Louisville, Kentucky – In order to meet the ever-changing demands of the present age, many changes to form and function are being proposed at the 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), meeting for the second week at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky. The Committee on GA Ministry Coordination spent time yesterday and several hours today discerning item GA-MC-15 on how future GA meetings might look. Based on several formats offered by the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA), the committee ultimately voted 21-16 to approve online committee meetings and an in-person plenary for the 226th GA meeting scheduled for 2024 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
In their proposal, COGA stated, “In terms of practices and meetings of the General Assembly, the areas of concern that rise to the top include fiscal responsibility, earth stewardship, the reality of declining membership, technological advances, a fresh passion for longstanding values such as equity, inclusion, and accessibility, and reclaiming the meaning of the Church.”
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic added another layer of complication to an already complicated process of hosting a general assembly. The 224th GA in 2020 was held entirely online, with most of the business referred to the 225th GA this year.
In their proposal, COGA acknowledged, “The General Assembly is more than simply a business meeting. … Assemblies are gatherings of the whole church.”
The three plans presented by COGA for the 226th GA, scheduled for June 29-July 2, 2024, including estimated costs, were:
- Plan Alpha – committees in person, plenaries online ($2.51 million)
- Plan Omega – committees online, plenaries in person ($2.82 million, the one ultimately recommended by committee)
- Traditional Assembly – everything in person ($3.65 million)
- Online – entirely online, no in-person gathering ($1.25 million, including cancellation fees and loss of deposits already paid for Salt Lake City)
The committee debated each of the options, sharing concerns about cost, the connectional nature of our denomination, and inclusion with regard to churches in more rural areas with fewer resources to participate in the higher councils of the PC(USA). After a series of motions put forth to approve one format or the other, each failing, the committee decided by a small majority on the Omega plan.
Prior to the vote, J. Herbert Nelson, stated clerk of the GA, addressed the committee, saying, “[I] want to thank you for being the first audience that [is] able to figure out how to move forward in the twenty-first century, as we are continuing to do that with regards to the work of the Office of the General Assembly. … Let us stop for a minute in order to go to the greatest resistance to the gospel, … where we are meant to go to the greatest deficit in the places of where we find ourselves and stay there until things turn around. That means, in many ways, stepping out of the role of bureaucracy, … stepping out of the roll of, and let me say this at the risk of being misunderstood, being decent and in order, and sometimes going into the disorder of life, and figuring out how in those places and spaces to build the kind of camaraderie and to build the kind of reputation that we as the Church are called to be in the 21st century. … What we are being called to is transformative change … and make a difference in the lives of the people who are struggling.”
Next week the rest of the assembly will need to decide whether or not they agree with the committee’s decision. If the assembly does not, commissioners will still need to decide the format of the next assembly. Resource staff from COGA and other parts of the PC(USA) reiterated that no decision means the default and more expensive full in-person format.
The Committee on GA Ministry Coordination completed its work early, with several commissioners seeking to fly home tonight or earlier tomorrow.