Do Congregational Members Under 18 Vote?

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We recently approved children participating at Lord's Supper if they have made an age appropriate profession of faith. Is their a guideline re: voting at congregational meetings if someone is a professing member and is under the age of 18?

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Though one would want to solicit input from all members in the congregation, the question of voting vs professing membership probably boils down to what the church Constitution & Bylaws define as who has voting rights which is guided by civil law. Church Order, Articles 4-c and 37 perhaps also give some guidance inasmuch as they refer to "adult" and "entitled."

Participant

Historically, churches in the Reformed tradition including ours have always held the position that approval for and making a profession of faith gave persons the right to "adult membership" and therefore also to vote at congregational meetings.  We call them "confessing members" (Article 59-b, CO) who have "the right to vote" (Article 59-c).  Synod currently leaves it up to the local congregations to determine "the appropriate age at which a confessing member shall receive such privileges and responsibilities" (Supplement, Article 59-c).  If no age is mentioned in any congregational decisions or by-laws, the age of 18 doesn't apply.  A person could make a profession at age 16, for example.
The only reason why for a time the CRCNA had a provision in the Church Order that actually mentioned the age of 18 was due to synodical decisions on children at the Lord's Supper.  For a time, synod decided that our members could make an "early profession of faith" and be admitted to the Lord's table -- the typical age was somewhere between 9 and 12.  They would then meet with council again, somewhere around their 18th birthday, be interviewed regarding their understanding of privileges and responsibilities of confessing membership, and be granted the right to vote.  Sometimes this was done in the council room, sometimes it was celebrated in public worship and those who had shared communion with us could then be officially welcomed before the congregation and its Lord.  Synod later decided that "all baptized members who come with age- and ability-appropriate faith in Jesus Christ are welcome to the Lord's Supper ..." (Article 59-a).  It then went on to say that "baptized members shall be encouraged to make a public profession of faith ..." (Article 59-b).  What that means in practice is that the age for making profession was once again moved to "somewhere around 18" without any definitiveness about that number, just like it had been the case for centuries.  So now, in my congregation, children are prepared for participation in the Lord's Supper in their children's worship centers -- at the time where they no longer leave half-way through the service, usually at age 7 or thereabouts -- and thereafter take communion with us.  Then, at around the time of high school graduation, the church prepares them and encourages them to make public profession of faith (which they now haven't done at a younger age).
So with regard to the right to vote at congregational meetings, we're right back where we started centuries ago. [☺]   Though now they can have communion based only upon their baptism and some initial instruction.
The only caveat to all this is that churches not only need to follow the Church Order but they also adopt their own Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws.  Synod has a model for that (Supplement, Article 32-d), but what is legally operative is what the individual congregation has adopted and filed(hopefully it follows synod's model).  It is possible that a given congregation might spell out an age where a person is granted the right to vote.  It is not likely, but it is possible, and that should be investigated.  The congregation could always change that again, but one must go by what's on file currently in the province or state in which the church is located.  The model Articles say in Article VII only that a congregational vote is obtained "at a meeting of the members present and entitled to vote."  So that leaves it to the Church Order and local council to decide ecclesiastically rather than the more legal route of Articles of Incorporation.  Typically provinces and states allow congregations to decide this matter in its own way without dictating any particular voting age.  That is, of course, unlike the voting age in the political sense.
 

Henry,
Thanks for the detailed history and explanation.  

I do have a copy of the Articles of Incorporation filed in 1957 (no mention of what constitutes membership) but I do not have any Bylaws, and the state of California only has Articles of Incorporation.  My next step is to see if any of our members know where there might be a copy of the Bylaws.

Participant

Bill,

I have run into many congregations that have only filed Articles of Incorporation and not Bylaws.  In fact, quite a number of them have never even adopted Bylaws for themselves, let alone file them along with the Articles.  So if there are none on record in the church office or in the possession of the clerk, don't be surprised.

 

Henry's observation "So that leaves it to the Church Order and local council to decide ecclesiastically rather than the more legal route of Articles of Incorporation.  Typically provinces and states allow congregations to decide this matter in its own way without dictating any particular voting age" is more than a little problematic.

Members who have "voting rights" would also be able serve as council/board members who can enter into legal contracts, hire employees, etc. which individuals under the age of majority, i.e. under guardianship cannot do. 

As such, civil law overrides ecclesiastical law. Or to put it another way, ecclesiastical law needs to follow civil law. In the same way Church Order, Article 27 requires council members to comply with the law, e.g. "Although full consideration shall be given to the judgment expressed by the congregation, the authority for making and carrying out final decisions remains with the council as the governing body of the church, except in those matters stipulated otherwise in the articles of incorporation or by law."

Regarding the matter of Articles of Incorporation (Constitution) versus Bylaws, the province of British Columbia has recently brought into force a new Societies Act which will require all NGO's, e.g. churches to revise their Constitution & Bylaws. Most matters that were formerly included in the Constitution will be required to move into the Bylaws.  

 

Participant

Thanks, Lubbert, for the caution.  I do respectfully want to offer my opinion that there is a huge difference between being eligible for service as council/board members and actually being nominated to serve in that capacity.  I have huge doubts about a council actually asking a 16-year-old to serve.  I think ecclesiastical law needs to follow civil law, as the newly adopted version of Article 27 of the Church Order says, but there are also ways in which ecclesiastical law is our supreme guide.  Typically, civil law stays out of ecclesiastical matters and only guides us in financial matters so that we comply with regulations pertaining to charitable organizations.

 

 

Appreciated Henry.

Nonetheless, if a 16+/- old person is a person awarded "eligible voting" rights in a society, i.e. church they are still entitled to serve on the board/council regardless of whether the council asks or not. If their name were to be put forward, to cut it off the nomination list based on their age would be an infringement of their legal rights under the Constitution & Bylaws.

Moreover, they may be required as an "eligible voting" member to vote on financial, legal matters, etc. put before the membership, i.e. the congregation when they still under guardianship raising questions about whether their vote is legally binding.