It's been a privilege for me to participate in the 2009 General Synod as a delegate and as one invited to participate here on the RCA's General Synod blog. All my interactions with staff have been positive and affirming. This year's Synod was well-run and there was a good spirit in evidence from beginning to end.
As I've previously written here, the one aspect of Synod 2009 which did not seem to me to have worked well was our deliberations on the communications issue which culminated Tuesday with Synod approval of two bundled recommendations that the Church Herald cease publication. The extensive debate surrounding the six communications-related recommendations was commendably respectful and thoughtful. The parliamentary intricacies were occasionally daunting (including at least one challenge to a ruling of the chair, a reversal of the vote on the first recommendation which had initially appeared to pass by one vote, bundling five recommendations and subsequently unbundling them into two groups, etc.) but very well-handled by General Synod President Carol Bechtel.
To many of us, the main problem seemed to be the sketchiness of the three options presented to the delegates by GSC. Each seemed to envision the possibility of some future role for the Church Herald in an overall communications strategy. In retrospect, I firmly believe that assigning three such options to the advisory committees was a regrettable miscalculation. Especially problematic was the shortage of objective data which could have better informed the deliberations of the delegates. A primary reason why the advisory groups produced more than forty different recommendations was the fact they were based on a variety of assumptions which sometimes seemed contradictory. More substantial resourcing of the deliberations could have improved their quality. That's now water under the bridge. Hopefully a few lessons might be learned from this experience which may be beneficial to future General Synods.
I am struck by one apparent irony about RCA communications. While it may be true that members "voted with their feet" so to speak with regard to the Church Herald's diminishing subscription base, there would appear to be no empirical evidence that the RCA Today publication (which is very good) would necessarily fare any better if it were sustained solely on a subscription basis. RCA Today is supported by assessments and distributed extensively but not through subscriptions. So comparing one publication to the other is (in terms of viability), akin to comparing apples to oranges. None of delegates who spoke in support of the recommendations that the Church Herald cease publication acknowledged this crucial distinction. Yes, the subscription model no longer seems to work for a printed denominational magazine. Everyone at Synod seemed to agree that electronic communications is the wave of the future. And that is precisely where there seems to be a glaring inconsistency between Tuesday's Synod actions and the behavior of online consumers of information about the 2009 RCA General Synod!
At least two "official" blogs covered this year's General Synod--one on this official RCA General Synod web site as well as a separate one operated by the Church Herald. Commendably, administrators of the two blogs consulted with each other in advance and cross-promoted both blogs. A marvelous example of cooperation! It is striking to me that, for whatever reason, that the activity level at the Church Herald blog appeared to be higher than it was here on the RCA's official General Synod blog. That seems to empirically contradict the assumption that RCA members have decisively "voted with their feet (i.e. magazine subscriptions)" to effectively "kill" the Church Herald. Online, at least, it would appear that considerable interest remains in the independent perspective which the Church Herald provides. And everyone at General Synod seemed convinced that the future of RCA communications is becoming increasingly electronic. So, might that suggest that there could be a future role for an independent voice such as the Church Herald?
I am truly not interested in tilting at windmills, so to speak. Ecclesiastes 3:2 applies to organizations, too. But I wonder if the high level of interest in the Church Herald's General Synod blog might point to a viable future role in some electronic form?