One of the most interesting events that goes on during the first morning of Synod is election of officers—President, Vice-President, 1st Clerk and 2nd Clerk. Before the days of computer voting, the President pro tempore led that session as nominations were heard from the floor. In some cases voting could take almost the full morning .
While the ballots were tallied to narrow the field, other significant, yet routine agenda items were dealt with—announcements of committee members, schedule of events, visitors and staff introduced and so on. No wonder synods often lasted the full two weeks allotted. You can say this much for all that time spent, though: delegates got to know each other fairly well, if only because they had to sit together for so long.
In recent years procedures have changed. With synods pared down to a week and with the aid of electronic communication, the tense tedium of waiting between ballots has disappeared. Elections are done in one almost uninterrupted process. Usually by 10 AM on the first day the synod officers step to on the podium and the process begins.
But how are officers elected? Nominations may still come from the floor, but most nominations already have been made. Delegates will have submitted their nominations after perusing information sent by denominational staff. They learn from forms all submit beforehand what experience in local, regional or denominational work other delegates have. The forms also ask if delegates are willing to serve as officers. As the Program Committee (previous year’s officers) met in April, I was taken aback by how many first-time delegates were naively willing to serve as an officer. I know from my first few synods that I would never wish being an officer on a rookie. Experience does count.
At last year’s synod I was surprised and a bit shocked to be elected president. I had been nominated on three previous occasions, but never before elected. Of the four officers only one—Rev. Sheila Holmes—had been an officer before. Rev. George Vink and Rev. Bert Slofstra had also been nominated earlier, though never elected. All four of us had attended more synods over the years than we could accurately remember.
Serving as officer is a remarkable experience. At first it is an almost unnerving honour to be entrusted with leading fellow delegates through twists and turns of issues and process for six days of ten hours a day. Not infrequently debates repeat things too often. Spirits and passions often run high. No one or no four people can lead without much help from all fellow delegates, from staff and always from the Lord of the Church. Prayers are often fittingly uttered that God guide our thoughts and words. God’s Spirit seems most of the time to keep delegates respectful while also discussing with humour, humility, winsomeness, candour and engagement even the most potentially divisive of issues.
The best part of being an officer? We were privileged to meet and chat with many interesting people from several nations and churches over lunches and dinners—fraternal , youth and ethnic delegates. (I think we even were served food from some special menus that others never saw!) It was moving to hear other Christians’ experiences and again to recognize that God places us all in different parts of the Church and world not to boast, but to serve faithfully, patiently, hopefully. (The worst part? I never once got to take a noon-time bike ride or run.)
So whom will the delegates and God choose to lead Synod 2012? Several delegates have previously served as officers. Many have attended previous synods. Fewer are first-time delegates than last year. It will be enlightening to watch from the sidelines whom, I pray, God’s Spirit moves delegates to elect. May they all be humble officers and gentlepersons.