It all started when I was in seminary with the 219th General Assembly (held in Minneapolis in 2010). I knew I wanted to attend GA, but because I only had one semester left before graduation (as opposed to a full academic year), I wasn’t eligible to be a Theological Student Advisory Delegate (TSAD).
But there was another option. I signed up to be a student worker and so ended up behind the scenes. (Have you ever noticed those tired-looking people running around in blue smocks? That was me.) And I loved every minute of those 10 days that I spent setting up and taking down and passing out paper and trying to help people with all their technical issues (yikes!) and running hastily-scrawled amendments from the plenary floor backstage so they could be put up on the screen for all to read.
For me, that was it. I was hooked. I was officially a GA junkie.
Every GA since then, I’ve spent the entire week following every moment possible from afar. I read through the overtures beforehand and flag the ones in which I have a vested interest so I can follow them more easily through the PC-Biz website. I follow #GA223, the official General Assembly accounts and my own presbytery (Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area) on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Whenever plenary is in session, I stream the live video feed on one screen and the PC-Biz Session Sync on the other screen so that I can follow along with what’s happening both in the discussion and in the overture wording/rationale. In the future, I look forward to opportunities to attend as an overture advocate and a commissioner. I have even been known to throw a GA watch party – complete with pizza and wine – so that some friends and I can gather and stream the live feed and PC-Biz together.
What can I say? Presbynerds are so my people.
So what is it that I love so much about GA? Why do I nerd out so hard core over an entire WEEK of meetings that start early in the morning and often go on far past bedtime? Part of it has to do with learning. I am a cradle Presbyterian — born, raised, confirmed, seminary trained at a PC(USA) institution and ordained. And yet there was so much about our denomination that I didn’t know: about how we function, about the intricacies of Robert’s Rules of Order, about some of our support organizations and national committees, about the beautiful and inspiring myriad of ways that our church is being the church in the world today.
Yes, learning at General Assembly is admittedly like trying to drink from a wide-open fire hydrant. But it is enlightening and invigorating and moving in so many ways – ways that affect my own life, ways that affect my ministry and my local church, and ways that affect the whole world. To be a part of that – even from afar – gives me a sense of purpose and excitement for the life of the PC(USA).
Like many other Presbyterian things, my obsession with passion for GA also has to do with the connectionality of it. We have few opportunities to gather together with our tribe — people with whom we don’t have to decode our own particular brand of alphabet soup (COM, CPM, REC, TEC, PMA, ACSWP, YAAD, and so on). We get to reconnect with old friends serving in other parts of the country, and also meet new friends. We spend time – sometimes hard and uncomfortable time – hashing out the difficult issues of the day and our stance on those issues as a denomination, but we also get to hear about the many and exceptional ways the Holy Spirit is moving through our church across the United States and around the world.
And friends, God is doing incredible things through the PC(USA) — life-changing, justice-calling, prophetic-witnessing, love-enacting, way-paving things. This is what I do love, have always loved, and will always love about our church, and General Assembly is like an espresso shot of this: condensed, energized and action-packed.
So even when I cannot be there in person, I take great joy and reassurance in joining my Presbyterian brothers and sisters in the powerful and important work happening right now at General Assembly.
LISA JOHNSON is a cradle Presbyterian, mother of three young children and part-time pastor at the Presbyterian Church of Oronoco in Minnesota. She is a serious Presbynerd and loves to find new and various ways to serve the PC(USA) on many levels.