Louisville, Kentucky — The Health, Safety and Benefits Committee of the 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) began today with worship, introductions, team building and agreement on a team covenant. Commissioners also learned how to work with PC-Biz, the online record-keeping tool of the assembly; use the microphones and the basics of the parliamentary process, including the options they had to handle each of the business items before the committee. The morning concluded with Committee Assistant Matthew Schramm outlining the committee schedule. The business is scheduled in four groups with mental health-related items on Thursday afternoon, the Board of Pensions and the Family Leave Task Force recommendations on Friday morning, business related to Reproductive Justice on Friday afternoon and the items concerning Sexual Misconduct on Saturday.
The committee received a brief visit from J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly. He thanked them for their service, stressed the importance of their work and encouraged them as they worked and discerned over the next three days.
The afternoon’s business began with a brief overview by Schramm concerning the different sources of the three items to be considered. Item HSB-02 is a presbytery overture referred from the previous General Assembly, item HSB-04 is a recommendation from the Presbyterian Mission Agency also referred from the previous General Assembly and HSB-08 is a recommendation to this General Assembly from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy. Later in the general discussion in response to commissioners’ comments, it was clarified by Kate Trigger Duffert, assistant stated clerk and manager for GA business and per capita promotion, that items referred by the previous General Assembly are sent for consideration by the current committee without endorsement from the previous assembly. As she clarified for the commissioners, the business is “fully up to you” as a committee to decide.
The committee addressed mental health-related items after lunch, hearing from various resource people about the items. Speakers included Laurie Kraus, director of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, who spoke about the work that has been done over the last four years regarding mental health care, including the creation of the Presbyterian Mental Health Network following General Assembly in 2018. Grants were made and a position was funded at the Presbyterian Mission Agency for part of that time. Though the agency doesn’t expect to fill that position again, it will work with local churches and regional bodies in distributing grants to address mental health needs.
Rose McCurdy from Winnebago Presbytery is the Overture Advocate for HSB-02 and the vice-moderator of the Presbyterian Mental Health Network. She joined remotely to discuss the Overture and the intent to commend and support the work that has already been done.
The committee also heard from Jeromey Howard, a member of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, who spoke to HSB-08 and the need to create a new policy for mental health concerns. The current policy, Comfort My People, is now 14 years old and much has changed in the area of mental health care. Language has evolved and wording is used that is now recognized as racist, not inclusive and not affirming. Finally, will look at an approach that does not try to fix people but works to resolve underlying issues.
Following clarifying questions from the commissioners and advisory delegates to the speakers, the committee broke into small groups of four or five to discuss and crystallize their thoughts. The groups then reported back to the whole committee.
The first item acted upon by the committee was HSB-02 On Commending and Furthering Mental Health Ministry in the PC(USA). This overture contained a series of six statements commending various councils and entities for their support and action regarding mental health care. As this was referred from the 224th General Assembly it was written before the COVID pandemic. The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, in their comments on the overture, suggested adding a seventh part that would encourage the Presbyterian Mission Agency to produce mental health resource materials related to lessons learned from the pandemic that would help address the “needs of church members during times of prolonged emergency isolation.” That suggestion was incorporated into the item and the item was overwhelmingly approved as amended.
The committee next turned to HSB-08 Resolution on the Update for Comfort my People — From the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy. An amendment was made with some discussion regarding the composition of the writing team to ensure there was representation from youth and young adults. It is a forward-looking policy, and they would be most affected in the future. Anticipating further work from the Nominating Committee, Assistant Stated Clerk valerie izumi was asked for her input. She commented that while she usually advises against such instructions to the Nominating Committee, in this case the addition would be consistent with the process of the committee and would not be a problem. Again, the item was overwhelmingly approved with the amendment.
Finally, the committee considered HSB-04 On Furthering Mental Health Ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) —From the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board. This item looks ahead, continuing the work that Kraus spoke about earlier. Because Kraus mentioned the elimination of the position with the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the item had been referred from the last Assembly, the item was easily amended to remove the position and make it consistent with the described plan of work. The item was unanimously approved as amended with comment.
These three business items were generally straightforward and while each was amended the changes were simple. They did get to the point of an amendment to the amendment, but with a little time, the committee worked together to come to a consensus on these items. The work will get a bit harder tomorrow as the committee considers family leave policy and reproductive justice. And there is one more mental health-related item that came to the committee as a commissioners’ resolution, and it will be taken up tomorrow afternoon as well.
With overwhelming approval, the three items will appear on the consent agenda for General Assembly plenaries beginning July 5.