Tom Hay is counting the days until the next Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly. There are still more than 500.

But Hay ― director of operations for the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) ― and the crew of Assembly planners ― know already that time is of the essence.

“Things are going very well,” he told the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) at its March 29-31 meeting here. The 220th General Assembly convenes June 30, 2012 in Pittsburgh.

Hay unveiled a medallion-style loge for GA220 that, for the first time, is built on a template that can be used for succeeding Assemblies. “Part of what we’re trying to do is create a ‘brand’ for the General Assembly that can be used in a variety of ways,” he said. “We hope people will use the medallion for many things.”

The preliminary schedule will look familiar to veteran Assembly-goers, but a number of innovations have been added.

For the second Assembly in a row, the morning before the Assembly convenes will be given over to “Riverside Conversations” ― opportunities for commissioners and advisory delegates to informally discuss the major issues coming before the Assembly.

The Assembly will convene at 1:30 p.m. on June 30 with opening worship ― a departure from most recent Assemblies, when the opening worship service took place on Sunday morning. The change, Hay said, “means that the Assembly appropriately begins with worship and gives us the opportunity to restore an earlier tradition of  worshiping on Sunday morning in local congregations.” He said the churches of Pittsburgh Presbytery “are eager to welcome commissioners and other Assembly guests” to their places of worship.

Because the Assembly runs over the July 4 holiday (the Wednesday of Assembly week), the schedule is being tweaked to allow Assembly-goers to see Pittsburgh’s fireworks gala. “The convention center is one of the prime viewing spots,” Hay said, “so we’ll meet in plenary until the fireworks start and watch them from there.”

Hay outlined one other change for 2012: rather than an unstructured “reading period” on Wednesday morning ― when Assembly Committee reports are released ― commissioners and advisory delegates will meet in their committees to discuss the reports from the other committees. “Research has repeatedly shown that the committees are where the commissioners feel most comfortable talking, so they will have that opportunity before they begin plenary deliberations,” Hay said.

In other business, COGA:

  • Heard from General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons that OGA finished 2010 with a surplus “even though we had budgeted for use of reserves and had $1.1 million in uncollectable per capita apportionments
  • Approved a recommendation from the General Assembly Committee on Representation (COR) that “birth year” be included in the GA registration process (it already is for roommate selection) so the committee can better determine participation and representation by youth;
  • Approved another COR recommendation that it work with GA220’s Bills and Overtures Committee to do “process observation” at the Assembly. “The questions we will be seeking to answer,” said COR Manager Molly Casteel, “are how do you measure or assess ‘fair and effective representation in the decision-making process’? (the committee’s Book of Order mandate); does mere presence translate into participation? and if not, how do different decision-making processes impact inclusiveness?
  • Heard an update from COGA member and Synod of Lincoln Trails Executive Carol McDonald on the work of the General Assembly’s Special Committee to Review Biennial General Assemblies, which is scheduled to report to the 2012 Assembly; and
  • Reviewed and adopted its “benchmark” goals for 2011.