My one and only foray as a synodical deputy (I was an alternate) took me deep into the woods of Northern Minnesota, where the classis now known as Lake Superior was meeting at a conference grounds. It was my only experience of classis in a retreat setting, and my first taste of classical renewal. I didn’t know the classis well enough to gauge how the setting affected the culture of the meeting, but it was a sharp contrast to the way I usually experienced classis.
When I first started attending classis, the meetings were always in a church sanctuary. Delegates sat in pews, facing the front where the executive for the day sat at the table on a platform. Speakers were encouraged to come forward to the microphone but delegates in the last rows still struggled to hear what those ahead of them said. As the day grew longer some (usually pastors, often including me) would stand and fidget at the edges or the back of the room. When I heard an elder comment on the disrespectful pastors, I wondered how farmers who were typically active all day could bear to sit that long.
Meetings don’t often happen that way anymore. In some meetings, delegates are seated around a large horseshoe shaped table. The benefit is that every delegate can see every other delegate. The challenge is finding a room large enough to accomplish this. In other meetings delegates are seated at small tables scattered around the room. This allows delegates to engage with each other at their table, but can make it harder to engage with the whole meeting. Perhaps for this reason, some meetings are split. Devotions, presentations, and examinations take place in the sanctuary, where people can focus on what’s happening ‘at the front,’ while other parts of the meeting take place in a room with tables. Our classis recently met in a church that is redeeming a former nightclub. The faux palm bar and tropical scenes on the walls make for an interesting ministry setting. I would not say that they detracted from the meeting, but I did find that the dim lighting and general noise level made it hard to concentrate.
What I haven’t experienced since that trip into the woods was a meeting at a conference or retreat centre. Our classis’ rules allow for it, but I don’t think the option has ever been exercised. That makes me wonder whether that one meeting was an exception. Have other classes tried this? How did the setting affect the meeting?