“I’m looking forward to a great assembly, a groundbreaking assembly.”
J. Herbert Nelson, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) told the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) May 19 that plans are progressing well for the hybrid 2022 General Assembly, scheduled for June 18 to July 9.
And Julia Henderson, director of assembly operations, said a COVID medical advisory team met again May 18 and “they are very pleased with our COVID protocols and think we have done absolutely everything we can do to keep people safe.”
In Louisville, where the assembly’s committees will meet in-person, the number of COVID-19 cases reported is increasing — the city is now back in the yellow, or medium, risk category, as of May 15. There was a jump in cases in Louisville following the May 7 Kentucky Derby, Nelson said during COGA’s Zoom meeting. The Memorial Day weekend likely will bring new infections, and “people are itching to get on planes and start traveling, so there will be this big cesspool with germs,” Henderson said.
Despite that, the Office of the General Assembly is trying to plan carefully to reduce risk at the assembly as much as possible, she said.
- All participants will be required to wear “high quality” masks in the PC(USA)’s national office building, where committee meetings will be held in newly-renovated space on the first floor.
- All participants must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19, with proof of vaccination submitted in advance. Henderson said a small number of commissioners and advisory delegates will not participate because they don’t comply with the vaccine mandate, and a small number who are vaccinated have decided not to take part because they didn’t want to risk plane travel, particularly if they may be immunocompromised or have family members who are.
- Starting times for committee meetings, along with meal and snack times, will be staggered, to reduce congestion in common areas.
- The PC(USA) is contracting with a third-party provider who will query participants about any symptoms they may have developed, conduct COVID tests as needed and arrange for follow-up care for participants who develop symptoms or test positive. Participants are being asked to self-monitor, get tested as needed and isolate themselves in their hotel rooms if they do test positive.
“We all share a tremendous amount of gratitude for this COVID advisory team,” Henderson said. “They have guided us with great care. … I think we’re in a very good spot.”
Renovations. Kerry Rice, deputy stated clerk, said “we’re closing in on the construction part,” but still working on the communications and technology pieces of the renovation. On May 23, the Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky will meet in the renovated space to give the space and system a test drive. “It’s looking really good,” Rice said. “We are very much on the final stretch.”
Nelson thanked Rice and Kathy Lueckert, president of the PC(USA), A Corporation, in particular, for their leadership in guiding the renovation work.
Worship. Elona Street-Stewart, co-moderator of the 2020 General Assembly, said the worship design team is working to “make visible the idea of who we are as a community” — intentionally including the voices of people of color and younger Presbyterians.
Security. Given the fatal shootings on May 14 at the Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York, which authorities have characterized as a racially-motivated hate crime by a White gunman targeting Black shoppers, and on May 15 at Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in California, the PC(USA) is evaluating security needs for the assembly, Rice said. That includes considering the need for safety at a national church event, but also trying to be mindful of those “who don’t experience a police presence as comforting,” he said.
Street-Stewart said that “there needs to be a sense of greater security not only at the center but at the hotel” where commissioners will stay and on the routes commissioners will use to walk back and forth to meetings.
“We know we need to do something,” Rice said — so planning is underway. “All of these efforts are great, but they also are costing money,” he said. Because of high airfares, travel costs are coming in significantly higher than budgeted. The costs for providing COVID testing and care if needed “are not cheap,” he said.
“It’s all needed and it’s all important,” Rice said, but “we are spending more money than anticipated.”