51. DISCIPLINE OF CHURCH COUNCILLORS (Chris Goringe and Hanna Reeve)

Monday, 09 July 2012

That the Assembly resolve to

authorise the Assembly Standing Committee, on the advice of the Legal Reference Committee, to amend

(a)        The Manual for Meetings to say: (1.6) Assertion skills: refer to verbal and non-verbal behaviour enabling us to maintain respect, satisfy our own needs and defend our rights and point of view without becoming dominating, manipulative, abusive, aggressive, intimidating, bullying, or controlling of others. This includes whether verbally or in any written form including cyber bullying;

(b)        Regulation 5.2.1 (a) to say: In cases where, in the opinion of the Church Council, any member of the Church appears to disregard the privileges and obligation of membership or to disregard the discipline of the Church, or should a formal complaint have been received by a member of the Church Council, the Council shall endeavour by visitation and pastoral counsel to restore the relationship of the member to the life of the Church;

(c)        5.2.1 by the addition of a new paragraph (c): Should that member be a member of Church Council, and refuse to restore his or her relationship to the life of the Church subsequent to visitation and pastoral counsel (5.2.1 (a)), that person may be requested by Church Council to resign his or her position to that body and cease all responsibilities associated with that position prior to a possibility that the name of that member may be removed from the membership roll.

(d)        3.3.3 (b) (iii) carrying out the responsibilities of the particular office, the Church Council may recommend to a meeting of the Congregation that shall have the authority to refer the matter for resolution to Presbytery Pastoral Relations Committee to remove an the Elder or Councillor be removed from office and the Elder or Church Councillor shall be removed from office if the recommendation is supported by a determination of the Congregation if a majority of its members agree the behaviour of the individual has frequently evidenced being dominating, manipulative, abusive, aggressive, intimidating, bullying - whether in person or through cyber bullying (Manual for Meetings (1.6)) and if the recommendation is supported by a determination of that meeting.

Rationale

The current description of what constitutes unacceptable behaviour in The Manual for Meetings is not broad enough to cover all examples of unacceptable behaviour which some people seek to defend as assertiveness. The additional sentence seeks to make clear that the method of delivery is a relevant consideration, ie behaviour cannot be excused just because it is in writing or delivered over the internet. Meetings sometimes have an overflow of reaction which is unacceptable. To include wording that recognises how this might exist, e.g. cyber bullying, harassing phone calls, addresses that matter and better enables any process such as a formal complaint as per 5.2 and 5.2(a) and my suggested (c) (below).

In relation to the proposed change to Regulation 5.2.1 (a) -  by including a process such as a formal complaint being submitted, the matter is allowed an opportunity for discussion by the Church Council and be included on an Agenda. Being a sensitive situation, there is currently no clear process to bring such a matter to a Church Council. To include a process could make it easier to approach.

The new suggested paragraph for 5.2.1 recognizes that a Church Council would be privy to unacceptable behaviour of its members, and his or her refusal to adhere to discipline. This may be seen by members of the Church Council but not be known to the wider membership of the congregation. The Congregation would not necessarily be aware of any situation where there is dissonance caused by individuals on Church Council. Dissonance could involve cyber bullying involving threats and harassment, whether by phone, email or sms; or by circulating false information about Church Council decisions and individuals on Church Council. To make the Congregation aware of the situation could create a sense of disunity which could disrupt the overall management and mission of a Congregation and could include a breach in privacy.

With respect to Regulation 3.3.3(b) (iii) - As noted above in relation to the proposal to add Regulation 5.2.1(c) the Church Council would be privy to unacceptable behaviour of its members, and his or her refusal to adhere to discipline. To bring such matters before a congregational meeting can be both difficult and disruptive to the life of the Congregation.

It is also often difficult foe members to discipline each other in these very public ways.  By referring a recommendation to the Presbytery’s Pastoral Relations Committee there is the opportunity to have the issues addresses in a more confidential setting with the presence of experienced and competent people to assist.

All of the above is reflective of a need to aid Church Councils in the necessary processing for conflict resolution should it arise and be ongoing; not just a one-off difficult situation.