The Church Constitution and You

Dear BPCWAians, This week, we will begin distributing the Annual Congregational Meeting reports to members. Together with these reports, members will receive copies of the current BPCWA Constitution as well, since members who joined some years ago may not have an up-to-date copy of our Church Constitution. For our members who are predominantly Chinese speaking, we are providing a translated version and hope that this Chinese Constitution will help you have a better understanding of what is included in the Constitution.

What is in a Constitution? It is a governing document for the church. The Bible is the Supreme and final authority in the church, and the Constitution details organisational aspects about how the church is to be run based upon Biblical principles. The Constitution serves the Bible and explains how the church should do things. It reflects for example the doctrinal beliefs of our church and our Bible-Presbyterian church government. It states the purpose of the church, frequency of Session and Congregational meetings, and criteria and responsibilities for members and office holders in the church. It also provides safeguards and guidelines for unity and sound operating of the church. These matters should certainly be the concern of church members.

Proposed amendments/changes in our Constitution: Because of what it prescribes and that it is not a perfect document, there may be occasions when changes to the Constitution may be needed for improvements. At this upcoming ACM, the Board of Elders is proposing three changes to the Constitution. Amending constitutions is no small matter and these will be filed with the Government subsequently. We would not do it unless it is necessary for us. It is important that members understand the rationale for these needed amendments to our constitution at this coming ACM. I would like therefore to take some time to explain why these changes are needed.

Change #1) Attendance at Annual Congregational Meetings (Article19.2). Currently, our Constitution expressly permits non-members to attend our Congregational Meetings. It will be proposed that this clause be changed. At an ACM, matters are discussed which may be complex and at times even sensitive in nature. Financial reports of the church are also presented. The directions and plans of the church are also addressed. Hence, the following are reasons why we propose to amend this clause:

a) Currently, outsiders and anyone can invite any outsider to sit in, record, and note details and decisions. While we have surely nothing to hide, yet it is prudent to avoid unnecessary situations of potential troubles that may arise from this.

b) New comers and visitors and unbelievers who sit in may not fully understand and may misunderstand the discussions and be stumbled. Yet currently, we cannot stop them if they wish to attend.

c) It is difficult to set guidelines to differentiate between which non- member has been with us “long enough” to attend and which are “too new” to attend.

For such reasons, it is a very common standard best practice and safeguard for churches to just have members attend the ACM. Moreover, since the ACM is intended to be for the update to the members of the church, the proposal is to allow the church to limit ACM attendance to members of BPCWA.

Change #2) Requiring Elders to have two thirds majority vote (Article15.1). In our Constitution, the election and re-election of the Pastor requires a two thirds majority vote. However, at present, the election and re-election of an Elder requires only a majority vote, in other words it is fifty percent. It is proposed that votes required for the election and re-election of an Elder into office be the same as that for the Pastor. In other words, an Elder requires a two thirds majority vote as well. Here are the reasons:

a) Since an Elder may assume the same responsibilities in the absence of a Pastor in the church, he should be expected to command the same level of confidence from the congregation

b) Since an Elder may be appointed as the chairperson of the Session in a Pastor’s absence if needed, it is important therefore that the church should have the same level of trust in him as in a Pastor.

Besides, it is also a usual expectation in other churches that the Elder and Pastor have the same threshold for election and re-election in terms of votes. This is especially important in a Presbyterian church government system. The proposal is hence to require Elders to also be voted in by two thirds majority vote, in line with that required for the election of a Pastor.

Change #3) Correction to English typographical errors (in Articles 6.9, 7.6 and 20.3). This amendment does not affect the intent of the respective clauses. Some errors have been made in the previous typing of the Constitution which needs to be corrected. This includes an incorrect Bible reference (in Article 6.9) as well as 2 other typographical changes (in Articles 7.6 and 20.3)

The above outline the three Constitution changes that will be voted upon at the ACM next month. In addition to the above, at this coming ACM, based on the Constitution requirements, an agenda item on the ACM is on the matter of trustees for the church.

Appointment for Pastor Joseph Poon to be added into Trusteeship of BPCWA (Article20.5). Trustees of the church must be appointed at a Congregational Meeting. In view of prudent good governance, it is recommended that the Pastor of the church also be added to the existing number of trustees of BPCWA.

After BOE discussions as well as Session discussions, we have decided to propose the above three changes and the appointment of trustee for the responsible and careful running of BPCWA. We hope you understand the rationale put forth in this Pastoral letter and support the decision for the church God has put you in. Do submit any questions regarding the above or items in the Agenda by the 6th September so that the Session can prepare and provide answers to you either before or at the ACM.

Yours in our Lord’s service