Click here for General Assembly coverage

GA NEWS: Presbyterians know the way to San Jose: 1,300 local volunteers welcome 3,500 visitors to 218th General Assembly

SAN JOSE — After a number of failed attempts to land a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly, the Presbytery of San Jose finally succeeded in 2008 and local Presbyterians are excited, Committee on Local Arrangements chair Bob Bowles told the 218th General Assembly’s opening press conference June 20.

“We have 1,300 volunteers and they are thrilled to be part of this event,” said Bowles, pastor of St. Andrew Church in Aptos, Calif. “We believe San Jose has so much to offer — I don’t think any other city can offer 56 restaurants within a short walk of the Assembly venue and a speedy light rail system to all the hotels that aren’t nearby.”

San Jose bid to host the biennial General Assembly twice in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, but was outbid by cities — Long Beach and then Sacramento — with less expensive facilities. But the collapse of the region’s economy helped produce a bid for this year’s Assembly that General Assembly Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick called “a wonderful offer.”

More than 3,000 Presbyterians, including 752 voting commissioners, are expected in San Jose for the June 21-28 legislative and educational gathering of the 2.3 million-member PC(USA). “We are exceptionally grateful to San Jose Presbytery for hosting this Assembly,” Kirkpatick said.

An unusually large number of international visitors is expected at this Assembly. Bowles said it’s a tribute to Kirkpatrick, who is wrapping up 12 years of service as stated clerk, one of two top posts in the denomination. “Cliff has been so well-loved and highly respected for so long that many ecumenical visitors simply didn’t want to miss this occasion.”

“Of course, we’ve always identified ourselves as ecumenical,” Kirkpatrick added. “We don’t believe we can be the church by ourselves. We aren’t the church, but only one part of Christ’s church and we need our brothers and sisters, both ecumenical and interfaith, to make our witness whole.”

At this Assembly, that witness is taking advantage of Silicon Valley technology. “This will be the first Assembly to feature two simultaneous worship services in two places,” Bowles explained. With more than 7,500 expected for Sunday’s opening worship service, organizers were unable to find a single venue both large enough and with adequate acoustics.

So, two smaller auditoriums will be used. Outgoing moderator Joan Gray’s sermon and the commissioning of a new corps of mission workers, as well as recognition of military chaplains serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, will be simulcast between the two facilities.

“If this works,” noted Kirkpatrick, “imagine a future Assembly where worship is simulcast around the country in 100 places or more!

San Jose Presbytery is one of 173 regional governing bodies of the PC(USA). It encompasses 45 congregations and more than 11,000 Presbyterians from the southern end of San Francisco Bay to the Monterey Peninsula.