Memorandum to Parishes
From: Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer
Subject: Annual parish meetings
We have considered the practices for parishes holding their annual meetings given the current limitations on in-person gatherings in both DC and Maryland. This memorandum is intended to outline two options that parishes may consider: rescheduling meetings or holding the meeting with electronic participation.
The date for holding a parish's annual meeting is typically set in the parish's by-laws. In general, however, the parish's vestry may delay or reschedule the annual meeting. This is especially true when there are extenuating circumstances such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Each parish should consult its by-laws for any special provisions.
While a delay of a few months may be straightforward, a longer delay may create both practical and pastoral concerns. Election of new vestry members and wardens is an important parish function, and ensuring the continuity of governance even in extraordinary times is important. Therefore, there are likely practical limits on the time that a parish will want to delay its meeting.
A parish may consider holding its annual meeting and permitting members to participate electronically, such as through a teleconference or videoconference service. The laws that govern our parishes are silent on use of technology in this manner, but both Maryland and D.C. law generally permit corporate meetings (including non-profit corporations) to use such technology, and we believe that under the current circumstances a parish meeting held in this manner would be valid. You should consult your parish's by-laws to ensure that any by-law provisions are followed. For example, many by-laws reference parishioners being present. Absent other limiting provisions, this language should permit attendance electronically (phone or internet). If language in your by-laws requires being present in person, or if your by-laws specify Robert's Rules of Order (which only recognizes electronic meetings if specifically authorized) as governing, an electronic meeting may be difficult. Please call us if either of these is the case.
If you proceed in this manner, we recommend the following:
- Hold the meeting at a physical location, such as a parish hall, in which the Rector and possibly one or two other parish leaders could be physically present to lead the meeting. It would be important, in addition to the convener and other hosts (wardens, for example), to have an administrator present to determine the quorum, manage the video call, monitor requests to speak, mute and un-mute speakers, and provide other technical assistance.
- Provide notice of the meeting as required by your by-laws, including designation of the physical location where the meeting will occur and the instructions for remote, electronic participation. You should also review your by-laws to determine whether posting the notice may be by electronic means, bulletin boards, or regular mail to ensure that the notice and information on the agenda topics conform to the by-law notice requirements.
- Ensure that the technology used allows all parish members to hear each other and speak during the meeting (see attachment for technology guidance).
- Limit the agenda of the meeting to necessary action, typically the election of vestry members, wardens, and convention delegates. If possible, defer consideration of by-law amendments to a later date. Reports and other matters could be provided in a brief format. At a later date, elections or other items could be ratified, especially if any important decisions were approved with the votes of the newly elected vestry needed for a quorum or approval of any proposal.
- We suggest consideration as to two sessions for the meeting, given the possibility of floor nominations. At the first session, the meeting can be convened, presentations made, and any nominations from the floor can be received - following which the nominations would be closed, and any discussion or questions as to the agenda items could take place. As electronic ballots may be difficult to adjust during a virtual meeting, the meeting would be recessed to a later date (set in advance). The parish would then send out the electronic and any paper ballots, tabulate the results in accordance with the by-laws, and reconvene on the later date to announce the results. No other business would take place at the second session. However, if the number of candidates at the first session is equal to the number of vacancies, a vote by acclamation using the 'raise hands' feature on the platform (subject to any confidentiality concerns), or asking and confirming that there are no 'nays' – the balloting may be deemed closed, the nominees elected, with no necessity for a recess and subsequently reconvened meeting.
- Ballots should be sent electronically through a voting platform, with paper ballots mailed to those who are unable to participate electronically.
Please see the attached page for guidance on the technology platforms for the meeting and for voting.
If you have any questions, please contact either of us.
John Van De Weert, Chancellor of the Diocese
Parish Meetings and Technology
A parish meeting is open to all registered members of the parish, and as such may involve a significant number of participants. As such, conducting parish meetings online may best be undertaken using the webinar feature on platforms such as Zoom or GoToMeeting. A webinar format enables parish leaders to lead discussion, present reports, and respond to questions while making the meeting format manageable and accessible. Zoom allows a one-month subscription for parishes that don't require the webinar function otherwise. Zoom is commonly in use in our parishes and would be suited, with the webinar function, for these meetings. Zoom features are reasonably priced and add-ons, for the webinar or more capacity, can be subscribed for the month needed. Please contact Peter Turner for any assistance.
Access and Security
As the annual meeting is provided as a forum to present information to registered parishioners, the meeting webinar should be configured using an account owned and managed by the church and not an individual parishioner. The invitation to the webinar should be by direct invitation over email or mail using contact information from the parish database. It is also recommended to request in the initial invitation and in any confirmation message that invited parishioners not share the information on how to join the annual meeting with others who are not registered parishioners.
Webinar registration is an optional but strongly recommended feature for webinars in Zoom and other platforms; this feature allows the parish to identify who registered to attend the meeting, to view who and how many attended; and to enable participants to speak. Parishioners may join and watch the video of the annual meeting by using a computer, tablet, mobile phone, or by dialing in using the webinar session dial numbers provided. Where a parishioner doesn't have access to a computer but has received an invitation to attend, they can call a member of staff or designated volunteer who can register them and provide them with the preferred information on how to access the meeting. The meeting may be recorded by the meeting host as a means of providing a record of the proceedings.
The webinar format designates presenters (who may, if not needed in the meeting location, be remote) as panelists in a webinar format. Parishioners watching online or dialing in by phone to the webinar are designated as attendees. Only panelists are visible on video in a webinar while parishioners may listen and ask questions when recognized by the meeting administrator.
Interaction and Accessibility
Attendees in a webinar may request to be called on to speak by using a raise hand feature. The raise the hand feature creates a queue that lines up the questioners. The meeting facilitator or a presenter can unmute that person and call on them to speak to the entire meeting. An attendee in a webinar may indicate a raised hand by using the feature in the meeting software or by entering a code on their phone.
It is recommended that staff or volunteers assist in the administration of the meeting in order to best support those presenting. This may include providing assistance to those who may need it joining the webinar, muting and unmuting attendees, responding to Q&A or chat messages in the webinar window, and recording the meeting.
Annual parish meetings will include voting for individuals running for positions on the vestry, wardens, or as delegates. It is recommended that a secure online voting system such as Election Runner, Election Buddy, SurveyMonkey, or Polyas be used to enable parishioners to vote following the first session of the meeting, at which nominees are presented and the nominations closed, enabling the results of the voting to be announced during the reconvened meeting after electronic balloting and counting paper ballots can be completed. The voting process for the electronic ballets would include:
- Configure each ballot with details and the voting options in the online voting system, including the open and close dates and times for the ballots.
- All those eligible to vote in the parish database are uploaded into the voting system
- Each parishioner is emailed an invitation. Those without an email address or computer may be provided with a mail in ballot which can be entered by a designated teller.
- Parishioners voting online use an assigned link or unique ID to access the voting system and cast their vote.
- When the ballots are closed, the results are accessible immediately in the voting system and may be announced during the reconvened annual meeting.