  • Currently the majority of Synod's congregations (and membership?) still remains composed of parishes under 1,000. Thus, would it not make greater sense to keep the structure as is, so as to maintain the balance and more truthfully reflect Synod as it is?
  • While I understand the need to reduce numbers for the sake of cost savings, I am still concerned about the lessening of representation. Should dollars end up trumping our need for adequate input as we discuss the important matters of Synod's teaching and structure?
  • It is proposed to hold Synodical conventions every four years instead of three. The idea here involves a cycle of: Year 1: Circuit convention/forums, Year 2: District convocation/conferences, Year 3: District Conventions, Year 4: Synodcial Conventions. It is hoped that such a cycle would increase and broaden grassroots involvement, as well as allow more time for implimentation of synodical convention actions. Possibly. Not necessarily a bad idea at first brush. My natural concern is the need to wait one additional year to effect change when there is dissatisfaction with the current direction of Synod.
  • It is proposed that we encourage future resolutions to district and synodical conventions to come from larger groups such as circuit forums and conventions instead of the current practice of allowing them from individual congregations. The reasoning here involves the desire to increase grassroots involvement and improve the quality of the resolutions. Again, makes some sense at first brush. Yet once more my natural fear concerns a decrease in representation from the true grassroots of Synod: the individual congregation. It may not always be as effecient or tidey, but is this the top priority over true representation?
  • Regading doctrinal resolutions and statements the BRTFSSG recommends that all such statements require a 2/3 vote for adoption. Considering the weighty nature of such statements and the usual divisness experienced in Synod over the years on these matters, this proposal requires more serious consideration.
  • It is proposed to discontinue "electoral circuits" and restore the administrative structure of circuits back to their "primary purpose" of visitation.
  • The circuit counselor (CC) would then be appointed by the district president (DP) instead of elected by the circuits themselves.
  • Convention delegates would no longer be chosen at this level either.
  • To be fair the BRTFSSG stresses the involvement of the congregations in this process, even as their official vote is removed.
  • Since the CC works as a direct representative of the DP it seems to make sense that he would have a prominent say in who serves in his stead.
  • However, my concern here is the removal of the direct and binding voice of the churches themselves in choosing the pastors and laity representing their concerns.
  • The balance between electing and appointing would potentially be upset with such a move, allowing, it appears, more centralization of control and power at the administration level. I would vote to leave the circuit alone, retaining both their electoral and visitation functions. Personally, serving now my second term as a CC, I don't see here where the system is broken.
End of Review -Part One.


Brian Yamabe said...

In the CNH, allowing the DP to appoint the CC would go a long way in snuffing out any remnant of confessional Lutheranism. My pastor is a CC and he has no illusions that he would remain so if Dr. Newton had his say. I don't know how the BRTSFSSG can say they are congregationally focused when they are removing congregational say in who their CC is.

Don Engebretson said...

I understand your concern, Brian. That is why I am also concerned about this proposed change. There is a balance of influence at the present time which a direct appointment process would upset. Although I hear the need to streamline and make the system more efficient and cost-effective (be good stewards), I still worry that the end result will be a greater centralization of power in fewer hands.

Our national government as structured is not what we would call a truly streamlined and efficient organization, but it was not designed to be so. It was designed to allow for a division of power with a checks-and-balances catch built in to protect any one branch from dominating the decision making process. We can see with one party in power now how even this structure can work against the founders design. One can only imagine if everything was under only one branch. So too with Synod. It would seem that keeping the CC elected by the people he most directly serves would help in maintaining this balance.