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The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) welcomed some new faces during a two-day online meeting last week. This was the first lengthy meeting for members Blythe Kieffer, Dave Davis, Luci Duckson-Bramble, Robin Pugh, and Shannan Vance-Ocampo, who, as vice chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, serves as a corresponding member of COGA.

The gathering provided new members an opportunity to learn about OGA and the issues facing the church. It was also a time for the group to review the past few months as it relates to the 224th General Assembly (2020) and the impact of COVID-19 on the future work of the church.

To assist in the work ahead, COGA formed three working groups: Innovative Discernment, Merger and National Unity, and Upcoming General Assemblies.

“These are not isolated work groups and there will be opportunities for collaborative work,” said Eliana Maxim, COGA vice moderator. “We will be examining and reviewing the current tools that we have for discernment such as PC-Biz, standing rules, and other documents and practices we have.”

Innovative Discernment

COGA members assigned to this group will be looking at the best way to help the church move forward in the decision-making process.

Duckson-Bramble says the church needs to do more to engage with young people.

“One of the things we’ve talked about is how we do things and engage people differently,” she said. “What resources might we need to be creative and bring other young people, who don’t have the opportunity to come to the table, to be a part of the church?”

She adds that efforts need to be made to “broaden the number of people at the table.”

“In 2018, the young adult advisory delegates were prepared for General Assembly and had done the prep work for discussion, but they only had an advisory vote,” she said. “They are the kings and queens of technology, but many left during the General Assembly and didn’t stay as engaged as we wanted them to.”

Pugh says General Assembly means more than passing overtures.

“It’s also about building stronger relationships. We need to think of creative ways to continue building relations with one another so the things we do pass at assembly can have some fruition,” she said.

The Reverend Greg Bentley, Co-Moderator of the 224th General Assembly (2020), says he hopes to see more engagement at all levels of the church.

“We need to dive deep into an issue we are discerning and get a handle on it, not just jockey enough votes to have our way,” said Bentley. “We have an incredible opportunity so everyone can weigh in and be intentional about discerning the will of Christ.”

Leon Lovell-Martin believes technology alone won’t keep young people connected to the work of the church.

“Going forward, if we want to keep young people engaged, don’t assume technology alone will do it,” he said. “They like social interaction and we need to look at that going forward. How do we get social interaction built into the process?”

Julia Henderson, OGA’s interim director of churchwide services, says she and other staff are planning to meet with YAAD advisors on ways to improve YAAD experiences with General Assembly.

Merger and National Unity

In response to feedback from the Moving Forward Implementation Commission, the Per Capita and Financial Sustainability Special Committee, and others, this working group will discuss PC(USA) structure including topics such as merger between the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

“We recognize the conversations about the structure of the national church, offices, and boards and we have heard from special committees and the Moving Forward Implementation Commission on this topic,” said COGA Moderator Stephanie Anthony. “We invite all of the parties to the conversation on this. We want this group to get those conversations going and see what partners we have in this.”

“One of the things discussed in our group is the desire for collaboration between the two agencies (OGA and PMA),” said Maxim. “This is a great way that we can have conversations, dream together, and troubleshoot the best way to serve the church and its mission.”

Upcoming General Assemblies (225th/226th)

OGA leaders are still evaluating what worked and what needs improvement for future General Assemblies following the 224th General Assembly (2020) that was held completely online last month. The assembly was reduced to a few days and considered only critical business to keep the national church operating until the 225th gathering in 2022.

“One of the overarching themes is the desire for more theological language, as accessible to the church at this moment,” said COGA member Wilson Kennedy. “Our documents are not forest or tree documents — they’re leaves, very detail oriented. We don’t always do a good job of communicating our values or movement of the Spirit in our midst.”

Kennedy added that it’s more than just expanding the number of people at the table.

“We think the issue is how to create a new table,” he said. “What do we need to retire, lament, or repent for and what do we need to build up, so decisions fully reflect the true diversity of the church and the ability to make inclusive and equitable decisions?”

COGA also discussed the need for a racial and equity justice lens for its work.

“The foundation of our work theologically and ecclesially calls us to seek hope, love, faith, and witness as the church,” said Maxim. “It’s impossible as long as we make ourselves the center in the work. We must use a lens with which we can approach all of our work.”

COGA’s next meeting will be August 20.