Friday, June 10, 2016

On Minutes, Stories, and Grandchildren

Readers of this blog will know that I previously served for 33 years as a denominational officer of the Community of Christ, eight years as its president. In retirement, I have written this blog with only occasional reference to the church and its issues, preferring to reflect on other things. This post is an exception.

The church's World Conference is underway in Independence, Missouri. My friend and colleague, Richard Howard, Church Historian Emeritus, posted on Facebook a comment on a seemingly minor matter of procedure. Dick found it to be significant, as do I. After reflecting on it, I decided to post some reflections on it here and invite anyone on Facebook interested in the issue to pop over here and make a comment.

What follows is Dick's original post and my reflections on it.
Richard Howard: Not able to attend legislative sessions of the 2016 World Conference of Community of Christ, I am reading with interest the daily Bulletins. My largest interest is in reading the minutes of each previous day's deliberations (just as I had done for every World Conference since my first in 1954). Surprise--no minutes! Just a paragraph or two summarizing a few highlights.
I learn now that compiling the minutes each day for the next is too daunting a task, given the available time. Things (but not the number of hours) have really changed since pre-computer days. I had no idea that computers, electronic files transmission, and the technology enabling oral language-to-text "translation" eventually would slow the minutes production process so much! There's nothing quite like technological miracles--in reverse! "-)

Out of respect for church leadership, and particularly in view of my previous responsibilities with the church, I rarely make any public comment about issues of controversy at World Conference or any other time. Those who carry the burden of leading have enough on their plate without having to hear from me about what I might have done differently. My effort is to support church leadership in their onerous task, and I do.

Forgive me if I make a brief exception and weigh in on behalf of Dick’s post about the handling of World Conference minutes. I do so not so much as a former member of the First Presidency, but as a former staff executive in the History Department for ten years and then as World Church Secretary for a decade, in which role I had the responsibility of preparing the minutes each day of World Conference.

There are only a few of us around who understand the daunting task of working deep into the night so as to publish a comprehensive and accurate record of conference business by 6am the next morning. Then, of course, we awaited the verdict of the handful of eagle-eyed delegates who read every word and jumped to their feet to correct the spelling of a name or point out a dangling participle. But it was worth it, because the conference bulletins had a detailed record of what was done each day and, more importantly, that record is available in the conference materials for all time.

I understand that budget reductions mean staff reductions and that priority decisions have to be made. I would point out that for many conferences the Church Secretary had the assistance of skilled stenographers and court reporters who volunteered their time in recognition of the importance of this function.

I have enjoyed reading the summaries that have been prepared this week and I realize they are more entertaining than minutes. I have chuckled at several of the observations made by their author. They are a wonderful addition, but not an adequate replacement.

I fear that we are losing the voices that continually remind us of the importance of having a record of our journey as a people. The church history offices are shuttered, for the first time since 1831 we are without a Church Historian, and I understand the Library-Archives which we proudly opened to all scholars and students is now available only upon request and official approval.

We robustly sing, “I love to tell the story,” and proudly declare “We’ve a story to tell to the nations.” I agree. On Sunday, I sat in the Conference Chamber and watched my granddaughter receive her first communion. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought about how urgently I wanted her to know the story of this beloved people so important to me and my family for six generations.

But stories can only be told if they are remembered. And they can only be remembered if they are recorded. My granddaughter’s name is Ashley. Please help me make sure that she and her sister know “the old, old story of Jesus and his love."

If you think that doesn’t have anything to do with conference minutes, please think more deeply. It does.