The GA marathon: Tips for commissioners


Are you going to St. Louis for the 223rd General Assembly? Congratulations are in order, especially if you have been elected to the awesome opportunity to serve as a commissioner or an advisory delegate.

After a recent General Assembly, a commissioner from Presbytery of the James in Virginia observed, “GA is a marathon, not a sprint!” How true! Many voices of experience have offered proven strategies so you can both prepare effectively and have energy and enthusiasm to spare at the end of the week.

Before you leave for St. Louis

Pray. Pray for yourself. Pray for the church, family, friends who will stay at home. Pray for all those who will travel to St. Louis. Pray for the leaders who are planning General Assembly, for staff in Louisville who coordinate arrangements, for volunteers, for the Committee on Local Arrangements, and for the generously welcoming host presbytery, Giddings-Lovejoy. Pray for those with whom you will agree and for those with whom you may find yourself in disagreement. Pray, pray, pray.

Breathe. Take care of yourself now and in the months ahead as you prepare to go to St. Louis. You have been chosen for a task that requires significant strength, health and stamina. Find joy in preparation and in service.

Read. Carefully review every communication from the Office of the General Assembly. Read and re-read information about travel, arrival, assignments. Details matter. You will have a specific committee assignment and will want to be especially familiar with the details of that committee’s work. You will also be voting on the full range of matters in plenary sessions. Prepare by becoming familiar with all the overtures that will be brought to the floor by each of the committees. Follow interviews and information about the candidates for moderator of General Assembly. Read about special activities like the GA gift project (crew socks for men or women will be collected) and the hands-on mission area in the exhibit hall. Read about the Hands and Feet Initiative that will be celebrated during the week.

Learn. Take advantage of the excellent training videos on the website Topics for commissioner training include “Who’s in the Room: Key People and Roles,” and “Introduction to PC-Biz.” PC-Biz will allow you to follow the changes, updates, comments and edits to the overtures. Check PC-Biz and other GA resources regularly. Learn about the docket (schedule) for the week. Investigate the advantages of using the GA app as a resource.

Label. Label your laptop or your tablet and your phone. Make sure you can identify all of your technology devices. Don’t forget a luggage tag. When all the suitcases are assembled together on the last morning, you will want to be able to identify your suitcase with ease. Too many suitcases look strangely similar.

Pack. Pack like a GA pro. Take layers. No enormous conference center can provide the perfect temperature for everyone who attends GA. Expect the facility to be cold, even if the outdoor temperatures are very warm (mid to high 80s is normal for mid-June). Take your most comfortable shoes. You will walk and walk and walk, both inside and outside the convention center.

Some other items to remember:

  • Official GA, airline and hotel confirmations
  • Government-issued photo ID (passport or license)
  • Cash
  • Credit card
  • Cell phone
  • Laptop or tablet
  • Chargers, adapters, mouse, passwords, etc.
  • Medications
  • Tote bag
  • Favorite coffee thermos or water bottle
  • Protein/energy bars or favorite snack
  • Crew socks for GA gift project
  • A bit of extra room in your suitcase for GA materials (and gifts) you acquire during the week

After you arrive in St. Louis

The 223rd General Assembly will be held in St. Louis June 16-23, 2018. (photo: Kevin McKoy)

Pray. There simply can’t be too much prayer at a General Assembly. Quiet moments are critical in the midst of the busy GA schedule. You may wish to visit the onsite chapel in the convention center for a respite.

Browse. Enjoy the exhibit hall. You will find extensive program resources. Many organizations send representatives to share information. Booths in the exhibit hall are a major source of informational materials and take-home treasures. You won’t want to miss the fair trade groups in the global marketplace. These vendors provide splendid booths where you can find amazing products from around the world. The bookstore will offer excellent titles and will schedule several authors for book signing opportunities.

Work. The work of General Assembly is definitely a marathon of meetings. Expect extended committee meetings and plenary sessions. This is a great time to practice those chair exercises you find in airline magazines!

Listen and speak. Listen during committee meetings and during plenary sessions. You will hear much debate and discussion. Listen with a discerning heart, open to the leading of the Holy Spirit on every issue upon which you will speak or vote. Speak. Speak when you have something new to say that will assist the process or illuminate a discussion. Speak when you have a question or comment that may simplify a complex issue. Remember that you must use time wisely when you speak. Speak clearly. Be prepared.

Rest and eat. Days will be long. Honor yourself and your commitment to do your best by making time for rest. Relax whenever you have a chance during the busy week. Eat. Make sure you eat well. Don’t skip meals.

Worship. Take advantage of many glorious opportunities to worship during the week in St. Louis. Daily worship and Bible study are essential elements of the schedule. You will experience magnificent choral and instrumental music and powerful preaching. The opening worship on Saturday is always superb and often remarkable. On Sunday morning, Presbyterian churches throughout the St. Louis area will welcome GA guests in their congregations. Remembering the gracious hospitality of these churches provides a connection with a congregation other than your own during GA. The ecumenical service on Wednesday morning is certain to energize and enlighten. Finally, you won’t want to miss closing worship. It will be a grace-filled way to conclude the 223rd General Assembly.

 Rejoice. Celebrate the opportunity to serve the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Engage with new friends. Share with long-time friends. Give thanks for moments of joy and opportunities to share in significant actions. Cherish the gentle moments of grace that are certain to come to you during the week.

When you return from St. Louis

Share. Your role as commissioner includes sharing the GA experience with your own congregation, other congregations and with others in the presbytery. Report formally and informally about the 223rd GA in a way that will be both understandable and authentic.

Report. Many presbyteries require a written report after commissioners return home. Meet the deadline. Follow the required format and be creative in writing about your experience.

Rest. Remember, even with the best preparation, GA is a marathon, not a sprint! May you enjoy every step!

Patricia Valentine is a ruling elder at South Plains Presbyterian Church in Keswick, Virginia, and serves as General Assembly coordinator for Presbytery of the James.