Guest commentary by Jacob Bolton
I am a parent of two young children, so my family is constantly on my mind at this assembly. I pray for them daily. I think of them as I advocate for, and against, certain overtures. We call and Skype when we can. And though I miss them dearly, I am most grateful for the opportunity to serve as a teaching elder commissioner for the Hudson River Presbytery. And I must say, I would not be able to serve if it were not for the dependent care reimbursement policy, which stems from action taken during the last assembly in Detroit.
Now, this is not my first assembly. I had participated in two previous (the 219th and 221st assemblies) and started discerning the call to serving as a commissioner shortly after the 221st. I had served in other roles as assemblies; was the Spirit calling me to serve as a teaching elder commissioner?
At first, I thought “no.” My first General Assembly experience, as a corresponding member reporting on the findings of the Youth and Young Adult Task Force at the assembly Minneapolis, came at a time in my life before I had children. As an overture advocate at the last assembly in Detroit, my entire family (wife, son and dog) came along as we hopped in the car and drove to Michigan together. I currently serve Huguenot Memorial Church in New York, and so while indeed a trek, driving to Detroit was manageable. But now with two children (my daughter was born last year) a drive with all of us to Portland was not realistic. My wife and I both balance full-time jobs and share childcare responsibilities. Even if I felt called to serve as a commissioner, I would have had to turn the opportunity down.
That is, until I learned about the dependent care reimbursement policy. Stemming from discussion, blog posts and activity prior to the 220th General Assembly, a Commissioners’ Resolution recommending to “Direct the Office of the General Assembly to ensure that childcare and child-friendly spaces are provided at all General Assembly meetings, following models used for other Presbyterian meetings, such as Presbyterian Women’s Gatherings and Big Tent,” was entered and made it to the floor of plenary. Though voted down (53 percent to 47 percent), the conversation initiated the process that helped form the policy that is in place for this year’s assembly.
The policy seeks to demonstrate “the full and prayerful participation of those seeking the mind of Christ for the whole church.” Noting a demographic that could not fully participate due to parental responsibilities, the dependent care reimbursement policy for commissioners and advisory delegates to the 222nd General Assembly, states that “Commissioner or Advisory Delegate may include in vouchered expense, the cost of dependent care, as long as it replaces (what) is normally provided by the commissioner,” and that it does “not exceed $800 per dependent or $400 per additional dependent.”
For many – and yes, for me – this is indeed a prophetic action. The policy has provided the financial resources for two additional childcare experiences for my children. The funds are covering a full day of professional childcare for my daughter and son, as well as the transportation costs for my parents, as they are staying in the manse watching my children during the week I am serving in Portland. Neither would have been possible without this policy, nor would I have been able to serve as a teaching elder commissioner.
As we strive to be an inclusive church, one where all voices are included at the table, this policy opens the door for a new demographic to physically participate as never before.
JACOB BOLTON is the associate pastor at Huguenot Memorial Church in Pelham, New York. He is a certified christian educator and a GreenFaith senior fellow.