by Theresa Cho
The 222nd General Assembly in Portland will soon be upon us. If you are a commissioner to this year’s assembly, you have probably attended an orientation or have one on your calendar. Fellow commissioners chosen as committee moderators and vice moderators were recently trained and prepped.
The flood of information a commissioner receives can be overwhelming — not to mention the task of making important decisions, which can be daunting. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind as you prepare for your journey to Portland.
- Guard your time. Do not be tempted to sign up for too many special luncheons or any of the field trips during GA. Your time is very focused and limited to the task at hand.
- Acknowledge all of the mailings you are receiving from every Presbyterian group out there, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Reserve judgment or leave a little room for open dialogue for your time at GA. Take time to familiarize yourself with the overtures and any available webinars.
- Pack sensibly. Outside will be warm, but inside will be cold. You will be walking a lot — A LOT. Leave room in your suitcase for things you may end up acquiring at GA.
- Spend whatever spare time you have walking through all the booths and tables in the marketplace. It gives a wonderful breadth of diversity and ministry of the Presbyterian Church. Fill your pockets with pens and key chains.
- Prioritize your reading. Once your committee work is over, you will have to switch gears to review the work of other committees so that you will begin to process how you will vote in plenary. One way to prioritize is to leave the overtures that passed with a clear majority for the end. Spend time reading the ones where the committee seemed split or there wasn’t a clear majority.
- Be open to the Spirit. As commissioners, we sometimes feel an obligation or responsibility to vote as a representative of our presbytery or constituent group. But your responsibility is to be open to where the Spirit leads YOU to vote. Only YOU were elected to be a commissioner to vote YOUR conscience.
- Look at the big picture. Sometimes we can get lost in the process, especially when amendments fly back and forth. When emotions get high or fatigue sets in, we forget that there is a process that these overtures go through: local church to presbytery to General Assembly and back to presbytery for a vote. The process is slow and will go through many faithful commissioners beyond us. So the question to keep in mind when voting is “Do you believe this deserves further conversation and discernment?” rather than “Do I agree with this or not?”
- Ask clarifying questions. The paddle is a powerful tool. It is more powerful to ask clarifying questions than to spout one’s opinion. Opinions are important, but I know many commissioners whose voice got lost over the pro/con paddles, leaving other commissioners with many questions. Clarifying questions give the committee an opportunity to expand on how the decision was made and may give you context and insight that may affect your vote.
- Have fun! Take it all in. Meet people you wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to meet. Soak in the wide expanse of the PC(USA). It’s not every day you get to see the church in this way.
- You aren’t done yet. Even though you are home and GA is over, you are still a commissioner. So share what you have experienced at your church, your presbytery and with other congregations.
- Engage. Consider being on a GA committee if asked or simply engage in the work of your presbytery.
THERESA CHO is co-pastor at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in San Francisco. She served on the Committee to Review Biennial Assemblies from 2010-2014.