The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) has approved a list of critical business that the 2020 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will consider at its virtual assembly in June – meaning that items of business that have been submitted but aren’t on the list will be deferred to the General Assembly in 2022.
There has been some pressure from groups for COGA to add to the list overtures and other business addressing social justice concerns — but that didn’t happen during COGA’s Zoom meeting April 23.
It is possible, however, that the assembly itself could act to add items to the list when it convenes in virtual plenary June 26.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, COGA voted April 21 to drop plans for an in-person General Assembly to be held in Baltimore June 20-27 — and, for the first time ever, to convene an online General Assembly with plenaries on June 19, 26 and 27.
On April 15, COGA discussed a possible schedule for the virtual assembly and approved a recommendation that the assembly would consider only those items “critical to our governance and ecclesiology,” using three tests:
- Is this (business/event/mission priority) so time sensitive that we need to address it now? Would not addressing it have negative legal or polity implications?
- If we do not address this (business/event/mission priority) will it have a negative impact on the church financially?
- If we do not address this (business/event/mission priority) will it leave critically important leadership positions vacant?
COGA did lean toward making a few revisions to the list of business this General Assembly will consider — for example, adding in an overture from the Synod of the Northeast to establish a Mid Council Commission to consider boundary changes or reorganizations of mid councils between General Assemblies. The Office of the General Assembly requested that that overture be added — with Jihyun Oh, director of Mid Council Ministries, explaining that some shifts in boundaries and alignments may be needed as presbyteries address issues of sustainability “with churches potentially closing” if donations decline during the pandemic.
Instead of a creating a commission, however, COGA seemed to favor asking the assembly to delegate that responsibility to COGA itself, in part to save money. COGA will vote April 30 on the exact language to a proposed comment suggesting that.
The list of business COGA approved to be on the docket at the 2020 General Assembly is here (Item A – Abbreviated Virtual GA Items of Business 20200416 final), plus these additional items: Recommendation 028 (confirming Oh as stated clerk designee director of New Covenant Trust Company); Recommendation 029 (the New Covenant Trust Company Report); COM 089 (nominations of churches to send ecumenical delegates to the 2022 General Assembly); and COM 092 (regarding dialogue between Reformed churches and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops).
COGA moderator Barbara Gaddis said she and COGA member Andy James are working on a response to those who asked that additional items be added to the docket, including an “acknowledgment of the deep grief and lack of closure those folks are experiencing.”
COGA has not yet acted to decide whether to have some kind of virtual exhibit hall or to approve a list of optional pre-assembly events — in part because Diane Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA), is asking that an event interpreting and celebrating PMA’s Matthew 25 initiative be added to the list.
One possibility: asking PMA to contribute videos highlighting some of the Matthew 25 work. Gaddis said COGA will be sending out a request to the PC(USA) for congregations and others to submit two-minute videos “of how they are responding to the COVID crisis.” Those videos will be woven together, and distributed via social media and played online during the hour-long breaks between plenary sessions of the assembly, said Julia Henderson, interim director of assembly operations.
If the goal is to “highlight the church in action in the time of coronavirus, I can’t imagine a better framework than the Matthew 25 goals,” said COGA member Eliana Maxim.