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Long Stewardship

Hilary of Serendip

©2004, Hilary Powers

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T.I. #85, Winter ’87. Some of the structural stuff has changed dramatically since this was written, but the essential metaphor of the double chain still holds. See “VALEDICTIONS” for a description of the changes in the Presidency of the Society. The new universal membership standard applies to Directors now, too—like all officers, they can be any type of member as long as they live at a residence that receives their kingdom newsletter. Get the 1993 Organizational Handbook and the update sheet for detailed info on the old and new rules. 2004 insight: Things changed again after this intro was written, and I genuinely don’t know how it works now—though the 501(c)(3) stuff still holds, I think....


My cousins, ponder a moment this peculiar organization of ours! Most of us can say “The SCA is a nonprofit educational corporation devoted to research and recreation in the field of pre-17th Century Western culture” without drawing breath...but few can explain what they’ve just said. And it’s worth the effort to understand, because many of the problems of the Known World start with someone guessing wrong about either the mundane requirements of the system or the medieval ones.
    First, we are a corporation, a business registered with the State of California and operating under that state’s laws. We are, specifically, a nonprofit corporation, which means that we pay no taxes on money raised in the course of our activities, and that the money we raise must be applied to our corporate purposes and not paid out as dividends, nor spent in an effort to influence mundane politics. Both the Secretary of State of California and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service have recognized our nonprofit status. Like all corporations, we have Articles of Incorporation to define our general purpose and nature. We also have By-Laws, which describe our organization as it relates to real-world requirements. (These documents are in the Organizational Handbook, available from the Stock Clerk.)
    The basic organizational structure prescribed in the By-Laws in­cludes:

    1. THE BOARD: The SCA is governed by a Board of Directors, consisting of no more than 7 nor less than 5 people drawn from the subscribing membership of the SCA. The chairmanship rotates among the Directors by seniority. New Directors are selected by unanimous vote of the current Board. They serve for approximately three years, unless one of the procedures for impeach­ment is successfully carried out. (Curious? Read the book!) Directors may not hold any major office in the SCA or any kingdom. They may take leaves of absence to serve as King or Queen, but such leave does not extend the length of their terms on the Board.

    2. THE OFFICERS: The SCA has the standard officers required of a corporation: President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer. There’s also a Registrar in charge of keeping membership records, who may or may not be the same person as the Corporate Secretary. The Board chooses the officers by unanimous vote, and may fire them by two-thirds majority. Routine stuff, but the By-Laws also specify that the jobs of Presi­dent, Vice President and Treasurer must be held by the people who hold the titles of Steward, Deputy Steward, and Treasurer of the Society as defined in something called the Corpora. This parallel second organization, which is decidedly uncommon among corporations, is one of the few signs in the By-Laws that there is anything unusual about the SCA.

    3. MEMBERSHIP & GENERAL MANAGEMENT: The By-Laws set the terms and privileges of membership, which include the right to hold office but not the rights to choose Directors, amend the By-Laws, or disburse the assets of the SCA upon its dissolution. This arrangement, which is common among California nonprofits, makes us technically a nonmembership corporation and puts us outside the purview of laws defining the rights of corpora­tion members. The By-Laws also carry fairly standard provisions regarding contracts, bookkeeping, and physical offices, and establish the authority of the Corpora and Governing & Policy Decisions (G&PD’s).

    The Corpora we have now is a separate document that follows a pattern similar to the By-Laws, but lays the groundwork for the Society’s historical recreation. The first editions of Corpora look very much like the current set of G&PD’s, listing solutions to specific problems in the order they came up, and the current version reflects the durable parts of those old decisions. The G&PD section is getting too big again, and we’re in the process of revising Corpora to make it easier to use. (The Corpora and G&PD’s are bound into the booklet I mentioned earlier. Take the time to read and think about them—I’ll welcome your comments and suggestions!)
    The purpose clause in the Articles of Incorporation and the unique structures defined in Corpora describe the educational aspects of the Society. We were organized to promote the study of our chosen period and to engage in activities which recreate the environment of that era. Our approach to this recreation has always involved a strong attempt to evoke the emotional reality as well as the physical appearance of former times.
    Instead of regions and chapters with presidents and secretaries, we have kingdoms and baronies with Kings and Seneschals, and the resulting organization is almost impossible to chart. The medieval and mundane lines of authority are equally important, so you’d need a three-dimensional model, at least. There’s just no way to describe it briefly and accurately. However, you can get a fair impression by picturing two overlapping webs of chain: one running from the Board through the corporate officers to the Great Officers of State and thence to the local officers in the branches, and the other running from the Crown through the Great Officers and out to the branches. Most of the individual links fit into both chains at the same time, as the Great Officers are appointed jointly by the Crown and the corresponding corporate officer. We try to keep the medieval chain in the fore­ground and invoke the mundane chain only for things which could harm the whole Society, but the interplay between the two is complex and subtle.

    The Board as the primary mundane authority does have the final word—but only when acting as a collective of seven voices, all of whom reached their position after showing deep and long-term concern for preserving the medieval chain of authority in the SCA. As individuals, Directors have no power at all. And the people whose positions do include some power to give orders—the Crowns and the officers of various levels—soon find that their orders must be tuned to the things people are willing to obey. The SCA talks a lot about authority but it works by consensus, because no individual has any enduring sanctions to enforce his will.
    Working in such a tangle can be very uncomfortable. The two chains do sometimes pull in different directions, much as we try to avoid it, and there are also a great many horizontal connections to add to the tension. And in addition to having two sets of authorities to keep happy, each officer has a set of equals to satisfy as well. The Seneschal can’t coordinate the group unless the rest of the officers are willing to be coordinated, the Treasurer can’t account for money that doesn’t get reported, and so forth—yet none of them have formal authority over others on the same level. To add to the fun, their authori­ty over members in their branches is also limited to what people will accept. It’s not for nothing that mundane bureaucra­cies favor simple lines of command! But uncomfortable as it is, the system is also immensely produc­tive—to succeed at all, a course of action needs positive support from every­one concerned, and that support translates into a great deal of devoted and creative labor.

    The “pre-17th-Century Western culture” clause in the Articles of Incorporation provides a useful focus for our activities. Our organization is complex enough as it is, with all the formal social structures based in a recreation of late-medieval and early Renaissance patterns. Individu­al members can pursue studies of other times and places, but the SCA simply can’t accommodate groups that want to be something other than part of one of the kingdoms of the Current Middle Ages. The kingdoms are essential to the living aspects of our recreation—without them, we’d have to rely upon Robert’s Rules of Order like any other civic club, and we’d lose a great deal in the process.

    When it works, the Society works very well indeed, applying human resources effectively to shared goals and lending drama and pageantry to the pedestrian work of keeping the group running. And even when it fails, and the chains rattle so loud that it’s hard to get any work done at all, it’s still a learning experience....

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The West Kingdom History Website was created by and is maintained by Hirsch von Henford (mka Ken Mayer).