[Additional Information from Stated Clerk, Gerry Tyer, concerning Presbyterian Meetings during the Coronavirus Pandemic]

We are living in difficult times which require new ways of being faithful together. It is my prayer that you, your family and congregation remain healthy and spiritually strong in face of the challenges of today.

Presbyterian polity was developed BC (Before Coronavirus). Therefore, at points, it is difficult to apply in today’s church. But since we have no official Pharisees in the Presbyterian Church (USA), I think if we keep as close to our polity as possible in these extraordinary times, we will be on the side of the angels. Self-appointed Pharisees may object, but grace triumphs over law in Christian faith.

If the use of “Bobs” Rules of Order (a casual approach) instead of Roberts Rules of Order (a strict approach) is abused, the remedy is for a complaint to be filed (by any member) in accordance with the Rules of Discipline (see D-6.0000). Even Pharisees should know the difference between honorable intentions and abuse.

Congregational Meetings via Zoom and Livestream

The 2004 General Assembly’s Authoritative Interpretation of F-3.0205 defines a congregational meeting as a “deliberative assembly.” Roberts Rules of Order has a similar provision. Therefore, congregational meetings must provide for all members to simultaneously hear each other during discussions of motions. This is possible in a face-to-face meeting or on telephone conference call.

Another option is an electronic/computer meeting (through a tool such as a Zoom). Since it is a simultaneous gathering, a congregation could meet via Zoom and satisfy the simultaneous requirement. With a lot of participants, it may be a bit awkward, but it could be done – especially if it were also live-streamed. As you may know, participants can join Zoom via the telephone – no computer is required. Here are the key steps:

  • The session calls a congregational meeting on a certain date via a Zoom meeting. All motions to be voted on, including background rationale, should be sent to all members upon the call of the meeting.
  • Instructions for joining the Zoom meeting should be sent to the congregation, along with the announcement that this meeting will be simultaneously live-streamed. Instructions should indicate how a member can join via telephone.
  • When the date and time arrives, the congregational meeting should be convened via Zoom. Presentation of each motion with discussion and questions could precede each vote (similar to a face-to-face meeting). A vote could be taken on each motion by using the “clap” feature in Zoom. If a simple majority uses the “clap” emoji, then the motion would be adopted.
  • There are (of course) several technical issues which need to be addressed: your Zoom account must be set for a larger than normal number (corporate account), your livestream needs large capacity bandwidth, etc. My expertise is limited to polity. You will need an IT person to help with the technical stuff – perhaps any 12-year-old.

By the way, on March 23 the Synod of the Sun held a stated meeting via Zoom with a large number of participants, and it went very well.

The old (and gender insensitive) hymn Once to Every Man and Nation Comes the Moment to Decide has lyrics which say, “New occasions teach new duties.” This is very true today!

If you have questions, please let me know.

Another resource you may find helpful combines best practices gathered by staff at our Louisville headquarters and presbyteries around the country: Livestreaming Guidelines from Office of Theology and Witness, PCUSA