Turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks.
Many, many changes are being tried for the first time at GC78 – a paperless convention, a virtual binder system, new Rules of Order for the House of Deputies. Prior to convention, I anticipated much technical challenge, rule confusion, and user error.
Instead, this has been remarkably smooth Convention so far. Here are a few observations –
- Paperless convention – The entire Convention schedule and resources are on an app called Guidebook. You can download it here if you want to see how it works. The app includes PDF copies of worship bulletins. I was skeptical at first, but reading the bulletin on my phone has not been a problem. A certain amount of spiritual discipline is necessary in our screen addicted world to resist the temptation to check Facebook during quiet parts of the service, but it doesn’t hurt to cultivate that discipline. The bulletin is harder to read on a phone than on a tablet, but I think this could still work fine in local churches. The one challenge I have observed with Guidebook is that there has been a good bit of confusion about room assignments for committee meetings, and the calendar portion does not include enough detail about special events of the day or locations of these events. I hope this can be addressed.
- Virtual binder – At prior conventions, Deputies and Bishops were given an enormous binder filled with paper copies of every resolution – thousands of pages. When these resolutions were amended by committees, paper copies of amendments were distributed to every participant. Each day’s legislative calendar also had to be printed and distributed. All of this had to be translated into Spanish. Dozens of volunteers worked in the copy room. For this convention, Deputies and Bishops received leased Ipads preloaded with all of this information. Amendments and daily legislative calendars are uploaded to the system – no paper copies. On a couple of occasions an amended piece of legislation has come to the floor before being updated in the system, so the chair simply postponed discussion. We’ll see if this presents a greater challenge as the legislative schedule gets busier later in the week. However, things like this happened before with paper. The virtual binder is efficient and easy to carry. I thought there would be a huge learning curve in figuring out how to use them, but after a training session on the first day most folks seem to have caught on. Sadly, the Ipads do have to be returned at the end of Convention.
- New Rules of Order – On the first day, the House of Deputies adopted new rules, with better use of a consent calendar. Committees decide whether an item goes on the consent calendar or the daily calendar. When Deputies see the consent calendar, they can move to remove an item from it. The consent calendar is then approved all at once with no discussion, which saves time on issues likely to have common agreement. Committees can also recommend that an item get priority hearing so resolutions that might affect others can be addressed in timely fashion. This seems to have streamlined the process.
- Almost paperless legislative process – I’m serving as a Legislative Aide this time, so I’m seeing the behind the scenes work that gets a resolution from a committee to the floor. In the past, from what I understand, this was mostly a paper process. Committee chairs signed a triplicate form to schedule a hearing on a resolution. After the committee discussed the resolution, committee chairs filled out a duplicate form to say they discussed it and whether there were any amendments. If there were amendments, members of the Resolution Review Committee reviewed and then signed a form saying the amendment was in order. Then you took the form to the Secretariat. Now, all of this happens online. At the beginning of convention we were filling out some of the old forms to create paper redundancies just to be sure the system was working. However, on several occasions I delivered a paper form to resolution review only to discover they had already reviewed and approved the amendment before I managed to get to their office. Folks who served as Legislative Aides in prior years are telling me this system is working beautifully.
Since all of this has worked so well so far, I hope all Deputies and Bishops will go home to their dioceses and congregations ready to tell others what they learned and tried while here. May the practice of learning new skills in communication, networking, and organization help us continue to learn other skills to help us function more efficiently and serve more faithfully.
Beth Marqhart secretary of Committee 9 Congregational Vitality with the virtual binder.