Eight months before thousands of Presbyterians gather in Detroit for the 221st General Assembly June 14-21, 2014, the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) met for a preview of what to expect.
A struggling auto industry and negative media reports, combined with Detroit’s bankruptcy filing in July, have led many Presbyterians to question the wisdom of holding an Assembly in the city. The Office of the General Assembly has successfully promoted 220 assemblies, said the Rev. Tom Hay, OGA’s associate for assembly operations.
“What we don’t know how to do is promote a city with this bad publicity,” he said.
Hay responded to several possible concerns: Cobo Center, where the Assembly will be held, is not owned by the city and is therefore unaffected by the bankruptcy filing. Also, downtown Detroit, home to Customs and Border Protection, the FBI and Homeland Security, is very safe.
Detroit has much to teach the church, Hay said. The city is an institution that trusted in old patterns after they stopped working.
“In many ways, that’s something like us,” he said.
As visitors to the city, Presbyterians are witnesses to the justice of Jesus Christ. Hay encouraged COGA members to think about the possible impact attendees could have — if every one left $5 for their hotel cleaning staff every day of the Assembly, the Presbyterian Church would put $74,000 directly into the hands of the working poor.
COGA also heard from the Committee on Local Arrangements and the Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau and went on a bus tour of downtown Detroit.
Detroit needs good news ambassadors, said Larry Alexander, bureau president and CEO. He thanked the Office of the General Assembly for its statement of support after Detroit’s bankruptcy filing.
“We want to welcome you and each and every one of your attendees to experience the hospitality of Detroit,” Alexander said. “What you hear and what you may think is not reality.”
As for Assembly business, Hay predicted that the most debate would center on several issues: changes to the Board of Pensions, the Belhar Confession, the definition of marriage, the mid council commission, the review of biennial assemblies, the directory for worship and divestment in fossil fuel companies.
“These are fundamental conversations that need to happen at the one council that brings the whole church together,” Hay said.
This business will need to be conducted in fewer committees than at the 220th General Assembly, which featured 21 committees — an unusually high number. Each committee’s leadership costs about $8,000, mainly for training. The church can’t afford to spend that amount for 21 committees in 2014, Hay noted, suggesting 15 committees. COGA, in consultation with General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons, will determine the final committee structure of the Assembly.