ST. LOUIS – What to expect from the 2018 General Assembly, which will meet in St. Louis from June 16-23?
Most likely, overtures or proposals on fossil fuel divestment and climate change, immigration, possibly gun violence and the way forward for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said Tom Hay, director of assembly operations for the Office of the General Assembly.
Each day, there will be opportunities – still taking shape – for public witness and education on issues involving race and justice. Having the assembly in a city that has been holding near-daily protests over police shootings and economic and racial injustice “becomes an opportunity for engagement around issues of race and white privilege,” said Craig Howard, transitional presbytery leader for the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy.
That presbytery sent an open letter in September, stating in part: “We believe that God has opened up a unique opportunity for the 223rd General Assembly to be bold and faithful in speaking words of justice and hope in a broken and hurting world.”
And Howard told the Mid Council Leaders Gathering Oct. 16 that there is a chance to create “an environment for transformation for the people who attend General Assembly.”
That assembly has the theme “Kindom Building in the 21st Century,” with Hay saying there will be daily opportunities for public witness and to learn about issues involving injustice and white privilege.
This will be the 15th time since 1851 that a general assembly of the PC(USA) or its predecessor denominations has met in St. Louis, Hay said. He called the city “the gateway to the West,” and also a place with “a current history that continues to speak loudly.”
In May of 1866, just after the close of the Civil War, two Presbyterian general assemblies met simultaneously in St. Louis – the assemblies of the Old School and the New School branches of Presbyterianism, which had split in part over the question of “is it OK to offer communion to a slaveholder?” Hay said.
They met in different churches, “but in true Presbyterian fashion they sent delegations to each other” and created a joint commission, which led to a reunion four years later.
“That started right here,” Hay said. “A split nation, a split time, a split church, healed again.”
Along with setting a big-picture vision, Hay dished up some assembly details too.
This assembly will have 538 commissioners, continuing the trend towards smaller assemblies. About three-quarters of them will come from the denomination’s smaller presbyteries – those with fewer than 16,000 Presbyterians.
The night before the assembly convenes, the Committee on Local Arrangements will host a “Meet me in St. Louis” reception with local food and hospitality.
And the assembly will take a break from business Thursday night during assembly week to celebrate the “Hands and Feet” initiative, an effort to get Presbyterians involved in community issues in the next three cities that will host an assembly – St. Louis in 2018, Baltimore in 2020 and Columbus, Ohio, in 2022.
Laurie Griffith, associate director for constitutional interpretation at the Office of the General Assembly, asked the mid council leaders to give some idea of overtures they anticipate may come from their presbyteries.
Among the possibilities they mentioned:
- An overture to condemn anti-Semitism and Islamophobia;
- An overture asking the assembly to examine the per capita funding system to see if that is a financially sustainable way of supporting the PC(USA) – and to suggest alternatives if it’s not;
- An effort to establish a specific ministry office focused on the needs of small congregations in the PC(USA).