Guest blog by Maggie Alsup
What is a student assistant? This is a question that my colleagues and I have gotten a lot these past few days. The answer is simple: that’s a good question. That is what we tell people when they ask because the truth is that it is a more complicated thing than a one-liner answer. In short, we are the people who work with the Office of the General Assembly to keep this thing running. We are the doers of the General Assembly.
This is my second General Assembly to work as a Student Assistant and both times have proven similar, yet they are vastly different. My colleagues and I arrive to General Assembly early and are some of the last people out. We are the underbelly of the operations. If there are handouts and flyers that commissioners and delegates need, we are the ones who place them at their chairs. We are also the ones who sit at the back of the committees and make sure that when it is too hot or cold we can find people to fix it. We are the ones who are running to make copies of motion forms, helping to make sure Session Sync is on, helping with connections to PC-Biz and the Internet, and cleaning the rooms after the committee is finished with business. In plenary we are the ones who are the first line of defense to Internet issues and other issues delegates and commissioners Have. We try our best to help the General Assembly run as smoothly as we can with the tools and training we are given.
So why would one become a Student Assistant? This is a question that I am asked several times through the course of General Assembly and even more so when I tell people that this isn’t my first time as a Student Assistant. Well, it is a long answer, but there is a shorter version and here it is: I don’t know why! I have a variety of reasons, just like my colleagues, but I know that I truly enjoy it. There is something empowering and beautiful to have this opportunity, it allows those of us who are in seminary an opportunity to see how our polity and government work on the national level. It is also a time to network and realize that there is a larger body of Presbyterians out there, ones from all over, who come together and work for one week for the betterment of the church and the Kingdom. This is the main reason why I came back as a Student Assistant this General Assembly. There is something truly amazing to see the church coming together as one body to discuss, discern and imagine what the church can be and should be in the world. As a recent graduate from seminary it gives me hope – when we can gather together, differences and all – in one place and use our governing system to better the church and society.
When things go awry, when we have to use paper ballots instead of remotes or electronic, when the Internet will not work, when extra power cords are needed, when microphones need to be changed out, we are there for you, working and helping in anyway we can. We try our best to work for you and the General Assembly, to keep things moving so you can be productive, and in turn we learn a lot about our polity and our church. It isn’t always easy work, most the time it is running errands, listening to problems as they arise or answering questions. But it is a rewarding job that allows us a great opportunity to learn more about polity, our denomination and the future of the church through a first hand account.
Maggie Alsup is a 2014 graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and is under care of Indian Nations Presbytery. She attended the 219th General Assembly in Minneapolis as a YAAD and the 220th General Assembly in Pittsburgh as a Student Assistant.