What’s happening this Sunday, again?
On Sunday, September 18th, 2022, delegates from all across the Oregon Conference territory will gather together for their 59th regular constituency session. That’s the meeting where representatives – called ‘delegates’ – make final decisions whether or not to confirm key Oregon Conference officers for a new term and approve or deny changes to our governing bylaws.
The constituency session is, without a doubt, one of the most important decision-making bodies in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. But it wasn’t designed for decisions to be made hastily. In fact, the road to the constituency session starts long before most people begin thinking about it, and it begins in a place you may not expect––your local church board.
Your local church board doesn’t just gather to make financial decisions or to discipline people, they’re also the bridge between your church and the Oregon Conference. Usually made up of your local church elders and key ministry leaders like the Sabbath School Superintendent or Pathfinder leaders, the local church board is responsible for two things when it comes to the constituency session. The first is to choose delegates to represent their local church body at the constituency session. The second is selecting candidates to be considered for conference committees. One of those candidates is directly appointed to serve on what’s called an “Organizing Committee”––a large group of people representing every church in the Conference! The Organizing Committee’s job is to choose from the lists of names put forward by local church boards to serve on more specialized groups.
The first is a “Nominating Committee.” Its job is to recommend church officers, “Executive Committee” representatives, and “Financial Review Committee” representatives to the constituency.
The second is a group called the “Bylaws Committee.” Its job is to suggest revisions to the governing laws that dictate how this Conference operates. Our new Bylaws Committee this year begins their work on revising our Oregon Conference bylaws after this constituency session for our next one!
That’s a lot of committees!
While it may seem like our church is overdoing the number of meetings and groups we use to make decisions––and that certainly comes up often––there are upsides to this system that may not be obvious. The first benefit is that it ensures a certain amount of representation from each local church in the decision-making process, and diversifies representatives to speak on behalf of both the laity and those employed by the church. Secondly, while our system can be slow to change, it also guards against erratic leadership, ensuring that no one person holds outsized influence on how the church operates or who serves in leadership.
I feel out of the loop - why haven’t I heard of all of this before?
There are over 36,000 church members in the Oregon Conference. That makes communicating important things a big responsibility! We do, however, try our best to get relevant information out in as many ways as we can––including on the Oregon Conference website, through social media posts, and through the main printed publication used by the North Pacific Union, Gleaner magazine. Here’s an example from last month!
Making sure your address is current with the Gleaner, following the Oregon Conference on social media, and subscribing to our Conference newsletter are great ways to get back in the loop. You can sign up for our newsletter right here!
So what happens on Sunday?
The constituency session is the result of the combined efforts made by our Nominating Committee (who put forward our administrative officers’ names, as well as names for the Executive Committee and Financial Review Committee that serve throughout the year to make executive and financial decisions) and the Bylaws Committee (who offered revisions to the bylaws we use to govern the Oregon Conference, including how we run meetings like constituency session!).
By the time the constituency session starts, the decisions are made as streamlined as possible. There are a lot of things to vote on, and the choices made at that meeting will generally last for the next five years! That’s why a lot of the voting comes down to a simple “Yes or No” system of voting such as, “Do you approve the changes to this section of the bylaws? Yes or No?”
In order to prepare voting delegates for the constituency session, every delegate is mailed a physical copy of every potential change being suggested during the session, at least 15 days in advance of the session. In theory, this gives delegates time to thoroughly read through, pray over, and think about the potential decisions being made. Ideally, this also keeps the pace of voting down to a reasonable amount of time, ensuring that everything can be taken care of and final decisions can be made in one day so that everyone can return to the important work going on in their local area.
What happens next?
The Oregon Conference constituency session is an open meeting that will also be livestreamed on Facebook, YouTube, and our Conference website––but only delegates have the responsibility of voting. Delegates are tasked with making the final decisions about policy and administrative leadership––setting up the next five years of Oregon Conference governance. If you want to learn more about how we got here, be sure to listen to a quick history of our system of governance from our friends at the “How the Church Works” podcast!