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Topics of interest to Clerks of Session, Session Moderators and others who are interested in Presbyterian local-church governance.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Reaching Out Online

When the Apostle Paul set out to grow the church, he relied on the best technology available to him: papyrus and pen for letter-writing; his stentorian voice, strong enough to be heard by large crowds; and ships equipped with the most up-to-date nautical gear to transport him (and his voice) to distant cities.

We’re not so limited today, of course – which is becoming even more true as the full impact of the computer revolution becomes evident throughout the church. By some estimates, as many as 75% of church members are now online (a figure that’s likely even larger in our part of the country, with our excellent broadband and wireless connections).

The possibilities for outreach are multiplying rapidly – especially if the goal is to reach the younger generations.

Even though none of us were tapping on personal-computer keys before the late 1980s, we can now speak of successive waves of digital technology. (Ask today’s high-schoolers which is their preferred mode of communication, email or texting, and you’ll get the idea.)

Lots of books are out there, advising churches on how to communicate in this brave new world, so it’s always nice to find a good article that’s free. You can read the article, “Moving Online: Faith Formation in a Digital Age,” by Julie Ann Lytle of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts online, or click on this link to see the page on which it was originally posted (scroll down to “Latest News”).

What’s your church doing in this area that’s been working for your people? Click on the “Comments” link just below, and let us know. Let’s get a discussion going!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Check Your Church's Wireless Microphones

OK, this item may seem a bit far afield from Clerk of Session concerns, but it does have to do with legal matters - so, I figure it's worth mentioning.

I've recently learned, from alert reader Bill Morris, that an FCC-imposed deadline is looming for any churches that use wireless microphones that broadcast in a certain frequency range. The government has reassigned that range - the 700MHz range, which extends from 698 to 806 MHz - to certain public safety agencies (police, fire departments, first aid squads, etc.). It can no longer be used for wireless microphones after June 12, 2010.

A series of special web pages on the FCC website provides more detail on this. The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page at that site warns that serious consequences could result from continuing to use wireless equipment in this frequency range: "Using the 700 MHz Band for a wireless microphone (or similar device) after June 12, 2010 could be extremely dangerous and could even be life threatening. Police and fire departments, and other public safety groups, use frequencies in the 700 MHz Band. Interference from wireless microphones can affect the ability of public safety groups to receive information over the air and respond to emergencies. Harmful interference to these communications could put you or public safety personnel in grave danger."

If your church has a sound system, chances are there's a "techie" member who takes charge of it. It would be a good idea to remind that person to check any wireless microphones the church may have, and make sure none of them broadcasts in the 700MHz range. In some systems, the microphone's frequency can be seen on a little digital window in the microphone's battery pack. In others, it may be engraved on a small plate attached to it, or perhaps on the base unit.

In some systems, the frequency can be recalibrated by the user. In others, the unit may need to be sent in for service. In a few cases, it may be necessary to purchase new equipment.

If your wireless system is fairly new, chances are it's just fine. This change has been known about for several years now, and many microphone manufacturers have been planning for it. If your wireless system is an older one, though, there could be a problem. It's worth looking into.

More information may be found in this online article from Christianity Today magazine.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

No Such Thing As a Friendly Amendment

Sometimes, during debate on a motion, a member of the body will say, “I’d like to make a friendly amendment.” Now, doesn’t that sound like downright congenial? Too bad there’s no such thing in Robert’s Rules.

What movers of such an amendment typically mean is that they don’t anticipate any objection from the mover of the main motion. They’re suggesting some minor change in wording that they figure will make the main motion more likely to pass. Often, the mover of the motion will respond by saying, “I have no objection to that change in wording. In fact, I wish I'd thought of it. Can we just incorporate it into my motion?”

Moderators who are running a tight parliamentary ship will blow the whistle at that point, reminding the body: “There’s no such thing as a friendly amendment. There are only amendments, and all amendments are created equal. We’ll need to vote on this amendment as we would any other.”

So – you may be wondering – what’s the big deal? If the mover of the motion is happy with it, and the seconder has no objection, why not just allow a quick adjustment in wording? After all, doesn’t the motion belong to the member who made it?

Not any longer. Robert’s says that, as soon as debate begins, a motion no longer belongs to the mover. It belongs to the body, and only the body can make changes to it.

Now, I realize that may sound, to some, like parliamentary hair-splitting. But, there’s a good reason for it. Maybe some other members of the body like the original motion just fine, and don’t think the “friendly amendment” is a good idea. If the “friendly amendment” sleight of hand is allowed to proceed, those members have just lost their right to be heard on the subject. And that’s not something Robert’s Rules will allow to happen.

It’s similar to the situation in which the mover of a motion asks to withdraw a motion. Usually this happens after the mover has heard some of the debate, and has become convinced the motion isn’t such a hot idea after all.

The proper parliamentary answer to that request is: “I’m sorry, but once a motion is made and seconded, it belongs to the body. You are certainly entitled to speak against the motion you’ve just made, but we’re still going to have to vote on it, once debate is ended.”

Again, the reason is that some other members of the body may be more enthusiastic about the motion than even its mover. Some of those folks may have been thinking, as the motion was made, “Yes! That’s just what we should be doing.” Maybe some of them are just champing at the bit, now, to get up and wow the body with their eloquent oratory, but – slam, bam! – before they know it, the motion they like so well is no more. And, it happened without so much as a vote!

Robert’s Rules is very protective of the right to free and open debate. A duly made and seconded motion can only be dealt with – whether approved, denied, changed or referred – by the body itself, not by any individual members (no matter how “friendly” they may be).