From June 16-23, 2018, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will meet in the “Gateway City” for the 16th time since 1851 and the first since 1988.

Planning for the Assembly comes as St. Louis continues to experience unrest, dating back to the police shooting of an 18-year-old black man, Michael Brown, in the summer of 2014 in suburban Ferguson, Missouri. “The protests are primarily economic, but you cannot separate out the various factors that contribute to them,” the Rev. Craig Howard, executive of Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery told 300 Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) leaders here October 16 during the annual Mid Council Leaders Gathering.

“The panel Saturday [titled “Faith in Action: Being Church in Times of Social Unrest”] was very helpful,” Howard said. “We are looking to do something on a larger scale at GA … to try to create an environment for transformation.” Some panel attendees participated in a protest march a few blocks away – what has become a regular occurrence here – at the conclusion of the panel.

Part of that engagement effort will be opportunities for church groups to engage in service-learning activities before, during and after the Assembly as part of the “Hands and Feet Initiative,” an effort inspired by General Assembly Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, II.

“We want to change the narrative of the heart,” Howard said. “At the end of the day that’s what adaptive change is – a change of the heart. Recalling his own childhood, Howard said, “We’re still dealing with the same stuff as when I was a kid in the projects. In some ways things may be better, but they’re also the same. If we can be just a little bit better, than we will have achieved our goal.”

The Office of the General Assembly’s director of Assembly operations, the Rev. Tom Hay, said the business of the Assembly will be conducted by 538 commissioners – 66 fewer than the 2016 Assembly, plus advisory delegates. Hay said the number of commissioners will not go much lower at coming Assemblies because most presbyteries already send the minimum or close to the minimum number of commissioners allotted to them.

Several new events will make their debut at the St. Louis assembly:

  • The Committee on Local Arrangements (COLA) of Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery will sponsor a welcome reception on Friday, June 15 — before the assembly convenes the next morning but after most of the commissioners and advisory delegates have arrived. “The first thing most assembly-goers want to do is seek out friends who are also there,” Hay said. “This will give them a great opportunity and COLA is excited about giving this gift to the church.”
  • The “In Memorium” recitation of Presbyterians of note who have died since the last assembly will be done during the Saturday, June 16, plenary when the new Moderator(s) will be elected.
  • Bible study on Monday, June 18, and Tuesday, June 19, will be held in plenary before the assembly disperses to its assembly committee meetings.
  • The Ecumenical Worship Service will be incorporated into the Wednesday morning, June 20, plenary session. At previous assemblies, that service was a stand-alone event.
  • On Thursday evening, June 21, the assembly will dispense with a business session to celebrate the Hands and Feet Initiative, which will engage Presbyterians in service-and-learning opportunities in the cities where at least the next three General Assemblies are being held—St. Louis (2018), Baltimore (2020), and Columbus, Ohio (2022).
  • Theological Student Advisory Delegates (TSADs) will be selected by an application process (rather than being selected by seminaries, as was the previous practice) and will be reduced to fifteen in number. To be eligible, students must have at least one year of seminary remaining and must be an inquirer or candidate under the care of a PC(USA) presbytery.

The theme of the 223rd General Assembly is “Kindom Building for the 21st Century.”