Committee on the Office of the General Assembly gathers for their fall meeting in October 2019 in Louisville, KY. Photo by Randy Hobson.

The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly gathers for its fall meeting in October 2019 in Louisville. Photo by Randy Hobson.

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The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) will make a final decision on the 224th General Assembly (2020) during its weekly call Thursday, April 23. Committee members have been looking at several options, including a reduced, two-day virtual assembly.

It is currently scheduled to be held in Baltimore, June 20–27; however, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in countless conference cancellations in the city. The convention center in Baltimore is currently set up to be a field hospital for infected patients.

COGA held the first of a two-day virtual meeting on Wednesday, spending most of it in executive session. The group agreed to consider specific criteria in determining what commissioners will be focused on this year.

Prior to that session, Committee Chair Barb Gaddis urged members to listen.

“Be aware that this is a difficult and unbelievably unprecedented time. Treat each other with as much grace as possible,” she said. “Allow words of others to reach us in ways we haven’t felt before. Listen very carefully, for this is a monumental discussion.”

Gaddis says COGA received numerous letters from committees of the General Assembly and mission network teams in recent weeks, offering input as to what will be included in the assembly gathering.

“We appreciate the thoughts and advice that have gone into this and we are considering those very carefully,” she said. “The use of language is really critical, so COGA has moved away from using the word ‘essential’ as we talk about what is critical around ecclesiology, governance and mission work. These are the criteria we will use to determine business in the assembly.”

COGA agreed to approach business items with the following questions:

  • Is this (business/event/mission priority) so time sensitive that COGA needs to address it now? Would not addressing it have negative legal or polity implications?
    • If COGA does not address this (business/event/mission priority), will it have a negative impact on the church financially?
  • If COGA does not address this (business/event/mission priority), will it leave critically important leadership positions vacant?

The Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), told the committee he’s been impressed by congregations’ efforts to push through the difficult challenges of COVID-19.

“We must understand the realities that people are going through with the death of loved ones, or those who are still dying, struggling to just make it through,” he said. “What course of action can this General Assembly take to be sensitive to the need to set aside the wrangling of business and deal with some of the important areas of how we speak to this period of time that is both pastoral and prophetic?”

Nelson says life with COVID-19 has called the church to rethink what the General Assembly represents and do some of the things that will move the church from lament to hope.

“We won’t be the same church again and that’s not totally a bad thing,” he said. “We’ve been called out of ourselves and beyond our ordinations and expectations of ministry to a place that we really have to think through what this denomination can do.”

“We would be remiss if we didn’t do something to recognize this moment,” said COGA Member Andy James. “We need to explore not just the financial ramifications of this virus, but how it is impacting the church. To name that in some way in our comments and any potential new business would be appreciated.”

COGA was set to conclude its spring meeting Thursday afternoon.