Questions have been raised about the impact of the possible adoption of the proposed Form of Government on the establishment of a quorum in a congregational meeting. The passage in the proposed FoG that is pertinent here is proposed G-1.0501, which states, in pertinent part:
“…Congregations shall provide by rule the quorum necessary to conduct business.”
This is a change from the current requirements of G-7.0305, which state:
“The quorum of a meeting of the congregation shall be not less than one tenth of the members unless the particular church upon application to the presbytery shall obtain the consent of the presbytery to a provision for a smaller quorum. A congregation by its own vote may fix a higher quorum. No meeting of fewer than three members shall be considered a congregational meeting.”
Many congregations have bylaws, articles of incorporation, or administrative manuals that specify a quorum for congregational meetings. If such a document is in place, it should in my opinion continue to govern the congregation’s practice and constitute the congregation’s “provision by rule” for a quorum.
Many congregations have bylaws or other documents that specify a quorum by means of reference to the Book of Order, G-7.0305. If such a reference is in place, it is my opinion that the most reasonable interpretation would be that the current language of G-7.0305 (one tenth of the membership, not less than three) is the intent of the congregation in establishing its rule. The congregation would be wise to make this intent explicit at the next congregational meeting, but that meeting itself would be governed by the G-7.0305 quorum.
Some congregations, however, do not have bylaws, articles of incorporation, or administrative manuals and therefore have no specification regarding quorum apart from the language of current G-7.0305. In the absence of such congregation-specific language, the provisions of Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised (10th e., hereafter, RRONR) enter the picture.
RRONR, sec. 3 (p. 20) says of a quorum: “The requirement of a quorum is a protection against totally unrepresentative action in the name of the body by an unduly small number of persons. In both houses of Congress, the quorum is a majority of the members, by the United States Constitution. Such a quorum is appropriate in legislative bodies but too large in most voluntary societies. In an ordinary society, therefore, a provision of the bylaws should specify the number of members that shall constitute a quorum, which should approximate the largest number that can be depended on to attend except in very bad weather or other unfavorable conditions” (emphasis added).
RRONR, sec. 40 (pp. 334-35), further defines the establishment of a quorum by relating it to the ability of the deliberative body accurately to assess its membership, if the body has not otherwise specified a quorum. Two pertinent paragraphs:
“2) In organizations such as many churches or some societies in which there are no required or effective annual dues and the register of members is not generally reliable as a list of the bona-fide members, the quorum at any regularly or properly called meeting consists of those who attend….
“4) In any other deliberative assembly with enrolled membership whose bylaws do not specify a quorum, the quorum is a majority of all the members.”
It seems to me that if a congregation’s membership rolls are not necessarily an accurate list of the “bona-fide” membership of the congregation, paragraph 2 above might be argued to apply. But this argument clearly would not stand if a congregation’s rolls are relatively accurate and up-to-date; in this case paragraph 4 with its requirement of a “majority of all the members” would more reasonably be the standard.
This means that there is wisdom in holding a congregational meeting prior to 10 July 2011 to establish a quorum, perhaps by adopting the “one-tenth, but not less than three” language of current G-7.0305, or some other language agreeable to the congregation. Certainly this is the safest course of action if a congregation believes that the “majority of all members” standard is too burdensome.
Nonetheless, historical precedent and an appreciation of the spirit as well as the letter of RRONR have some value. Since 1986, the Book of Order has specified “one-tenth but not less than three.” It is reasonable to assume that, in a good-faith effort to meet the requirements of proposed G-1.0501, a congregation could establish its quorum rule in a meeting governed by quorum requirements that have been in place until the adoption of the proposed new Form. In other words, a congregation that is honestly seeking to meet the requirements of G-1.0501 (if it is adopted) but that cannot do so prior to 10 July 2011, might legitimately argue that “the largest number that can be depended on to attend” (RRONR, p.20) is accurately reflected in the congregation’s historic practice of recent years. Since that practice will have been defined by the “one-tenth but not less than three” rule, that rule could be reasonably argued to be the proper quorum until the congregation is able to adopt another statement.
Paul Hooker, Presbytery of St. Augustine