Convention Study Studied

It has now been several months since the Study Committee appointed by the Federation Board has made their report. This report of possible convention improvements was sent to each society with the request that it be discussed and that reactions to it be sent to the Board. It was also published in Beacon Lights (February, 1965) with the request that it be commented upon in Open Forum. Editor Decker also included a set of questions which should have been answered while analyzing the report. The response in Open Forum has been excellent and very gratifying to the Board. As the report stated, any ameliorative measures must come from the societies themselves and the response given indicates that the societies themselves are very interested in the matters brought up by it. All thirteen member societies sent in their reactions; some of them were brief, others were more detailed, all of them were candid and expressed an earnest desire to make the convention as worthwhile as possible.

It is my intention in this article to give you an idea of how the societies felt about the report, to briefly comment upon several points, and to conclude with the resulting decision of the Board. In order to have some kind of format, I will try to present the implicit and explicit answers of the societies to the five questions suggested by Editor Decker in his preface to the report. In general, I will not give the names of the societies when referring to their letters, since it is what was said that we are interested in, not who said it.

The first question, then, was: “Do you agree that there is a problem? Is the problem correctly stated by the committee?”

You will remember that the committee felt that the quality of our conventions was waning. It stated the problem as one of too much emphasis on the purely social aspect of the conventions and a decreasing interest in the more edifying aspect. Almost all the societies agreed that some kind of problem existed and most of them felt that it could be stated as a lop-sided interest, if not emphasis, on what should be only a part of the convention. Beliefs as to the seriousness of the problem varied among the societies, but most recognized one, and were ready to discuss it. The significance of this recognition should not be lost. It means that the young people feel that the quality of the conventions can and should be improved. It means that, for the most part, they will support reasonable efforts to improve them. It means that a host society need not have an excessive apprehension of modifying traditional convention procedures in an effort to improve them. In short, it means that the young people will probably be receptive to attempts to increase the quality of the conventions.

The second question that our editor posed had to do with the objectives stated by the committee—are they proper and sufficient? Most of the letters from the societies fitted themselves into the threefold distinction given by the committee. This indicates a lack of disagreement, if not positive agreement, with the distinction proposed by the committee. However, several societies offered trenchant criticism. It was pointed out that there is really only one objective at our conventions, and that is the glorification of our covenant God. The three objectives stated by the committee, they said, were only means to the main one. Now, this is true and the committee should have made it clearer that they were stating objectives for the carrying out of the purpose of the convention, which, in turn, is a means for the carrying out of the purpose of young people’s lives, which purpose, of course, is the glorification of our God.

It was further maintained that the committee’s objectives were all objective and that there should also be a subjective objective pertaining to the aim of the conventioneer himself. Our Oaklawn Society offered such an objective:

All participants in the convention, delegates and visitors, should seek through active participation in all the functions of the convention, to promote the conventions’ objective and thus bring out its greatest potential.

The spirit in which this criticism is given must be appreciated. It is concerned with the observation that finally only what the individual conventioneers do will determine the nature and quality of the convention. It is they who must support whatever objectives are finally decided upon, and only their support and participation will produce a successful convention. The committee stressed this point and Oaklawn Society also put it very well:

…We believe that not set of objectives, no stating and restating of rules will result in the desired improvements for the simple reason that spiritual activities cannot be legislated. Basically any improvement will have to come from the member societies and will have to begin in the societies themselves. And this again reflects back to the home. As children we must be taught the significance of the spiritual in our lives; and as young people we must evidence an interest in the spiritual and without this there will not be an improvement but deterioration.

Before I leave this matter of the three objectives stated by the committee, I must confess my fear upon rereading our report that certain confusion might arise from our distinctions. When the committee distinguished three objectives for the conventions, we did not intend to separate the conventions into three parts; rather we intended to distinguish three aspects. These three aspects are mixed together throughout the entire convention—the panned activities can all be both social and edifying, and the business meeting especially so. It is true, however, that certain activities put more emphasis on the social aspect and other activities emphasize the edification aspect. The business meetings have important aspects of their own. It was the contention of the committee that a developing emphasis on certain aspects of the convention along with a de-emphasis of other aspects was impairing their quality. And the three objectives, which, as some societies reminded us, are traditionally accepted by the young people, were intended as a reaffirmation of the relative importance of the social, edifying, and business aspects of the conventions. This was done in the hope that resultant discussion and decisions would lead host societies to try and all young people to support new and old way s of achieving these objectives. And the wide-spread agreement as to both the presence of a problem and to the general intent of the objectives indicates that such a hope could be realized. Let us proceed to the next three questions which deal with how the societies feel the objectives should be implemented.

