2016 GA primer: Presbyterians prepare for Portland

ga222-circle-colors-vector-fin_small200PORTLAND – The 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will be returning to Portland, Oregon, in 2016 – 124 years after the first time it was held in the city and 50 years since the second (and most recent) time. The 1892 assembly in Portland was one of the first to be held west of the Mississippi River. Held at First Presbyterian Church, a new balcony was installed to hold the commissioners and a new telegraph machine was installed for the occasion. How are Presbyterians getting ready to return in 2016? Here are a few of the items on the horizon.

Attendees and delegates. On Oct. 12, Tom Hay, the PC(USA) director of operations, addressed the attendees of the Polity Conference being held this year in Portland. He said the original plan was for 594 commissioners and 218 advisory delegates; however, this brings the ratio of commissioners to advisory delegates to greater than 3:1, which is against the standing rules. Therefore, it is necessary to reduce advisory delegates by 20, Hay said. The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) advised Hay not to accept names of Young Adult Advisory Delegates (YAADs) if they come in after the December 2015 deadline (late acceptance has often been the practice in the past). Hay said that he has been told to strictly interpret the standing rule’s deadline and believes that this move will solve the ratio problem.

Committees. There will be 12 assembly committees this year. For the first time in recent assemblies, Hay noted that there will be “no sex committee” and no committee to review committees. The committees will be:

  • GA procedures
  • The Way Forward
  • Mid Councils
  • Church polity/ordered ministry
  • Ecumenical and interfaith relations
  • Middle East issues
  • Immigration/environmental issues
  • Mission coordination
  • Social justice issues
  • Peacemaking and international issues
  • BoP, PILP, PPC, Foundation
  • Theological and church growth issues and institutions

Business. Hay provided a recap of the major items of business coming before the assembly.

Elections. The first major item of business, Hay said, will be to elect a new stated clerk, moderator and possibly a new executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. As of Oct. 12, Hay said he did not know of anyone standing for moderator. In fact, he said that he does not know of anyone having even called his office to request information on standing for moderator. He claimed that given the proximity to general assembly, this was “unusual” and offered a reminder that the current moderator remains in place until a new moderator is elected. Carol McDonald, chair of the stated clerk nomination committee, said that committee has received approximately 12 requests to date for applications (though no applications have yet been completed). She said the applications are “complex” and include the submission of a video in which candidates will share why they feel called to this position.

Confessions. The committee will approve and enact the Belhar Confession. There is “something cool about doing” this in Portland, where the Confession of 1967 was affirmed 50 years ago.

The way forward. One committee will be tasked to join together in leading the assembly in the business of discerning the way forward, Hay said. This will include the COGA conversations on Presbyterian identity, which will stem from the denomination-wide survey results. Hay encouraged Polity Conference participants to invite those within their presbyteries who might not find the survey on their own to participate and become involved in the conversation. At General Assembly, commissioners and advisory delegates will be guided in small group discussion every day to continue the conversations. This committee will also review the moderator’s “Call to the Church,” overtures on GA structure brought by Foothills Presbytery, reports of the review of PMA and OGA, synod boundaries and other assorted overtures.

Other critical topics. Hay said he thinks the revised Directory for Worship, Middle East issues and fossil fuels and related environmental issues will be among the most significant business to come before the assembly.

Bible study. Hay reminded participants that the current moderator is a Christian educator and has encouraged the upcoming assembly to engage in Bible study. In lieu of Monday and Tuesday morning worship, committees will join in Bible study led by Richard Boyce and Sung Hee Chang.

Hotels. Half of the assembly commissioners will be staying in the DoubleTree and Hilton, Hay said. However, due to capacity others will be divided among small blocks of rooms in many other hotels. The furthest from the convention center will be in downtown Portland. Hay noted, “but when you get to your far hotel, you’re in downtown Portland, and that’s fun!”

Transportation. Instead of chartering busses, GA attendees will be using Portland’s light rail public transportation system. This provides a huge monetary savings of approximately $50,000 (or the equivalent of 3 cents per capita), Hay said. He believes that using the light rail system gives witness to who Presbyterians are: engaging as a part of the community and practicing environmental stewardship. There will be Committee on Local Arrangements (COLA) volunteers stationed at the airport to help guide all registered participants as they arrive and other volunteers stationed at stops to assist them. Hay said that anyone who notes a physical limitation on their registration will get a phone call from GA meeting services and that other arrangements will be made if using the light rail will pose a problem.

Social media. The official Twitter handle will be @PresbyGA and hashtag will be #GA222. The website is: There will also be PC-Biz and an assembly app. Hay said the app will likely be Guidebook, but that has not been finalized.

COLA. Beth Neel, chair of COLA and pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portland, brought greetings from COLA. She directed people to follow for more information as the assembly draws nearer.

Child-friendly room. There will be a child-friendly room at the convention center with rocking chairs, changing tables and a small refrigerator for milk or formula, Neel said.

Gift project. Gift cards to support mission partners serving in the homeless will be collected.

Tours and events. Neel said the options will include historic Astoria and the western coast; Friends of the Carpenter, a mission in Vancouver, Washington; Columbia River Gorge to learn about the effects of coal transportation on the salmon population; an eco-certified church; The Box Marked Black, a play about growing up black in Portland; tours of the Portland Rose Garden and Japanese garden; and even excursions to Portland’s best doughnut shops and a pub crawl.