I recently rented a car to drive from Syracuse to Brasher Falls, New York for a family visit. Nearly reaching my destination I noticed an orange light in the car signaling a warning. I wasn't sure what the symbol meant that was used to communicate the warning. It looked like a push lawnmower to me. Why would the car be warning me about a push lawnmower? Obviously it didn't make sense and I was unable to figure out what the symbol was.
There was a vacant lot just a mile up the road so I turned in to figure it out. I relied on the manual that comes with every car and lists what each warning signal means and the action that would need to be taken. I thumbed through and eventually learned that this lighted symbol was telling me that the windshield washer fluid container was nearly empty. I wasn't surprised to learn it had nothing to do with a lawnmower.
Since my arrival the Board of Trustees and I have made efforts to review, update and create a manual not unlike the aforementioned car manual , but with policies and procedures. Policies and procedures are used to document how we choose, as a Congregation, to manage our day-to-day decisions and how we choose to make larger decisions for ourselves. If such a manual were unavailable to us, we would spend most of our time figuring out how to respond versus being able to quickly thumb through and locate our agreed-upon responses. Of course we can't anticipate every situation but we can avoid spinning the response wheel and waiting to see where it stops to direct our response.
The Board and committees have also worked hard to develop committee charters. The charters are simply an outline describing how each committee functions. Imagine becoming a new member, chairperson, or even minister, and trying to figure out what each committee is charged to do on behalf of the Congregation and how each committee functions within the Congregation. Not necessarily an easy or welcome task. However, handed a charter, I am able to better understand our structure and functions. The Board may be responsible for approving charters, but it is the members of each committee that make these documents living and relevant. Each charter offers a glimpse of how we choose to minister to our Congregation via our committee work.
None of the documents are chiseled onto stone tablets. If any of us believe they are not serving us well we simply guide one another to make changes that make sense for us and our work. Since 1648 we have held up self-governance as a worthy and necessary part of our polity. In our tradition that commitment to freedom and engagement becomes part of our theology. It sets us apart. I encourage all of us to view policies and procedures and charters not as burdensome and unnecessary. Let us consider them as a guide or manual that reminds us of how we will walk together when the push lawnmower signal comes on.
Blessings, Rev. CJ