The committee stated that all conventioneers should engage seriously and meaningfully in the business activities. General agreement to this objective did not prevent a few problems from being aired.

Several societies remarked that sometimes the business meetings become long and drawn-out. The voting procedure was cited as being inefficient. Moreover, it was observed that if more discussion was to take place, a certain amount of rescheduling would be needed to allow for it. A second difficulty was mentioned in regard to nominations. Since all the delegates are not always acquainted with the nominees, intelligent voting is sometimes difficult.

These difficulties are always possible and efforts must continually be made to have well-run, meaningful business meetings. But a third matter in connection with the business meetings gives evidence of confusion and possible division. This is the matter of attendance. Most of the societies felt that all conventioneers, delegates and visitors, should attend and participate in the business meetings. One society recommended that roll call of all conventioneers be taken at the meetings; but other societies felt that this should not be a compulsory thing or the very purpose of the meeting will be lost. However, a more serious difference of opinion arose when two societies claimed that visitors not only need not come, they really had no right to participate anyhow. The argument, as given by one of the societies, is that since we have a representative democracy in which the delegates are given a mandate by the rest of the society, they are the only ones who have the duty and the privilege of active participation in the business procedures. This feeling, I fear can be found in a significant number of people and probably contributes greatly to the generally poor attendance at the Thursday morning and afternoon activities. But this feeling is historically unfounded; it harms the conventions, and, from a practical point of view, is less than adequate. It is historically unfounded because the delegate system was set up simply to give fair voting power to each society; it had no intention of limiting participation in the business meeting to the delegates. The business meetings of the earlier conventions were considered to be extremely important parts of the convention and everyone attended and actively participated in them. In fact, business and social and edifying activities were closely intertwined since everyone engaged in all of them. So historically, the visitor has played an important part in the business meetings. But this attitude is also harmful to the conventions. If the visitors do not attend the business meetings, then during the business meetings they will probably drift around on their own. This would violate the social and spiritual goals of the convention. The only alternative would be for the host society to set up some separate worthwhile activity for them. But it is hard to imagine a more worthwhile activity than engaging in discussion of the issues which face the Federation, in other words, participating in the business meetings. Finally, this attitude would use a method which is less than adequate for carrying on the activities of the Federation fairly. Let us use one example. This year each society is requested to come with a nomination for a Bible book to study during the coming years. So, hopefully, each society will have their delegates nominate a book. Thus, the delegates will directly represent the will of their societies. But it is surely evidence that more than one book will be nominated and that is the meeting is ever going to close, some delegates will have to change their minds. Here they no longer directly represent the will of the societies and if any member of their societies has strong ideas as to how the delegates should vote, his ideas will not be articulated unless he can enter the discussion. But he may, and, in fact, is encouraged to participate and thus, with discussion as free as possible, a more intelligent decision can be reached. For these three reasons I feel that it would be best for the minority to agree with the majority on this point and encourage all conventioneers to attend and participate in the business meetings.

The committee, in their second objective, suggested that more edifying activities such as debates, discussions, reports, etc., entailing the active involvement of the conventioneers, should be an important part of the convention. Only one society directly disagreed with this intent, reminding us that “After all, it isn’t a Bible School for three days.” Another six societies gave their complete approval to the objective and the remaining six wholeheartedly agreed with the intent of the objective but expressed certain problems that they felt should be considered. First of all, there was some fear that too much activity might be crammed into the convention period, making it a frustrating experience instead of an edifying one. A number of societies suggested that the convention should be lengthened to make room for such activities. One suggested that the convention be held over a long weekend enabling us to use Sunday as an appropriate day for discussions and readings. It was also thought that some of these activities, if they were well supervised, could replace one of the speeches. Although agreeing in general with the objective, one society mentioned that these activities should not be too long, should not “extol the theological wisdom of one member over another,” and should not cause the convention to be compared to a seminary or catechism class, or even a young people’s society.” Finally, it was feared by one society that an over-emphasis of these activities could frighten away those who do not feel qualified.

