The last time the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly met face-to-face with staff of the Office of the General Assembly was February 2020 in Baltimore. As it stands now, it will be February 2022 before the group has an opportunity to get together in person again.
The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has decided to turn down the committee’s request for a hybrid meeting this fall.
“I, too, would love the opportunity to meet face-to-face with this dedicated group of individuals who work tirelessly to help set the course for the Church in the 21st century,” he said. “But this pandemic is not over yet and we must continue to take the appropriate steps to protect those who are still vulnerable to its grasp.”
Last month, COGA voted to ask the Stated Clerk to waive the travel ban and allow the group to hold a hybrid gathering Sept. 27–29. Under the plan, committee members and staff would have the option to either meet together or participate online. Supporters felt it was important to begin to model the practices and expectations of a hybrid meeting as planned for the 225th General Assembly (2022).
“While we are disappointed by the Clerk’s decision, we fully respect his decision and his authority to make it,” said Teaching Elder Stephanie Anthony, COGA moderator. “We felt that a hybrid meeting this fall would give us an opportunity to test drive some of the technology that is available to us, giving us ample time to see what works and what needs to be improved prior to next June.”
Plans are for the Presbyterian Center to open to regular hours after Labor Day from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. While infection rates are down due to vaccinations, there are many PC(USA) staff members who are unable to get vaccinated for health reasons and others who have chosen not to, or live with persons more vulnerable to the disease or are unable to get vaccinated, raising concerns about being back in the office.
“The Office of the General Assembly is very sensitive to the concerns expressed by staff. We are dealing with an unknown virus that is still wreaking havoc in this country and across the world,” said Nelson. “Even those that choose to return to the office will be required to follow mask mandates in OGA and our staff will not be traveling on business for the foreseeable future.”
“COGA wants to be sensitive to staff concerns and we respect the decision and authority of the Stated Clerk on this matter,” said Teaching Elder Eliana Maxim, COGA vice moderator. “We do look forward to the time when we can all be together in one place to discern the business of the Church."
COVID-19 prompted the denomination to halt travel on behalf of the Church and has required staff to work remotely for 16 months. It also forced the Church to hold its first-ever online General Assembly in June 2020.