Some churches have enquired whether it is possible to hold formal members’ meetings using Zoom or other digital means during lockdown. Having reflected on this and taken legal advice, our guidance is as follows:
- In church meetings we seek to discern communally the will of God, through listening to one another against the background of scripture in a context of prayer. The limitations of digital communication will make this significantly more complex and less satisfactory than if we were meeting face to face. Therefore we recommend that churches do not attempt to make major visionary or policy decisions through digital church meetings. In fact, in most cases it will be wise to postpone any formal church meetings until the lockdown is eased.
- Most management decisions can be made by the church’s leadership team during lockdown. However, there are some matters that church constitutions usually reserve for the church meeting. These will likely include the appointment or reappointment of leaders, the approval of accounts, admitting new members and calling a new pastor. It would be unwise to attempt to appoint a new minister during lockdown and the admission of new members is unlikely to be urgent. The (re)appointment of leaders and the approval of accounts may be more pressing requirements. Your constitution may permit the leadership team to co-opt leaders, which could be a useful interim measure, or the existing leaders could remain in post until it is possible to call a normal face-to-face church meeting. OSCR has advised that churches will not be subject to adverse action if AGMs or other meetings required by the constitution cannot be held or have to be delayed; they should still be held as soon as reasonably practicable. Similarly OSCR has promised leniency about late submission of accounts due to lockdown, although again they should be submitted as soon as practicable.
- If you do decide it is essential to hold a church meeting, you need to be confident you have a platform which will enable all members to participate and contribute. If there are some members who do not have the skills or equipment to join digitally, then it is important to establish a framework in which they can be aware of the meeting agenda and express a contribution. This may well be by the leadership receiving or making individual phone calls ahead of the meeting to seek views, contributions or questions, which can then be fed into the discernment process in the meeting. If you do hold a digital church meeting, it will be important for the church trustees, usually the leadership team, to minute why a non-standard practice has been adopted. Each church will have a different constitutional framework, making it difficult to give universally applicable advice, but in general what the constitution provides should be followed as closely as possible, subject only to those changes made necessary by lockdown restrictions.