Dates and further plans set for the 2022 General Assembly

The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly has set the dates for committee meetings at the 2022 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — with roughly half of the 13 committees meeting from June 19-25, 2022 in Louisville, Kentucky, and the other half from June 26-July 2, 2022.

The General Assembly plenary sessions will be held online sometime after the committee meetings, but no dates for those plenary sessions have yet been determined.

J. Herbert Nelson shared his views on how and why General Assembly should be different.

Meeting Dec. 17 via Zoom, the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) also heard a verbal presentation from J. Herbert Nelson, stated clerk of the PC(USA), about his “vision for the church in the 21st century.” Nelson is trying to express his views on why and how the assembly should be different in 2022 and going forward — in part by preparing commissioners to leave the assembly and do community organizing where they live once the assembly has adjourned.

Nelson said he hopes the 2022 assembly can learn from those working for justice in Louisville, Kentucky. “We have been inside for so long,” Nelson said. As a church, “how do we begin to look at the things that really matter to the rest of the world?”

Screenshot from a video Bill McConnell, a mission engagement advisor with the Presbyterian Mission Agency, presented that will be used to stress the importance of per capita giving in the PC(USA).

Some want the General Assembly and the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness to speak out — to make proclamations about social justice and to write letters and issue statements to try to influence elected officials, Nelson said. But that’s not enough, he contends. “How do we ignite a denomination to be further engaged,” for Presbyterians to see the needs in their own communities, “in neighborhoods right down the street from out own churches?”

That means finding ways to work on behalf of those suffering depravation, brokenness and pain, Nelson said, including those in obvious need and “those who are hurting and they look good, their house looks good … but they are going through everything in their life. It is a veneer that is being shown to the rest of the world.”

And Nelson said Presbyterians need to learn to set aside their wealth and privilege and learn from those in local communities “who are the experts on poverty and brokenness and pain” — who understand, for example, how the poor are underserved in medical care or what it’s like to not have a social services safety net.

He asked: When a General Assembly ends, “what does the community see in us when we leave” — what impact have Presbyterians made on the city where the assembly is held? “Are we still just that wealthy, white denomination people see” — or has the Presbyterian presence made a difference beyond what the assembly spends on hotel rooms and restaurant meals?

After Nelson concluded, several COGA members said they resonated with his remarks — but they pressed him to articulate that vision concisely and in writing, in a way that COGA can use to present to those who want a better understanding of the changes COGA is proposing for the next General Assembly, including some who may be skeptical about the new approaches (that’s the “let’s get it in writing so we can criticize it” approach, said Elona Street-Stewart, co-moderator with Gregory Bentley of the 2020 General Assembly). While there’s a desire to bring to life the vision Nelson is proposing, “none of us can work on that until we understand it in a concise way,” said COGA moderator Stephanie Anthony.

Screenshot from a video Bill McConnell, a mission engagement advisor with the Presbyterian Mission Agency, presented that will be used to stress the importance of per capita giving in the PC(USA).

COGA member Robin Pugh said she heard Nelson describe a process of building relationships and planting seeds for ongoing ministry following the assembly, not just voting and “checking a bunch of stuff off a list.”

COGA voted to create a design team of about a dozen people that will work in upcoming months to flesh out that vision. That team will include representatives from COGA and the Office of the General Assembly staff, along with a former General Assembly moderator, commissioners from the 2020 and 2018 General Assemblies and others.

COGA also authorized a team to work with Nelson to develop talking points about the vision that can be shared with the wider church, and to appoint a communications team.

In addition, COGA heard a report on a new effort from the Mission Engagement and Support office in the Presbyterian Mission Agency to develop a strategy and plan to promote per capita giving.

An interaction with COGA moderator Stephanie Anthony’s dog provided a light moment in the Zoom meeting. (Screenshot by Leslie Scanlon)