When Sam Duncan was nominated to serve as one of the two assistant parliamentarians of the 28th General Assembly (GA), he was completely surprised. But he accepted the job then, and every year since. Duncan spoke with byFaith about being an effective assistant parliamentarian.

What does an assistant parliamentarian do at GA?

The stated clerk designates me to serve as the assistant parliamentarian for the Overtures Committee (OC). I provide the OC with some institutional memory of procedures and practices, coordinate with the stated clerk’s office, and advise the new OC chairman and members. I also serve as the scribe and forward the final versions of the various overtures to the OC secretary for inclusion in the minutes and the report to the GA.

“I want to bring a sense to the commissioners that the stated clerk and moderator are getting advice that is devoid of political preferences.”

For GA, the assistant parliamentarians consult with the stated clerk on procedural questions that arise before GA. During GA, we keep the stated clerk and moderator up to date on any issues. Often commissioners privately ask us to check on various points, and we investigate, review, consult with each other, and advise the stated clerk and moderator. We serve as extra eyes and ears for the stated clerk and moderator and keep them updated on matters under consideration and things coming up on the docket. We try to brief the moderator on procedural issues before they come up, but if something comes up unexpectedly, we huddle and try to come up with the correct answer for the stated clerk and moderator.

What made you want to serve the GA in this capacity?

Sam Duncan (L) and John White (R) confer during General Assembly 2018.

My particular gifts are in The Book of Church Order and Rules of Assembly Operations.  I don’t favor using Robert’s Rules as a technicality to prevail on the topic under consideration, so my goal is always to be fair and even handed to both sides of the debate rather than being a strict adherent to Robert’s Rules. I want to bring a sense to the commissioners that the stated clerk and moderator are getting advice that is devoid of political preferences.

Thinking of future assistant parliamentarians, what does it take for someone to do the job well, and how does someone acquire those skills?

Besides knowledge of Robert’s Rules, The Book of Church Order, and Rules of Assembly Operations, it also takes the ability to listen carefully to understand the issues under consideration, hear both sides, develop a sense of how the debate is going, and cultivate a reputation for intentionally being fair and even handed to all sides in spite of personal preferences.

What is your favorite part about GA?

The first advice I give every newly elected moderator is to select the hymns he wants to be sung at our business sessions. I also request “It Is Well With my Soul” — sitting at the front table and hearing the men sing is really neat.

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