Why has the format of the General Assembly changed for 2022?
Gathering together the PC(USA) for the General Assembly requires that many different factors be taken into consideration. In 2020, new concerns were added to the planning process with the unknowns and health risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. It became urgent for the Church to consider innovative ways of creating the small group settings that serve to better keep participants safe during any gatherings. This innovative thinking has become a secondary blessing for the Church in the ways it provides for cost savings amid limited financial resources. Rather than striving to re-create past Assemblies with inadequate resources, the pandemic has empowered the PC(USA) to embrace the movement of the Spirit and do a new thing. Successfully conducting the 224th General Assembly online in 2020 has provided a base of knowledge and experience for future planning.
How long will commissioners need to be available in this new format?
The 225th General Assembly will include both in-person committee meetings in Louisville and online plenary sessions, which will require commissioner and advisory delegate virtual attendance. By late February 2022, all participants will be informed of their committee assignment and which days their assigned committee will be meeting. Prior to this, commissioners and advisory delegates are asked to place a tentative hold on their calendars from June 17 to July 9, 2022. As soon as committee assignments are made, participants may clear any days their committee will not be meeting. Knowing that this temporary hold may cause difficulties for some participants, the GA Co-Moderators, members of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, the Stated Clerk and Office of the General Assembly colleagues have made it a priority to communicate with participants in a timely manner.
Are the changes to the 225th General Assembly a permanent decision for all future Assemblies?
Given the new and innovative ideas being put into place for the 225th General Assembly, it is important for the Church to be able to reflect on what innovations are effective and which need continued discernment. In order to make an informed decision, no decisions will be made until summer 2022 regarding future Assemblies.
How is the Presbyterian Center in Louisville reforming and renovating to meet these needs?
It has become clear over the past year that meetings providing for the inclusion of both in-person attendees and online participants is a necessity for the Church. Impending renovations to the Presbyterian Center at 100 Witherspoon St. in Louisville will allow this need to be met for the General Assembly, as well as other meetings. The creation of new meeting rooms equipped with production technology will allow for improved quality and decreased expenses to host these meetings. The space will also be made available to host meetings of other PC(USA) related organizations, as well as nonprofits and civic organizations in Louisville.
How will these renovations be funded?
The cost of these building improvements will total $2.4 million. Approximately $1.6 million will come from existing unrestricted reserves. Another $479,000 has been contributed from per capita funds given from members through their congregation and mid council to the work of the Church. Finally, about $325,000 will come from capital reserves. This investment enables the Church to provide better quality and more inclusive and welcoming meeting spaces for online and in-person meetings, creating additional cost savings that will be recognized immediately. The savings will continue to climb as these building resources are used by the whole of the Church.
What opportunities will Presbyterians have for fellowship and networking during the 225th General Assembly?
Inspired by the vision of the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, the 225th General Assembly will focus on the gathering and discernment of commissioners and advisory delegates as they meet to discuss and discern important topics in community. This approach will empower participants of the Assembly to put their energy into listening to the will of God as it calls the Church into service.
While past Assemblies have surrounded this important work of discernment with additional time for community and networking opportunities, the vision of the 225th General Assembly prioritizes committee, worship and plenary time. However, conversations have already begun regarding other PC(USA) conferences and gatherings as places at which coming together and networking may be held without the added pressure of business meetings.
How will participants be equipped to participate in this new Assembly format? How will mid councils contribute to this work?
How will those who are not in person be enabled to observe and participate in committee meetings and their open hearings?
Open hearings are an important part of the Assembly process as they provide an opportunity for committees to hear from any individual regarding the business being considered. In previous Assemblies, speaking during open hearings required that an individual travel to the Assembly in order to be heard. The 225th General Assembly will allow for prerecorded video testimonies to be submitted for the open hearing session. Through the use of a simple web application, individuals across the whole Church and beyond will be able to contribute their testimony when and where they are able.
Discussion is underway to provide for remote Overture Advocate participation, with more details to come in August 2021.
Both in-person and online meetings face challenges regarding equity and access. How is the 225th General Assembly preparing to answer our call to create equitable and inclusive spaces with the new addition of online work?
Embracing technology for the work of discernment opens many doors for the General Assembly. We are better equipped to provide language interpretation, are able to connect with existing vision and auditory support technologies and will meet people where they are. All of these benefits improve the Assembly as a whole in creating better accessibility for participants.
However, quality internet access and technology literacy are contributing factors to the digital divide, which challenges all online events. The connectional nature of the Church allows us to approach this divide alongside one another. Mid council leaders are encouraged to reach out to commissioners and advisory delegates to best meet their technology needs. Mid councils may be able to find local solutions that will empower participants by loaning devices or creating hospitality spaces with high-speed internet in which participants can safely gather.