BUC Constitution - Questions
The purpose of this section is to list questions and answers that come up in relation to the proposed constitution before the BUC Session itself. As the constitution is a complicated legal document, which will have been scrutinised by UK lawyers, General Conference lawyers, and the Charity Commission, editing at the Session will not be possible. If you have questions please pass them on to the BUC Executive Secretary and we will include them here, along with answers.
Why do we need a model constitution?
The Seventh-day Adventist Church around the world maintains its unity by sharing the same beliefs (the Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church), the same rules of church operation (specified in the Church Manual), and the same system of governance (specified in General Conference Working Policy). Local churches generally don't have to consider Working Policy, but for Missions, Conferences, Unions, and their Executive Committees, it is very important. Working Policy defines how the church should be governed around the world and it includes detailed models for the creation of local constitutions. Some flexibility is allowed to take account of local laws and customs, but some parts are essential for maintaining the unity of the church.
Can we change anything in the model constitution?
Yes, the model constitution has sections that are in bold type, and sections that are in normal type. The sections in normal type can be changed, but the bold type sections can only be changed if there are extenuating circumstances and with the agreement of the General Conference.
Don't charities have to be independent?
Charities have to be independent from the state and focus solely on their charitable aims and purposes, but it is very common for charities to be part of a group, affiliation, federation, parent or sponsoring body, or an umbrella organisation, just as we are part of the wider Seventh-day Adventist Church. In these cases, where there are shared purposes and objectives, they often use model constitutions provided by the parent body. It is important that the relationship to the parent body is specified in the constitution. In our case the relationship is stated clearly, right from the start, in Article 1.
Shouldn't the constitution include ...?
Constitutions are the main governing documents for organisations. They should be as clear and concise as possible. The proposed new NEC Constitution for example, which they have been working on for over a year, is 73% bigger than the old one, as a number of things had to be included for legal reasons. As the BUC Constitution was revised more recently, there aren't so many changes, but, if voted, the new one will still be 21% bigger than the old one. There are many things that a charity needs to do which are not specified explicitly in the constitution, but these can be found in policy documents, on the Charity Commission website, or in various supplementary materials. These may include risk management responsibilities and strategies, duties of trustees, how complaints should be handled etc.
How do we ensure that a quorum is maintained at constituency meetings?
The business of a constituency meeting can only proceed if at least 51% of the delegates are present. It is the responsibility of the chair, with assistance as necessary from others, to ensure that this percentage is maintained.
Does the Executive Committee have the authority to hire and fire people?
Yes. The proposed constitution makes it clear that the appointment of officers, directors and other elected personnel, comes under the authority of the Executive Committee between constituency meetings. They also have overall responsibility for employment throughout the Union, though this would usually be through the administrative officers, intermediary committees, personnel departments and the like.
What's the difference between a trustee and a delegate?
A trustee is appointed to a position to use their own experience, knowledge, expertise and discretion to make joint group decisions for the good of the charity. A delegate is appointed by a particular body (for example a local church in the case of conference constituency meetings, or the conferences or missions in the case of union constituency meetings) to represent the views of the body which appoints them.
Why do we have a capped delegation?
As church membership rises (which we believe it will) the number of delegates could eventually become unmanageable if a cap were not in place. On top of this is the major expense of having a constituency meeting, which increases dramatically with the number of delegates. Capping the number of regular delegates for BUC Sessions to 400 was voted into the BUC constitution in July 2006. This was reduced to 300 in 2011. The current proposal is to put a cap on the total number of delegates (regular and delegates at large), and setting the number at 350. This will be roughly equivalent to what has been in place since 2011.
Why do the Recommendations Committee and Nominating Committee do their work before the Session?
The changes to the constitution which require these committees to meet well in advance of the Session were voted at an Extraordinary BUC Session on 17 May 2009. There were two main reasons for the change:
  • Firstly, to try to limit the spiraling costs of Union Sessions. These two committees can be very time consuming, and while they are meeting the Session can't really conduct any business. Thus the decision was taken to separate the two activities so that the delegates could get on with their work right from the start of the Session.
  • Secondly, since the BUC became a registered charity there has been an increasing emphasis on 'due diligence', which in the case of choosing people to perform certain jobs, is the process of ensuring that those people are actually suitable candidates. It was felt that this process would be better carried out in a calm and systematic manner, away from the time pressures imposed by a Session.
Given that the Recommendations Committee and Nominating Committee do their work well before the actual Session meeting, what is the actual starting point for the Session and do the constitution rules regarding the Session also apply to these preliminary meetings?
We have consulted with the General Conference on this matter and have concluded that there is a clear distinction between those things which take place in preparation for the Session, and the Session itself. The Session only officially starts when the date and venue for the meeting has been announced in advance, and a quorum of at least 51% of the delegates is present. For the 2016 constitution they were expected to be present physically, but with the proposed new constitution it will be much more clear that the meeting can be held virtually. Meetings which take place prior to the Session, such as the Conference and Mission Executive Committees which determine the composition of the Recommendations Committee, the meeting of the Recommendations Committee itself, and the meeting of the Nominating Committee once its composition has been voted by the delegates (by postal or electronic vote), are not considered to be part of the Session. They therefore operate under normal committee meeting rules (which according to Article 16 (g) include the ability to meet virtually) and are not subject to the specific rules governing the Session. For further information see the article When Does the Session Start?
What is the process of "referring back" names that have been proposed by the Nominating Committee?
The referrals process which has been tried and tested in previous sessions includes the following steps:
  • All questions and referrals are addressed to the chair, placed in a grid and shared (including communication from the senders) with six members of a Referrals Panel, previously agreed by the Nominating Committee.
  • If the question or referral is addressed as CONFIDENTIAL, the chair will treat it as an anonymous referral.
  • The Referrals Panel will review all questions and referrals one week before a meeting with the Nominating Committee (this year set for May 2021) to discuss and prepare appropriate recommendations.
  • The Nominating Committee will review all questions and referrals and discuss/amend and vote on recommendations from the Referrals Panel.
  • All senders of the questions and referrals will receive a response from the chair before the end of May reflecting the decisions of the Nominating Committee.
This process has proved to be transparent and accountable.
In Article 1 it says that "The purposes, policies, and procedures of this Union Conference shall be in harmony with the working policies and procedures enacted by the executive committee of the Trans-European Division or the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists." What is the order of priority? Is it the General Conference and then the Trans-European Division, or the other way around?
This question has come up several times in different ways, but in short we need to understand the structure of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. There are only four layers: Church, Conference (or Mission), Union, and General Conference. The divisions are simply divisions of the General Conference, not an extra layer. So we can often use the terms interchangeably. The only differences there might be could be when the division has adapted a General Conference policy or procedure specifically for use in its territory. Any such adaptation would always be with the approval of the General Conference.
Article 9 (a) (iii) defines how the executive officers should work together. It says that should be "in consultation with one another". But what does "in consultation with" mean? Can the president overrule his fellow officers? Should this be more tightly defined?
This was discussed on the Constitution Committee and we also checked with the General Conference. In practice there are many different styles of leadership - some presidents will be more consultative than others! It might be possible to define the relationship more tightly but the consensus that has been reached over the years is that an attempt to do so would probably over-complicate an already complicated relational situation. The body which applies the checks and balances to the working relationships within the administration, is the Executive Committee. If they see that relationships are becoming unbalanced, they should step in. At the end of the day, the flexibility, or even ambiguity, within the phrase "in consultation with" is probably a good compromise which allows officers to work most effectively within their personality types and skill sets.