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Looking back, looking ahead

COGA hears feedback from 220th General Assembly, discusses future options

October 22, 2012

PHILADELPHIA

Is General Assembly a council meeting or a family reunion?

That was the question put to the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) at its Oct. 16-18 meeting here. In a debriefing session on this summer’s 220th General Assembly, COGA members discussed evaluations of the Assembly and the need for discernment.

“Are we there to make this the best place where decisions can be made for a council or are we there to celebrate the church as a family and be together?” asked Tom Hay, director of operations for the Office of the General Assembly.

When selecting commissioners, it is more important to have the best decision makers present? Or is it better to have as many voices as possible? Should worship be designed for delegates or formatted as a family event? Should daycare services be provided for commissioners only or for day visitors as well?

These questions all have financial and logistical implications as well, Hay said.

Many evaluations expressed discomfort with the amount of business discussed and wondered if the Assembly was asking the right questions.

Elder Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, highlighted the lengthy and late-night debates that took place in plenary sessions. Because of the volume of business, some committees didn’t start their reports until 9 p.m., making it hard for them to have ample discussion time.

She also highlighted the hard work of appointed task forces, which study a topic for years and present recommendations to committees, who can vote to approve or disapprove those recommendations.

“It’s bad stewardship that we appoint task forces … they think, they deliberate, they study, they research … that committees just in an afternoon could say they don’t like it,” Valentine said.

She suggested more communication to commissioners about how task forces operate and the level of work involved. It’s important to presume the task forces do good work rather than waste resources by funding them and then ignoring their work, she said.

OGA is also working on updating PC-biz, the online tracking and information system for business items at Assembly. Leaders anticipate that many more commissioners will have tablet devices at the 221st Assembly in 2014 and are working to make sure PC-biz works for new technology.

“We’re not going back to paper,” Hay said.

OGA got good feedback about worshipping in local Pittsburgh congregations on the Sunday of Assembly. Worship services in the meeting hall were mainly attended only during business. But worshipping during plenary sessions is challenging because it often becomes politicized and creates tension.

COGA also heard reports from the Rev. Neal Presa, moderator of the 220th General Assembly, and the Rev. Tom Trinidad, vice moderator of the Assembly.

  1. As a GA Commissioner in 2008, I found our committee work full of thoughtful conversation, and our plenary sessions a mess of parliamentary procedure and political debate. I wish we would work toward more consensus-building models, addressing fewer overtures but getting more done for the kingdom. It is important to have GA review taskforce work, because groupthink is a real problem on taskforces, but their solutions should be brought in conversation, rather than a dry written report. IMHO.

    by Barnabas Sprinkle

    October 25, 2012

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