A church business meeting differs from the typical parliamentary session of a secular group in which Robert's Rules of Order sets the pattern of procedure. Consequently the usual order will be modified, though many of the basic principles of parliamentary law are valid. It will be profitable to note the differences in principle as a basis for the differences in procedure.
In the first place, the church is not democratic. It is not governed on the basis of majority rule with protection for the minority. Rather, it is highly selective in membership and strictly intolerant of minorities. As a consequence, its voice is unanimous on all important issues and tends to be unanimous on small issues. That is, there is a commendable reluctance to proceed with the new roof for the church building as long as there is a distinct opposition. Even such minor items as the repair of the furnace are part of the Lord's work, and as far as possible the church should be united in its program on these small matters.
Because there is no place for a minority faction, the completely.open session is never sanctioned. The business to come before the whole body is carefully prepared in advance by a small group such as the church council. Therefore, the opening of the floor for business which any member may propose is out of place. Problems that come up incidentally, having escaped the attention of the preliminary hearing, are referred back or handed to a committee, unless they can be solved at once by a uniform opinion.
Thus any procedure that hints of controversy should be kept out of the general session. Information, points of view, personal or group preferences, may be aired with freedom as long as there is basic unity of endeavor. But as soon as any sharpness of difference appears, the matter should be referred to, and worked out in, the smaller group.
Parliamentary procedure must be varied in line with these differences in objective. Ordinarily no discussion is possible without a motion before the house. But as soon as a motion is proposed, there is likely to be division. Consequently it is better to discuss a subject rather than a motion at the start. After all are sufficiently informed and opinion is swinging definitely in one direction, a motion is called for, and passed with dispatch.
The position of the chairman is doubly difficult under these conditions, for he has the duty of keeping the discussion limited to the matter at hand without being able to say, "The chair declares this discussion out of order, since it is not germane to the motion before the house." He must always try to avoid any sharp clash of opinion.
The pattern here delineated is currently in use in group discussion rather than parliamentary procedure. Thus, a practice that has long been followed by our church groups has in recent years been validated by recommended procedures in learning and problem-solving groups —discussion followed by the adoption of resolutions or the passage of motions. The, set forms for business should be followed rigidly, however, when the time comes for action. The sequence will be as follows:
CHAIRMAN: It appears that we are now ready for a motion on this question. Will someone attempt to express the desire of the group in a formal motion?
MR. JONES: Mr. Chairman!
CHAIRMAN: Mr. Jones !
MR. JONES: I move that a sixty-day option be taken on the Thirtieth Street building site, that the building-fund campaign be pushed forward speedily, and that the present church property be placed on sale, with possession to be granted when the new building is ready for occupancy.
CHAIRMAN: Is there a second to the motion? MEMBER: I second the motion.
CHAIRMAN: It has been moved and seconded that . . Ca restatement of the motion]. Is there any further discussion or modification of the motion? (Since the major ideas of this motion have been agreed upon during the preliminary discussion, no further discussion will be expected except on such details as the length of the option or the way of designating the time of possession.) Then we may vote on the motion, which is that . . . [a restatement of the motion]. All in favor please raise the right hand. Thank you. All opposed, please raise the right hand. The motion is carried unanimously.
Note the simplicity and directness of this sequence. There are no frills such as "make manifest by the uplifted hand," or "those contrary-minded if there be any."
Note also that the original statement of the motion is idealistic. In practice the motion would more than likely sound like this: "I make a motion that we get an option on the lot on Thirtieth Street, say for about sixty days, and then we can get busy right away on raising the rest of the building money ; that is, the part we're going to have to raise, and the church can be put up for sale—we might as well put it up now and then arrange to give possession when we can get into the new church." It is the duty of the chairman to state such motions in concise form. The secretary will of course take the restatement down verbatim for future reference and permanent record.
Because of the fact that most of the business of the church is noncontroversial, there is a temptation to neglect completeness of form. In the council, in the business meeting, and in the worship hour the careful chairman will be complete and precise, avoiding such careless procedures as omitting the negative vote or failing to take any vote at all on the granting of letters. No action is official until the chairman announces the result of the vote.
The election of officers needs special attention. Here again the procedure is not wholly democratic, but it should ensure against oligarchy or dictatorship. The election of the nominating committee should be conducted so as to avoid quite obviously any effort to keep the incumbents in office. The committee is not a nominating committee in the usual sense of submitting a candidate list which may be supplemented-by nominations from the floor, with a view to competitive voting. Rather, the committee is delegated to select a corps of officers. If it has failed in any detail, the only fitting procedure is to refer the report back for modification, and presentation at a future meeting.
Accordingly, the acceptance of the committee report should be by vote rather than by mere reading, and that vote constitutes the election of the officers whose names have been submitted. The form of presentation is as follows :
CHAIRMAN: We Will now hear the report of the nominating committee. The secretary of the committee, Sister Anderson, will read the report.
SISTER ANDERSON [reads the list of nominees] : Mr. Chairman, I move the adoption of this report, thus electing these officers for the year 1948.
CHAIRMAN: Is there a second to the motion ? MEMBER I second it.
CHAIRMAN: It has been moved and seconded that we adopt the report of the nominating committee, thus electing those whose names have been read as officers for 1948. Is there any discussion of the motion? [At this point, if any member has objections to any of the officers proposed, he may move to refer the report back to the committee.] All those in favor please raise the right hand. Thank you! All opposed raise the right hand. The motion is carried unanimously, and those whose names have been presented are duly elected as officers for 1948.
In these days of inexpensive duplicating methods, it is advisable to distribute the list of nominees to the church members as they enter, thus giving them time to think through the list, and avoiding the need of a rereading at the time the motion is acted upon.
These few suggestions will serve as hints for items of business procedure that come before the church. Precision, completeness, and clarity are the desiderata. "Order is heaven's first law.'