As the countdown to the 224th General Assembly (2020) currently scheduled for June 20-27 continues, the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) continues working closely with staff to develop a plan for hosting a virtual event in light of the COVID-19 virus.
Those involved with the planning met in a virtual call April 9 and heard a proposal that addressed everything from a short agenda to realigning commissioner training and adjusting the schedule for electing a Moderator/ Co-Moderator.
The latest proposal calls for a two-day General Assembly on June 26 and 27. The meetings would begin each day at 11 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time and end at 6:30 p.m.
“This gives us another week for planning and getting things prepared. If we go with a reduced schedule, it eliminates all committees except for Business Referrals,” said Julia Henderson, OGA’s interim director of assembly operations. “We would form committees for community building and small groups.”
A shorter assembly would also mean a shorter agenda. COGA Member Wilson Kennedy presented a list of 37 total items of business at least 14 core items taken up individually or as a group and the other items offered through a consent agenda. Core items selected include:
- Standing Rule votes (suspending, adopting temporary rules, etc.)
- Moderator Election
- Stated Clerk Election
- Per Capita Budget
- Administrative Services Group (ASG) Budget
- Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) Work Plan
- Actions related to special committees
Henderson said the abbreviated schedule would provide for commissioner/ participant training on five days leading up the opening of the assembly. It also would allow people to participate a few special virtual events like a benefit concert and a Bible study.
This year’s General Assembly is currently scheduled to be held in Baltimore, but the convention center has been set up to receive infected patients. Convention officials have yet to cancel contracts on events scheduled in June.
Another proposal is to offer a virtual town hall for candidates seeking to become Moderator/Co-Moderators prior to General Assembly. The Moderator election would be held during the final plenary toward the end of the assembly. That would leave the responsibility of moderating the event with the Co-Moderators of the 223rd General Assembly (2018), Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri and the Reverend Cindy Kohlmann.
“Whoever moderates in this virtual format will need training and time to get used to this. Trying to coordinate between a Moderator and Stated Clerk in different towns would be stressful,” said Henderson.
The Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), says the church needs to look at this assembly as a turning point for the church.
“We are not just talking about this assembly; we are talking about a major transformation in assemblies going forward and not just through technology. The kind of money we spend now in assemblies, we won’t have in the future unless we see a change in the minds and hearts of leaders and this whole system of per capita and how we are budgeted,” he said. “Having to make adjustments in this period is a Godsend for us because we can’t continue at the rate we are going.”
Nelson says it has to be an “assembly of recognition” that no matter what COGA decides, the church will be changed forever in how it conducts assemblies and other meetings.
COGA will hold its regular spring meeting this week, April 15–17, and will make a final decision on the best course of action to take.
Information pulled from an article by Rick Jones | Office of the General Assembly – April 10, 2020 posted at https://www.pcusa.org/news/2020/4/10/coga-consider-abbreviated-virtual-general-assembly/