Coordinators for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Big Tent 2019 have hit the ground running in the new year. Last week, the planning team traveled to Baltimore, the site of this year’s event as well as the 224th General Assembly. The team met with the Presbytery of Baltimore and other community organizations to talk logistics and programming.
“We are excited to be holding Big Tent in Baltimore this year. We’re coming off of the momentum of the last General Assembly, where we engaged with the community of St. Louis. With the next General Assembly being held in Baltimore in 2020, this gives us a chance to build some engagement and momentum there,” said Tom Hay, director of assembly operations with the Office of the General Assembly. “The Stated Clerk has asked that when we have a major meeting in a city, that we engage that city. Baltimore is a perfect context for having conversations about justice, poverty and racism.”
The theme this year is “A Movement Beyond Institution” which is also the theme for the 224th General Assembly, with Romans 12:2 as scripture reference.
In 2015 and 2017, Big Tent was held on college campuses. This year, they’re going back to hotels.
“We have two very good lead hotels; the Lord Baltimore and the Radisson. They are downtown and not far from the convention enter,” said Hay. “Registration will not include hotel or meals, allowing us to keep registration very low. People will have the freedom to spend as much or as little as they want to on their meals.”
Several speakers have already been confirmed. The Rev. Dr. Amaury Tañón-Santos, with the Synod of the Northeast, will preach during opening worship. Rev. Dr. Soon-Chan Rah is associate professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago and is scheduled as the first plenary speaker.
“Soon-Chan does a wonderful job setting the context of theology, race and privilege and he’s a church growth pastor,” said Hay. “He spoke at a racism conference in Montreat a few years ago and is a powerful speaker.”
The closing worship will be a celebration of the life of the Rev. Dr. Katie Cannon, the first black woman ordained as a minister in the PC(USA). Cannon died last summer.
“The Rev. Dr. Renita J. Weems, a Hebrew Bible scholar, will be the preacher for that service,” said Hay. “When people hear she’s coming, they light up, so attendees will want to stay to the very end for that.”
Over the next several weeks, planners will finalize the learning opportunities at Big Tent. Registration will open in March.
“We are excited to be exploring what it means to be both an institution and a movement,” said Hay. “The Stated Clerk often says the church must nurture its sense of being as an institution but must also engage that spirit and movement of people.”