Not all innovations at this summer’s hybrid 225th General Assembly are technological, or meant to speed up proceedings.
Equity primes, which will be provided to commissioners and advisory delegates for the first time, are a set of reminders encouraging the church’s largest deliberative body to be methodical when discerning and deciding items of business.
“What additional information do we need to make an inclusive decision?” is an example of an equity prime shared during a recent Leader Briefing II training by Jihyun Oh, Director of Mid Council Ministries in the Office of the General Assembly. Another: “Why are we trying to make the decision now?”
“Equity primes are not just questions,” Oh told the news service. “They are things that will prime our brains for equitable action and choices.”
“Sometimes they are reminder cards of our breadth of choices. Sometimes they are reminders in our script or process to pause for a full minute so that those who need to think a minute and those who need interpretation can participate fully.”
Equity primes are designed to help committees prioritize PC(USA) values of inclusion and equity in a shared space even as they use digital tools to cast votes (PC-Biz) and access Assembly trainings and other information (myGA). Commissioners will meet in-person during two weeks of staggered committee hearings in Louisville, with members of the public able to watch hearings remotely.
A concern following the all-online Assembly of 2020 was that virtual gatherings tend to limit social justice and equity discussions in favor of other topics. Oh said the voices of marginalized communities were further sidelined at the last Assembly when online participants became tired or felt the plenary session had gone too long.
The primes at GA225 will encourage committee members to consider individual and group factors such as implicit bias, who has spoken and for how long and the far-reaching impacts decisions have on different communities — including those beyond the church.
In Louisville, printed equity prime cards will be provided to committee moderators, vice moderators and the other commissioners and advisory delegates constituting the 17 committees. The primes will also be available on the 225th General Assembly website.
Hearing from individuals and groups who have been silenced during past Assemblies, and considering the long-term impact of decisions on communities not represented in a particular discussion, are parts of forming “a more inclusive understanding of what it means to come together as Presbyterians,” said the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, in an introductory video on the 225th General Assembly website.
Equity primes, like the revised public testimony process, “will help us hear the voices of those who have often not been heard” and “engage all people in discussion,” Nelson said.
The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA), which oversees Assembly planning, led the effort to incorporate equity primes into GA225.
“It’s easy to say we value a new way of being and that we make decisions based on our values,” said Stephanie Anthony, COGA Moderator. “But it’s hard to live into that new way of being or keep kin-dom values at the front of our decisions when other values dominate so much of our history, mindset and culture.”
Anthony and COGA Vice Moderator Eliana Maxim discuss COGA’s approach to “honoring the voices of all throughout the decision-making process” in a GA welcome video from COGA.
Equity considerations shaped COGA’s own Assembly planning.
“We developed an agreed-upon list of values grounded in our understanding of our committee as a group of people elected to facilitate the whole church’s inclusion in denominational discernment,” Anthony told the news service. “We recognize that we don’t reflect the full diversity of the church, and we desired to do our best to consider the wisdom, gifts and needs of the whole church.
“Considering our primes and values slows us down in a helpful way so that we can try to see and address any unintended negative consequences,” Anthony added. “Thinking about our choices in a given moment is helpful when we aren’t feeling settled about our options and might otherwise continue down the path to a vote and decision that isn’t quite ready to be made.”
During Leader Briefing II, several participants said they would road-test equity primes in their mid council meetings before the Assembly.
Anthony would like the primes to be useful far beyond this summer.
“If commissioners, delegates and observers find that these tools help the Assembly make faithful decisions based on our desire to include and honor the whole people of God, I hope they'll bring them back to their congregations and mid councils to grow our collective capacity for discernment that centers equity and inclusion.”