LOUISVILLE, Kentucky – Plenary two of the PC(USA)’s 225th General Assembly (2022) began with a technical problem. Cathy Chang, a Mission Advisory Delegate in the Philippines, was to deliver the opening prayer but her transmission was cut off due to an internet issue.
Picking up the prayer responsibilities, co-Moderator of General Assembly 224 Gregory Bentley asked God to “direct us according to your will … Lead us into all truth” as the session continued without complications.
The plenary’s agenda included ecumenical greetings, a necrology of deceased pastors and moderators since GA 224, demographic test votes, the stated clerk’s report to the General Assembly, the unified budget presentation, and video explainers from the Administrative Services Group, the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
Santiago Flores Amaya of the Reformed Calvinist Church of El Salvador shared greetings with the commissioners and delegates, saying of the relationship between the two communions, “I appreciate the ability to share our experiences, to collaborate with each other on the work shared by our regions [although] we haven’t had the opportunity to see each other face to face and greet you as a church.”
He spoke of the shared concern of “migration, which is one that greatly defeats my country and the countries of the region of Central America,” and offered blessings for the PC(USA)’s work ahead.
“We pray the work of your committees will be very profitable and the objectives of the assembly will be fully achieved. We ask God to bless you,” said Flores Amaya.
“We are saddened by the passing of our beloved Dr. James Foster Reese,” Street-Stewart said of the minister who served the denomination for over 70 years. “A long time and beloved pastor in the PC(USA) … His contributions to the church are many and his presence will be felt for years to come.”
Bentley made special mention in the necrology of two past moderators, Jule C. Spach, mission worker in Brazil and moderator of the 106th General Assembly (1976) and the Doug Oldenburg, moderator of the 210th General Assembly (1998).
Further training on the voting system and collection of anonymous demographic data was conducted through three Committee on Representation polls answered by advisory delegates and commissioners. Questions asked, “What is your primary language?”, “Which best describes your primary theological perspective?” and “I have the following disabilities…”, which will help the committee better understand the representation of current and needs of future representatives to the General Assembly.
Stated clerk’s report
Following an orientation video on the Office of the General Assembly (OGA), Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson Jr. began his report to the General Assembly by giving thanks for the technology and the people administering it that is making the 2022 hybrid assembly possible.
“We could not survive right here in this church unless we had a General Assembly.”
Still, he acknowledged the power of the gathering and the innovation that created the Assembly’s 2022 format. Commissioners will attend plenary meetings at the beginning and end of a three-week period, most virtually, and be in Louisville, Kentucky, while their committees meet over a three-and-a-half-day period.
“There’s something about us being together,” said Nelson. “To stand in the midst of individuals we find at these meetings, to be in touch with individuals in many ways and going across many of the lines of our particular church, and to be able just to communicate, friend to friend, old colleagues, classmates together or seminary classmates together, or people who just met one another.”
His encouragement to the gathering gained steam when he exclaimed, “The church is not dying, it’s reforming. And reforming means we’re getting rid of some things!”
“Reform means we take off some things we never thought we would. Reform means we are daring in what we do because we believe so deeply that if we follow through, if we press the edges, if we challenge powers and principalities, and if we walk by faith there are no losers in there,” he said of a church willing to examine its past and look toward the future. “As a matter of fact, many who stood against us in our efforts to make things better will ultimately join us.”
Nelson furthered his call to the church in the 21st century by recognizing the need for institutions to go beyond their walls in the ministry it provides and the people it encounters.
“We need to stop looking at ourselves and put our mind and our eyes and our spirit on the Lord,” he said, noting the model revealed in Jesus’ life and ministry, and who he was willing to walk with. “And who was that? Everybody created in the likeness and image of God. That’s the vision – to live in hope.”
The vision of the church, he reiterated, was to be more faithful to Jesus Christ and walk in bold ways that let the world see what the church does in faith, courage and self-sacrifice. Pointing to the construction of the new conference center where the General Assembly is meeting, he offered it as an example of this type of faithfulness. “That’s where our faith shines through.
“This [new conference center] is a testament — not just to a building and an addition, but to a faith and to our General Assembly.”
Following an introduction video on the Administrative Services Group (ASG), Ian Hall, the chief financial officer of the PC(USA), A Corporation, presented the unified 2023-24 budget for the PMA, OGA and ASG.
Spending in 2023 is budgeted at $88 million and includes $14 million for OGA, $69.3 for PMA and $4.6 million for ASG. Revenue for 2023 is projected at $71.2 million, which includes $41.6 million from contributions, investment income of $18.2 million and other income of $11.3 million.
In 2024, the budget is expected to grow to $90.1 million and includes $15.3 million for OGA, $69.9 million for PMA and $4.8 million for ASG. Revenue in 2024 is projected at $72.7 million, which includes $42 million from contributions, investment income of $19 million and other income of $11.5 million.
The deficit between revenue and expenses will be offset by investment draws of $16.6 million in 2023 and $17.3 million in 2024.
Per capita, the funding requested from presbyteries based on church membership, is $9.61 in 2023 and $10.28 in 2024.
The unified budget for the two agencies and ASG supports 418 full-time, 43 part-time employees, 75 mission co-workers who work alongside partners in 80 countries, synods and presbyteries, youth triennium, ecumenical and interfaith partners, witness and advocacy, non-government organizations and other international partners. The budget also supports the development and growth of 694 new worshiping communities, of which 245 are communities of color.
A video orientation to the Presbyterian Mission Agency followed the budget presentation, highlighting the Matthew 25 initiative.
No plenary two items required a vote. The business of the assembly continues this evening with the election of co-moderators to the 225th General Assembly.