The 225th General Assembly is still a year away, but leaders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Office of the General Assembly are already looking at how worship will fit into a hybrid gathering. While details are still to be worked out, those participating in recent planning meetings want to look at new ways to incorporate worship into the Assembly.
The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), has been meeting with the Co-Moderators of the 224th General Assembly, Ruling Elder Elona Street-Stewart and the Rev. Gregory Bentley, along with OGA staff to bring a fresh perspective to worship in this setting.
“What we’re trying to get at is to really have the worship service be the powerhouses of the whole Assembly, to generate spiritual energy that would drive the whole gathering, not just be stand-alone events that we plug in, but to be the mitochondria of the body,” said Bentley. “We want to set a camp meeting-type of revival atmosphere in worship, make it memorable and allow it to be the connective tissue between everything that goes on at General Assembly.”
Nathan Young, who has helped produce Assemblies in the past, including the 224th General Assembly that was held completely online last year, says a hybrid format opens a lot of opportunities for the Church.
“One of the great things that we have in a hybrid environment is we can bring in voices that would traditionally be present physically, so I think lifting that up is a positive,” said Young. “We will have the ability to do any combination of online and in-person worship from the center with the new equipment we’re bringing in. The sky’s the limit.”
“I can’t express enough our desire to have continuity or a flow so that every time we gather, there needs to be this sense that people came together for the great revival,” said Street-Stewart. “We want people to really feel that they were in the presence of the Spirit at this time.”
The group believes a smooth transition between meetings and worship is key to success, creating “a more dance and play” between worship and meeting, providing the Church an opportunity to amplify or lift up opportunities and strengths rather than weaknesses and threats.
Worship at General Assembly has traditionally included an ecumenical service. Dianna Wright, OGA’s director of ecumenical and interreligious relations, believes that service should also follow the overall plan for worship in general.
“We want people to think about the creativity, innovation and energy that they can take back and use in their own spaces, especially since we would have an opportunity to do things online as well as hybrid,” said Wright. “We want them to create ways to energize and stimulate action in their own communities.”
One of the considerations would be to find someone to serve as a worship coordinator/designer to work with the production team to organize the services.
“This should be someone who can be creative at a 30,000-foot view. We’re creating something new here and don’t want to go back to stale concepts,” said Young.
The 225th General Assembly will also fall during the Juneteenth observance (June 18, 2022), and Nelson believes that that is something that can’t be ignored.
“You can’t deny that folks in the streets are dealing with issues of racial struggle and mistreatment. We have to stop for a minute and deal with some of the hot issues and make people think on another level,” he said. “Everything is changing in society in ways that are uncomfortable for a lot of us, but we have to figure out how to engage it. We have to figure out how to be inclusive, not just in word and liturgy.”
The group hopes to have preachers selected for all services by September.
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