Remote Annual Meetings
During this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, many congregation leaders are asking how they can use technology to hold necessary meetings and conduct the business of the congregation. Some matters may best be postponed until the restrictions on gatherings have been lifted. Others are pressing or mandatory by your constitution and bylaws. Your bishop or synod staff can help you determine what matters might better be left for another time.
Below are some of the questions asked most often. Even in this pandemic, the state law, as well as your constitution, bylaws, and continuing resolutions, must still be respected.
We’ve got an old Constitution and it doesn’t say anything about remote meetings. It is silent. Can we hold a remote meeting?
If your governing documents do not explicitly forbid a remote meeting, the state laws in GA,TN, MS, and AL allow for a remote meeting.
If needed, where do we look in our congregation constitution to see if remote meetings are authorized?
- For congregational meetings, look to see if your congregation has included this provision from the 2019 Model Constitution for Congregations:
- C10.08. This congregation may hold meetings by remote communication, including electronically and by telephone conference, as long as there is an opportunity for simultaneous aural communication. To the extent permitted by state law, notice of all meetings may be provided electronically.
- For council or committee meetings, look to see if your congregation has included this provision from the 2019 Model Constitution for Congregations:
- C12.13. The Congregation Council and its committees may hold meetings by remote communication, including electronically and by telephone conference, as long as there is an opportunity for simultaneous aural communication. To the extent permitted by state law, notice of all meetings may be provided electronically
What is required for a remote meeting?
- Every participant must be able to hear and to speak, with two-way communication possible. A platform that only allows people to listen, for example, would not be appropriate.
- YouTube or Facebook Live Stream are not acceptable, as there must be simultaneous aural communication.
- It is also not acceptable to video the meeting and then share it with others who can’t attend since it is not possible for them to speak.
- You must also consider those members who do not have online access. In choosing a technological platform, you should select one that allows for both online and dial-in participation so that as many members can participate as reasonably possible.
- Always conduct the meeting using Robert’s Rules of Order.
- Distribute information prior to the meeting. For example, distribute the slate of candidates for Congregation Council plus their biographical information and the budget ahead of the meeting.
Our congregation has members with limited access to technology. What should we do?
- A platform like ZOOM allows members to connect with audio/video with a smart device or audio alone through a phone.
- Voting options need to include those which don’t have access to technology. Options to consider are USPS, drop off boxes, or phone calls to the church office.
Our constitution doesn’t require written ballots. How can we vote?
- The simplest option is a voice vote or a raised hand vote over ZOOM. If the vote is close, you can then move to a roll call vote.
- For those not on video, a roll call vote may be required. Or allow the option of calling the church office to register a vote.
- For larger congregations, it may be easiest to use something like ZOOM polling. Remember that ZOOM polling would require that each member of the household attend the meeting on their own device.
How do we meet our constitutional requirement for written ballots?
- Written ballots imply secret, so this requirement needs to be upheld.
- Options include USPS, drop off boxes, ZOOM polling, or phone calls to the church office. Remember that ZOOM polling would require that each member of the household attend the meeting on their own device.
- For those using just a phone line, calls to the church office seem to be the easiest.
- Remember that absentee voting is prohibited. This requires that you take a roll call of who is attending the meeting and accept ballots only from those members. This is important!
This all sounds complicated. Can’t we just skip the Annual Meeting this year?
- After consulting our synod attorney, the answer is basically no. Given that remote meetings are possible in our four states we encourage congregations to hold remote meetings during this pandemic.
- If a remote meeting is impossible based on your context, then the meeting can be delayed. If your congregation chooses to delay the meeting, then:
- Be completely transparent with the congregation about why the meeting will be delayed and what business will take place during the in-between time.
- Do only the minimal amount of required business.
- Schedule the face to face congregation meeting when circumstances allow to ratify any decisions made.
- Council members can continue to serve until they are replaced.
- Be careful of expenditures. Some congregations have written into the Constitution/Bylaws that a congregation may spend only x% or x$ above the approved budget. See C12.05.d.
- Transparency is key.
What are the notification requirements for the meeting?
- You must give the same notification normally required by your constitution and bylaws for that type of meeting. For example, if your constitution requires that notice be given by mail or electronically a certain number of days before a meeting, and that it be announced at two consecutive Sunday worship services, you would still need to comply with those requirements. If you are streaming worship services, you will need to announce the meeting during those services, just as you would normally do.
Are the requirements the same for quorum whether in a face to face or remote meeting format?
- Yes. See C10.04 of your constitution for the specific number.
- Attendance can be taken via the participant list in ZOOM, but remember that each household is only counted once and there may be multiple people per ZOOM login.
- It is possible, especially in the smaller congregations, to do a manual verbal roll call or to count the individuals present on the screen.
- Individuals may enter their attendance in the chat box, which you can save for later.
- Remember that attendance at a meeting is required to vote. Absentee voting are not allowed.
What are some best practices for passing a budget?
- Distribute the budget prior to the meeting, along with any slide presentations. This allows those who are dialed in with audio only to still be able to follow the meeting.
- If this is larger group, allow questions to be asked in the chat box.
Just remember, none of the options during a pandemic are perfect. Mistakes might happen, but we have seen over and over that as long as the leadership of a congregation takes into account the requirements of the constitution and the needs of the congregation, mercy and grace abound.
If you have any questions, please contact one of your synod staff.