New recommendation headed to GA: “On Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic”

A recommendation responding to the COVID-19 pandemic is being presented to the 2020 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as a matter of new business – asking for the church to be a gospel witness for the healing of the world in these difficult times.

When it meets June 18 – the night before the assembly convenes – the assembly Committee on Business Referrals will consider whether to send the recommendation “On Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic” to the assembly for its consideration.

It’s not clear where the recommendation came from – instead of being an overture from a presbytery or a recommendation from a PC(USA) agency, the source is simply listed as “body,” which could mean it was drafted by some of the commissioners chosen as committee leadership for this assembly.

The recommendation asks the assembly to acknowledge – quoting from the Book of Lamentations – the suffering that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic, and to ask for prayer and for the church in the midst of this pain to be a continuing witness to the world of God’s presence and love.

The recommendation states: “This is not an initiative for new action or a reordering of priorities. Doing the ministry and mission of Christ is what the church is already about. Rather, this moment requires a response from the church to a world drowning in a great flood of suffering, fear, deprivation, abandonment, and death, compounded by the pandemic. The challenge before us is not so much about adjusting to a new normal in the days ahead, but how we will continue to grow as new humans in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. In the context of a destructive virus, how will we say and show the great ends of the church?”

The recommendation calls for compassion for the most vulnerable and those who have been further marginalized by the pandemic — including older people, people of color, immigrants, those living in poverty and the working poor, those who are homeless.

It expresses gratitude and asks for safe working conditions for those who can’t avoid risks, including health care workers, public safety employees and essential workers in grocery stores, funeral homes and elsewhere.

It offers prayer for those hurt economically by the pandemic; for world, national and local leaders; for people feeling isolated; for those who are mourning; for children and young people whose worlds have been transfigured by the pandemic.

And the recommendation addresses the work of the church itself – giving thanks for “all those who labored faithfully on overtures and reports dealing with critical social and theological issues” that were scheduled to come to the 2020 General Assembly but now may be referred to the assembly in 2022, stating that “we lament the delay in addressing these profound challenges. We invite the church to join in ongoing study and discussion of these heartfelt, faithful matters.”

It also calls for prayer for “pastors and church staffs, congregations, seminaries, teachers, mission co-workers, mission agency personnel, evangelists, champions of justice, for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and for the church in the world, that the Spirit will be upon all and sustain them as they carry out the work to which they have been called.

“As different parts of the church respond to the pandemic according to their gifts, may we bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. We hold fast to the everlasting love of God in Christ that has sustained us through the ages, through war, famine, slavery, persecutions, and pestilence, with the sure and certain hope that God will never forsake us.”

As the assembly approaches – the first plenary will be held June 19 – there has been increasing momentum for it to find a way to speak to the issues of the day, including COVID-19 and matters of racial injustice. The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly voted June 11 to recommend adding a new piece of business, called “On the Church in This Moment in History,” encouraging Presbyterians use the PC(USA)’s current social witness policy to continue to work for justice.