I attended Synod 2010 and was surprised that delegates were told they had to write out motions they wanted to make and bring them to the clerks of synod. Shortly after synod began I made a very simple motion that was understood by the chair and by all the delegates. I did not write it out and was not asked to do so. However, as synod progressed, other delegates were told, “Please write out your motion and give it to one of the clerks and then we’ll consider it.” Some did; some didn’t. Naturally, the discussion moved on while delegates so instructed wrote out their motion and synod, in essence, had to “back up” to consider it when it was finally submitted.
A delegate informed me that Synod 2011 was instructed in the same way. He later informed me, “Some motions from the floor were made today, amendments for the most part. That worked fine, with the chair being generous about the "turn it in in writing first" rule.
My primary concern is not about how “generous” the chair may or may not be. I’m concerned about how this new rule ever became a rule and very concerned about how this new rule affects the deliberative nature of synod.
I understand the intent of the rule. If delegates know they’re going to make a particular motion, it’s very helpful to have the motion on a screen so all delegates can see the precise wording of the motion. And I’ve been informed that the computers now used by each delegate make that very easy to do.
But some motions arise out of the discussion in which synod engages. They are not prepared in advance but result because of something a previous speaker has just said. To tell delegates they can’t make a motion unless they first write it down and submit it to the officers breaks the flow of discussion and discourages delegates from making motions. Any delegate should feel free to make a motion at any time. True, it may take a minute or two to get the motion on a screen, but synod has four officers and a very competent Director of Synodical Services who can facilitate that process.
Another new practice is the elimination of microphones at each table. At previous synods, delegates pressed a button on the console at their table to indicate that they wished to speak to the motion. The console informed them how many speakers were ahead of them and later informed them when they would be the next speaker so they could be prepared. At any time in the discussion the delegates could cancel their request to speak if they judged a previous speaker said what they intended to say.
Now three or four microphones are placed on the synodical floor. If delegates wish to speak, they must stand in line behind one of those microphones. Depending on how many delegates wish to speak to an issue, a delegate can stand there for an extended length of time. Personally, I can easily adjust to this new practice, but I wonder if this is intimidating, especially to first time delegates who normally are hesitant to speak in the first place. That’s an important question since 65% of the delegates to Synod 2011 were first time delegates (59% in 2010; 49% in 2009; 57% in 2008).
We need to make participation in synod as inviting as possible. Telling delegates they must write out all motions before they make them and asking delegates to stand for an extended period of time on the floor of synod if they wish to speak seems inhospitable. I suspect this stifles discussion and harms the deliberative nature of synod.