When I welcomed everyone to the Big Tent in Indianapolis recently, I said that the Big Tent is like a General Assembly in that the halls are teeming with Presbyterians, either connecting for the first time or reconnecting with one another.
I also noted the differences between the Big Tent and an assembly – no voting machines, no time clocks counting down the seconds until a speaker is required to sit down, no gavel-wielding Moderator.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the Big Tent is somehow better than GA. As a church, we need both.
We need the Big Tent to discover and celebrate the incredible ministries that are happening across the denomination – exemplified by the fact that listing all the workshops, discussion groups, and events required a 52-page program guide.
But it is only at the General Assembly where we discuss, debate, and discern the mind of Christ for the PC(USA).
Yes, a General Assembly is political. Yes, it can be fractious. Yes, an assembly can make decisions that are emotionally and personally draining. I saw that many times during the 219th General Assembly. Three examples stand out: when young Korean-American clergywomen spoke against a committee recommendation to approve another Korean non-geographic presbytery; when a procedural decision was approved that meant no substantive debate on the issue of same-sex marriage would occur; and when a new ordination standard was approved.
But if what we are trying to do is discern together God’s will for us, shouldn’t it be difficult? Shouldn’t it be emotional? Shouldn’t it run the risk of being fractious?
The 220th General Assembly is less than one year away. It, like every assembly preceding it, will have difficult issues to discuss, debate, and decide. Now is the time for ruling and teaching elders in every presbytery to begin thinking about whether you feel called to be considered as a commissioner to next year’s assembly. Pray about it. Talk about it with those in your faith community. Will you be one of the commissioners who gather in Pittsburgh for a week of worship, prayer, emotion, debate, discernment, and decision?
Do you feel the call to be part of that process?