These suggestions and cautions must be considered by the host societies. Especially the suggestions as to changing the length and time of the convention might be carefully considered. And the possible apprehensions of the young people must always be reckoned with when planning a convention. But the main point to reflect upon is that almost all of the societies did feel that changes toward more edifying activities such as were mentioned should be started. Many gave topics which they felt should be discussed. A partial list includes: 1) What is the difference between reading a book, and attending a movie of the same title? 2) Should Christian young men enlist in the army? 3) A Protestant Reformed High School 4) Dating problems 5) Should we have confession classes? 6) How to improve future conventions 7) A Christian attitude toward the Negroes 8) To what extent should Christians participate in politics? 9) Our mission labors—the participation of young people in them.

In his final questions, Editor Decker asked, “What part does the ‘social objective’ play in our conventions?” There was not an overabundance of discussion on this point; evidently, most societies felt that this aspect of the convention was coming off quite well. A western society observed that “it is very important that we make friends and acquaintances with those of our own denomination. The East has this advantage most of the time; however, many of us in the West seldom receive this opportunity.” In general, the societies felt the host should plan activities so “as to cause us to seek the friendship and welfare of one another.” As was earlier mentioned, the social aspect of the convention should be promoted in all its activities, especially in those which we discussed in the second objective. In addition, the societies showed a desire for such activities as the outing, ballgames, pancake breakfast, etc.

This article, of course, gives only a brief and incomplete survey of the societies’ reactions to the study committee report. The society letters themselves are a fruitful source for gaining a general impression of how the societies feel about the conventions. In addition to what has been written, the board could detect a general agreement with the position that, while stating objectives is a helpful means for discussion, the real push for improvements in the conventions must come from the individual young people and societies themselves, and must proceed by way of the planning for each convention by the host society in conjunction with the Board. There was great desire to make the conventions as edifying and enjoyable as possible, but there was little desire for an imposing of new rules and methods by the Board. The Board found itself in full agreement with this attitude that it must not dictate convention policy, but that conventions must be planned by the host societies who must plan according to the mature desires, judgments, and needs of the young people. In this operation, the Board serves as a guide and spokesman elected by the young people to serve their best interests.

Bearing in mind everything that has been touched upon in this article, the Board decided to propose that the following resolution be adopted at the convention:
We, the Delegate Board, hereby express our desire that the host societies of the conventions explore new means and elaborate on old ones to bring the conventions up to their full social and spiritual potential. We suggest such means as changes in traditional scheduling, debates, discussions, speeches by young people, and any other means the host society and the executive board deem advisable.

1. The tendency that traditional scheduling procedures become inflexible is present and should be avoided.
2. The tendency that conventions lose their high spiritual and social goals is present and should be avoided.
a. The amount of debates, discussions, and other direct involvement by young people has decreased in the past few years.
b. Since these are highly social in character, the social goals have also decreased.
3. The problem is one that can only be dealt with by the host society and especially by the conventioneers themselves.
a. This resolution might help free natural tendencies by host societies to be strictly traditional in scheduling.
b. This resolution might help focus the attention of conventioneers upon the problem and thus help facilitate improvements.

Of course, under certain unfortunate circumstances, this resolution might be absolutely worthless. On the other hand, as ground three indicates, it might help create an atmosphere in which the young people, future host societies, and Board will work together to carry on that continual improvement which every living tradition needs.

*It goes without saying that the motive for writing this article has nothing specifically to do with the planning of this year’s convention, much of which has already been done. The article intends to deal with future conventions in general.

How vast the benefits divine,
Which we in Christ possess!
We’re saved from guilt and every sin,
And called to holiness.

‘Tis not for works which we have done,
Or shall hereafter do;
But He, of His electing love,
Salvation doth bestow.

The glory, Lord, from first to last,
Is due to Thee alone;
Ought to ourselves we dare not take,
Or rob Thee of Thy crown.

Our glorious Surety undertook
Redemption’s wondrous plan;
And grace was given us in Him,
Before the world began.

Safe in the arms of sovereign love
We ever shall remain;
Nor shall the rage of earth or hell
Make Thy dear councils vain.

Not one of all the chosen race
But shall to heaven attain,
Partake on earth the purpose grace,
And then with Jesus reign.
A.M. Toplady