Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ in the SC Synod:
The announcement about our upcoming Virtual/online Assembly on July 25th has brought a mixture of responses, as we might have imagined since this is such a new concept for any of us. Many people have expressed appreciation and excitement for this innovative way of holding assembly which allows us to gather safely. Several have had questions about this new way of doing assembly. We have found the questions to be very helpful, and I appreciate chance to share with you my responses.
1. Is this virtual assembly legal in regards to the SC State Constitution?
In South Carolina, nonprofits can hold online business meetings provided that 80% of those attending agree to it in advance. This is why we are asking everyone who registers if they are willing to participate in an online assembly. The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive with less than a handful of “nos,” and over 300 registrations to date.
2. Is a virtual assembly legal when an election of a Bishop is held according to the SC and the ELCA?
It was the ELCA Church Council, along with the ELCA Office of the Secretary that worked together and recently voted to permit 15 synods who have bishop’s elections to be able to hold online assemblies this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the uncertainty over when in-person gatherings will be safe enough to attend. Currently, all 15 synods are anticipating some form of a virtual assembly.
3. Is everything being done to assure that 60% of those attending are laity and 40% are ordained?
Yes, the SC Synod Council, for a number of years, has permitted each congregation to add a voting member under the age of 30 and/or a voting member of a person of color or primary language other than English to increase the participation of both groups in our assemblies. The Secretary of the ELCA acknowledges that with Deacons now counting as ordained, achieving the 60/40 becomes more of a challenge than in years past.
What has to be shown is that a good faith effort was made to provide for this 60/40 count. Some Congregations choose to send fewer lay voting members than they are allotted. None of us can insist that a congregation send all the representation that they are allotted, but we make provisions for them to do so.
4. Did the Synod Council consider the possibility of asking for an interim bishop?
Yes, this was definitely discussed. There were three uncertainties that made this less attractive.
- We don’t know if it will be safe to hold an in-person assembly next Spring which could mean that an Interim would be longer than anyone imagines, or that we end up holding an assembly online in the way we have planned it for this July.
- There is not a storehouse of available retired Bishops who are eager to move and resume working full time again. Many interim bishops who are appointed only agree to serve at half time.
- An Interim Bishop would mean that the Synod continues in a state of transition for an indeterminable amount of time. An interim bishop could help maintain stability but is not likely to move the synod forward in its mission.
5. Is the Lumi platform able to handle responsibly the work of this assembly including the election of a new bishop?
Yes, Lumi is an international company that works with large corporations handling virtual meetings for up to 1,000 participants. They were recommended by the ELCA and are the company the ELCA uses at its triennial assembly. Plus they will have two people handling tech support, and they are the ones who will manage our zoom session.
6. Can the Holy Spirit work through an online Zoom assembly?
Yes, we have been experiencing together virtual worship services and Zoom Bible studies over the last three months where countless people have been touched and blessed by the Spirit’s presence. We will follow all the bishop election protocols just as we always have which includes allowing the top seven candidates to introduce themselves to the assembly and later the top three to have five minutes each to answer two questions.
We believe the Holy Spirit works in amazing and surprising ways and can certainly work with us through a variety of means including online technology to call our next bishop.
7. Will there be an online practice session?
Yes, on Friday evening, July 24, at 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 pm, there will be a full orientation session where voting members can experience getting on the Zoom call and practice voting online. A link will be sent out to all who are registered for this orientation.
At this time is it very important that those who are planning to serve as voting members of this assembly get registered. Registration closes next Monday, July 13 at 5:00 pm and there is no opportunity after that to add voting members. Assistance from our Pastors and Deacons in encouraging the voting members from their congregation to get registered is appreciated.
8. What about voting members who have no internet access at home?
We are encouraging pastors to check with their voting members and if they are comfortable to invite them to the church or a business where they can view the assembly together while wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Each voting member will need their own cell phone, tablet or laptop to be able to vote.
Again, I am thankful for these helpful questions that you have raised and which were a part of the Synod Council’s consideration in approving this assembly. The theme of “Listen, God is Calling,” is especially appropriate as we continue to listen for God to lead and guide us throughout this assembly and especially in the election of a new bishop.
May God ever grant us wisdom as we join together in this 2020 SC Synod assembly online.
Yours in Christ,
Bishop Herman Yoos