It’s been 54 years since the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) met here. Despite the rigors of hosting a gathering of some 3,500 Presbyterians for a week, local officials hope another 54 years won’t pass until the next one.

More than 1,000 volunteers from Pittsburgh Presbytery and several surrounding presbyteries are on duty here for the 220th General Assembly (2012), which runs June 30-July 7.

“This project began two and half years ago,” said Committee on Local Arrangements chair Eric Dennis, “and it’s been a wonderful experience. We are totally focused on our mission of welcome and hospitality.”

Pittsburgh Presbytery’s executive, Sheldon Sorge, recalled the last time the Assembly met in Pittsburgh. It involved a reunion of the former Presbyterian Church in the United States of America and the United Presbyterian Church of North America. “The parade spilled out into the streets of Pittsburgh,” Sorge said. “Today the highest concentration of Presbyterians in the country is in Allegheny County (which includes Pittsburgh) so we will be celebrating our rich, delightful history.”

Assembly participants will worship Sunday morning in about 30 local Presbyterian congregations ― an old Assembly tradition that has been abandoned in recent years in favor of a mass worship service in a downtown arena. Worshiping with local congregations “will give our congregations a delightful experience,” Sorge said.

At least three congregations that will welcome visiting Presbyterians are experimental congregations, part of a new churchwide goal to create “1001 new worshiping communities” in the next 10 years. Fostering new experimental Presbyterian communities “is messy work with sleepless nights,” Sorge said, “but that’s the reality you live with if you want new things to happen.”

General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons said the Assembly is “very glad to be here. Pittsburgh has fantastic facilities and great hosts ― a great gift to the church.” Parsons also praised the 688 elected commissioners and more than 220 advisory delegates “who have taken a week off from their jobs and out of their summer to be here. Theirs is a great sacrifice.”

Parsons said he has hope that the unusually high number of “hefty issues will bring people closer together. We have scheduled lots of prayer and worship to keep people grounded. Our goal here is to bring more people to Jesus Christ and more justice to the world.”

For local Presbyterians, Sorge said, “we hope that the General Assembly will afford our churches the opportunity to experience the nearness and breadth of the whole church, to make the abstract real and to create the long-term effect of a deeper sense of identification with the whole PC(USA).”