Riverside Conversation: Biennial Review Committee

June 30, 2012

Pittsburgh

Renewing the “Riverside Conversations” theme struck two years ago at the 219th General Assembly in Minneapolis, attendees at this year’s Assembly talked about issues Saturday at the confluence of three rivers – the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers.

The General Assembly Committee to Review Biennial Assemblies used G-3.0501 from the Book of Order as its guidepost, according to the Rev. David van Dyke of St. Paul, Minn., a commissioner to the General Assembly in 2004 that recommended the move from annual to biennial assemblies: “The General Assembly constitutes the bond of union, community and mission among all its congregations and councils, to the end that the whole church becomes a community of faith, hope, love and witness.”

To this end, the committee conducted a survey among past commissioners and present staffers. While “there was no groundswell of support to return to annual gatherings,” van Dyke said, “there was no groundswell of support for extending the period between GAs.”

Sixty-two percent of the commissioners who responded said they were asked to do too much business at GA.

“Perhaps these recommendations will help change our habits in the way we conduct business and engender more conversation,” said the Rev. Theresa Cho of San Francisco, a member of the committee.

One demographic discussed at length was age. The survey revealed that more commissioners were over age 75 than under age 45. At the 220th General Assembly, nearly 80 percent of commissioners are older than 55.

More than half of those surveyed said the Assembly would benefit from having more delegates under the age of 40.

For those attending the Riverside Conversation, which was a way of receiving information and discussing it in small groups, at least one proposal by the committee drew some fire – requiring approval from 10 percent of presbyteries of any overture before it can be considered by the General Assembly.

At least one commissioner feared the requirement could eliminate “the small prophetic voice.” “Will we erase the lone voice,” the commissioner wondered, “who saw that mixed-race marriages are a good thing, and that it is OK to ordain women?”

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