Guest commentary by Greg Bolt
I am so thankful for the new dependent care reimbursement policy that the Office of the General Assembly made available for the 222nd General Assembly. This solution has been a blessing to our family and is a beautiful third way that helps alleviate some of the stress of parents and caregivers who are called to service as commissioners and advisory delegates to the assembly. This, for us was a giant step forward.
I’m also thankful for the work of the Committee on Local Arrangements (COLA) who has provided a family room to change diapers, nurse babies and give kids and parents a place to be while here at the assembly, complete with live streams of the plenary sessions. I am so thankful for all those that helped make it possible for more people with dependents to be a part of this, the signature gathering of our denomination.
In 2012, my wife and I, both teaching elders, decided that we would meet my family in Pittsburgh and be observers at the 220th General Assembly, a chance to have a family reunion of sorts. It was a great opportunity for us to see family and connect with colleagues from around the nation, as well as to be a part of the beautiful connectional nature of our church. It was a reunion that co-moderator Jan Edmiston described as, “by blood and by baptism.”
For the Pittsburgh assembly, we inquired with the Office of General Assembly (OGA) about the options for childcare, family rooms, etc. – my son was still nursing and my daughter was only two years old. The response from the OGA was suboptimal. At the assembly after talking to several people (including COLA, the Presbyterian Church Camp and Conference Association and OGA), we were told that the office would take it under consideration.
Two years later, at the 221st General Assembly in Detroit, I was elected as a commissioner from Homestead Presbytery and my wife, again, planned to attend as an observer with our children. My father was volunteering in the newsroom and my mom was an observer. Once again, there were no options for parents or those with dependents – no quiet space to nurse babies, no dedicated space for children to be children, no place for them to be welcomed in worship, no place to tend to the needs of people in our charge. Needless to say, I was disappointed.
That’s when Joseph Morrow of Chicago Presbytery and I submitted a commissioner’s resolution regarding, specifically, childcare at General Assemblies. Moments before I was to speak on the floor of the plenary, I walked to the back of the hall – where I saw a woman huddled next to a stack of chairs nursing her young child. It further strengthened my belief that we can do better as particular churches, as mid councils and as a denomination. The vote did not go our way; after a heartfelt debate of the resolution on the floor of plenary, the assembly, our resolution lost. We were sad and angry, but we are people of the resurrection.
I was so ecstatic to hear the news that the OGA was implementing the dependent care reimbursement policy for this year’s assembly in Portland, Oregon. I think that the OGA and COLA have worked together to help those of us with children and dependents have an opportunity to be here.
There is still some work to do. An overture (05-05) that would amend the Book of Order to require all councils to adopt a dependent care policy was disapproved by a close vote in committee. I urge this assembly to disagree with the committee when if comes before you and vote to amend G-3.0106. As Kathy Stoner-Lasala, an overture advocate and teaching elder from Great Rivers Presbytery, said, “There are many in the cloud of witnesses who are not here. These are excluded disciples.”
In my presbytery, there are a significant number of teaching elders with young children. There are ruling elders with spouses who are sick or in need of care. There are people who have the energy, the passion and the calling, but they cannot answer the call to serve because we have not opened our hearts, minds and souls to the needs of those with dependents. We have not listened to their struggles; we have not worked together to do better.
I believe the OGA and COLA have done their part; they have answered the call of welcome. I want to thank Joann Lee and the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns for carrying this mantle for so long. I want to thank the OGA and COLA for their work. I want to thank Great Rivers Presbytery, New Castle Presbytery and Santa Fe Presbytery for picking up the mantle and taking it on.
The question, now, is: Will our sessions, will our presbyteries, will our synods provide a policy that meets the needs of those in their communities?
May it be so.
GREG BOLT is a teaching elder at First Presbyterian Church in Nebraska City, Nebraska. He is the father of two young children, a West Virginia Mountaineer sports fan and passionate about including all in the conversation.