Now that I have some time and distance from Pella, let me share some observations about the atmospherics of GS 2007.
1. Of the 10 General Synods I have attended, this was one of the more restive. From the opening floor resolution that limited staff access to the microphones, through a vote overturning a President’s ruling from the chair, to the ill-considered attempt to uninvite the worship leader, there was a “Don’t tread on me” message from the floor to the front. I’d say the attitude is not generally hostile [with notable finger-pointing exceptions] but cautious and questioning. Some very good questions by persistent inquirers were coming from the floor, notably after the MSTF discussion introduction. [Thank you, Carol and Terry].
The folks up front seemed less than fully prepared for this. With the prospect of a floor fight over the worship leader looming, one can understand some of the fluidity in what are normally very well-rehearsed preparations leading up to the Synod. But at least from the perspective of the MSTF issue, this doesn’t account for it all. The discussion format offered the MSTF members a splendid opportunity to drive home the points set out in the General Secretary’s address the previous evening. They had the personnel up there, with good business backgrounds, to keep pounding away at the “too many layers” theme and make applications of “collapsing the pyramid” to the church structure. All that came forth, however, was one passing reference that seemed a bit too self-focused. During the unexpectedly long Q & A, the MSTF chair was more anecdotal than factual, which, while it accurately reflected the MSTF Report, did not assist his cause at the moment. This opened up an opportunity in brief rebuttal to introduce yet another talking-point about the MSTF’s continuing confusion between restructure and reorganization. It just seems that in years previous, staff would have helped them polish things up and drill the presenters on counter argumentation.
2. Hi-tech also lashed back. The keypad voting was the most graphic illustration, since it conferred a new measure of anonymity to voting. In former times, close votes were resolved by having delegates stand up to vote, while tellers scurried about and the rest of the delegates looked to see who was or was not on their feet. Keypads eliminate this exposure and subsequent recriminations. Of course, we don’t know if the software records the votes of individual keypads or just does blind totals. Has anyone asked that question?
The jumbotron and attendant TV cameras are not new, but I was told during the technical set-up for the MSTF presentation that the screen would cut to my image at the podium in between running the Power-point slides, because the tape was used to identify speakers for the record. This can be handy for keeping the Synod journal accurate and for correcting details of minutes. But a further thought occurs to me. The camera also covers delegates at the mikes, who begin by identifying themselves before they make their comments. Both Minutes and Journal do not cover the details of comments from the floor, yet these are preserved on the tapes, so now they are, in fact, part of the raw record of the Synod. What happens to these tapes after they have been made available for the correction of the written record? There should be a resolution that they be preserved as an accessible part of the denominational archives in digital format. This is the raw material of doctoral dissertations.
The delegate pool is a cell-phone carrying group, but not an IM and PDA group. For that matter, the folks upfront seemed over-reliant on hand-signals between themselves and the tech crew at the rear of the auditorium. This will change over the coming years with still more unanticipated effects.
3. The second day of Synod is the administration’s turn at bat. The GSC-“Our Call” forums are sandwiched between the addresses of the President in the morning and the General Secretary in prime time evening hours. Recommendations may be brought forward by both of the prime addressees but what seemed surprising was that the next morning, it appeared that the Our Call Forums also were bringing recommendations to the Synod. This places them on something of a par with Commissions. I don’t know whether this was questioned, but it should be, if I was hearing things correctly. A commission deliberates all year to formulate its recommendations. The Forums met for several hours and seemed billed as educational activities, which a number of delegates treated as optional, given some of their weather-related early Friday AM arrivals. This may be fodder for some further examination.
At any rate, Mad Monday is now underway at Synod, and it will be interesting to see how this all eventuates.