The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) held its December meeting Thursday, with discussions and votes focusing on planning for the 226th General Assembly in Salt Lake City in 2024.
COGA voted to approve a staff recommendation to not host “a traditional exhibit hall” in the manner of past Assemblies. But first it amended the recommendation to emphasize the ongoing work COGA, staff and others throughout the church will do to create alternative forms of fellowship and community building. COGA also voted to approve a schedule of “limited functions” for groups at GA226.
Driving the planning changes is the shorter format of the Salt Lake City portion of the GA226 as well as budgetary considerations. COGA, agency leaders and staff are also intent to continue innovating Assembly settings to center core PC(USA) values of inclusion, access and representation.
Early in the meeting Teaching Elder Eliana Maxim, COGA moderator, and Teaching Elder Dave Davis, COGA vice-moderator, shared about their recent conversations with national agency heads regarding what Maxim called “plans, dreams and realities of the next General Assembly.” Maxim and Davis expressed gratitude toward the agency heads for being receptive to those discussions, which is helping to build a feeling of shared ownership for the next Assembly.
“I’m excited about the possibilities,” Maxim said. “Having different perspectives is going to be very helpful.”
The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, reported on ways OGA staff has been shifting gears, including reflecting on the past Assembly’s accomplishments and acting on its votes. He mentioned the new configuration of the Presbyterian Center, which is helping staff members re-connect after remote working during the worst months of the pandemic.
Teaching Elder Ruth Faith Santana-Grace, Co-Moderator of the 225th General Assembly, gave GA225 committee and commission updates, including the recent announcement of unification commission members and members of the funding model development team. Santana-Grace spoke about the “hard work” required to achieve appropriate levels of representation on GA elected groups and described an ecumenical and interfaith trip to South Sudan that Teaching Elder Shavon Starling-Louis, Co-Moderator of the 225th General Assembly, will take in early 2023.
After mentioning a list of items referred to COGA by GA225, Deputy Stated Clerk Kerry Rice covered the staff recommendations about not hosting a traditional exhibit hall at GA226 and hosting limited functions. Staff is looking at other ways to provide welcome and hang-out areas for exhibit attendees, Rice said, including expanding the registration area and hosting an opening night reception that encourages new connections among commissioners and other Assembly participants.
COGA members talked about the need to emphasize the recommended changes as shifts into new ways of engaging community as opposed to simply ceasing previous Assembly traditions; they also asked about the role of other agencies in finalizing these changes. Virtual halls, as well as providing time and space for a “networking day,” were mentioned as possible innovations. Achieving equity among agency partners that is not driven by financial considerations was also discussed. Rice said that COGA voting on the recommendations soon would help staff working to finalize contracts related to event spaces and food in Salt Lake City.
Teaching Elder Andy James proposed the amended language COGA approved before voting to approve the overall recommendation: “That the 226th General Assembly (2024) not include a traditional exhibit hall with physical displays of GA agencies and entities, other PC(USA) organizations, interested vendors, or others. That COGA ask OGA staff to explore opportunities for connecting with GA entities and agencies and other PC(USA) organizations during the in-person portion of the Assembly.”
Rice also covered the second recommendation, about limited functions: “That the OGA follow its past practice of facilitating optional breakfasts, lunches, orientations and other functions by including them in the schedule of events and selling advance tickets as part of the registration materials, but limit this to those that are sponsored by one of these groups:
- GA agencies or entities
- Other committees and groups that report directly to the General Assembly
- PC(USA) seminaries and other theological institutions in a covenant relationship with the PC(USA) (currently Auburn, Evangelical and San Francisco Theological Seminary/Redlands)
- Caucuses and Councils Serving Communities of Color
- Mid Councils.”
Groups not listed in the second recommendation could still sponsor a function, Rice said, but OGA staff would not be able to provide assistance.
COGA took one more vote, approving “the write-off of the remaining 2021 per capita in the amount of $1,199,071” — a decrease of $776,065 when compared to the budgeted amount of $1,975,136. DeAmber Clopton, associate director of Finance Administration in OGA, said that write-off was good news for the PC(USA).
After that, the Rev. Manuel Silva-Esterrich, manager of Call Process Support in OGA, discussed the ongoing revamp of the church’s “pastor placement service,” Church Leadership Connection, which will relaunch in stages over the coming months. That approach will allow active call seekers to test the site even as they use it.
Silva-Esterrich forecast that the final development changes to CLC will be ready in late winter 2023.