While plenty of people are working hard to make sure the 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) proceeds smoothly and fairly, those under more pressure than most include the backstage crew in the convention center’s production studio. How, Julia Henderson was asked Tuesday during the daily GA Live broadcast, are they not an exhausted bunch as the assembly reaches the halfway point?
“We really are a supportive group,” Henderson, the leader for GA Planning and Business Management in the Office of the General Assembly, told GA News reporter Fred Tangeman, the show’s host. “There’s so much positive energy, and things are going well, which propels us. Commissioners and advisory delegates are supporting us as well. It's all positive energy — lots of it.”
Watch Tuesday’s edition of GA Live here.
While many staff and volunteers will enjoy July 3 and 4 free from any GA duties, the production team and the backstage crew will be working with Co-Moderators the Rev. Ruth Santana-Grace and the Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis getting up to speed on the technology and going through scripts together “to make sure everyone feels like they know what’ll be happening,” Henderson said. “Each day’s worship will be unique and diverse, with some things traditional and some things unexpected.” The hope, Henderson said, is that congregations will use elements of the worship services, set for each day July 5-9, in their own setting.
“We will take this hybrid setting to a new level,” Henderson said. “Committee leaders will be reporting remotely during plenaries. They are ready, and I think it will be great.
Henderson attended her first assembly in 2008 as an overture advocate, “and I was hooked,” she told Tangeman. In 2010, she was elected as a commissioner and selected to moderate a committee, “and I was once again hooked … I couldn’t think of a better way to maximize my experience” than moderating a committee. In 2018, she was script docket manager, “which was all paper.” Just two years later, holding the 2020 assembly exclusively online necessitated one innovation after another, which prepared assembly leaders to, among other things, market PC-Biz to other organizations, and not just churches.
“The very first was the [12,000 member] Washington State Medical Association,” Henderson said. “They’re not even religiously affiliated, but they depend on the parliamentary process to get through” their online meetings. In fact, marketing the technology to that organization and five religious groups “gave us six general assemblies to refine our process” between GA224 in 2020 and GA225.
“I don’t think the online work is going away,” she said of the current combined in-person and online mix. “People understand the benefits of PC-Biz. I really think the future is hybrid meetings.”
Some of the features commissioners have grown accustomed to, including voting through PC-Biz and PCQ, the system’s speaker queuing system, were planned for use during the 224th General Assembly, which was to have been held in Baltimore before the pandemic made meeting in person impossible.
Committee leaders have said PCQ has proven particularly helpful. “It gives the moderator an idea of who wants to speak and what they plan to say,” she said. “It gives the moderator a much better sense of the room,” even when the moderator is herself in the room.
Having overture advocates record their messages or appear before commissioners via Zoom to testify also came as a result of GA224, she said. One OA didn’t want to have to fly clear across the country to advocate for an overture on caring for the environment. “We appealed to [the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly] and got their approval for remote participation by overture advocates,” Henderson said. “It was easy to pick that up and get it ready for this GA.”
That kind of innovation “has opened up opportunities for people without the time or resources to participate in a public hearing,” she said. Instead, they can participate “from where they are at a time that works for them.”
An added bonus: having a speaker’s queuing system in place means that people with mobility issues don’t need to stand in line waiting to address commissioners in plenary. “They can push a button, remain seated and be recognized,” Henderson said. As well, “people with vision impairment have been able to participate fully with PC-Biz.”
During some committee meetings, as many as 60 people have tuned in to watch the proceedings. “We wouldn’t have that many people in a room at a convention center,” Henderson said. Committee leaders have told her they appreciate having their meetings recorded in case they need to review what’s been said or how an item of business was handled. “Those opportunities did not exist before,” she said.
Just maybe, Tangeman told Henderson, she might consider returning for a later GA Live broadcast to give viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the people and the technology bringing GA225 to Presbyterians across the country?
“We are pretty jazzed to talk about what’s going on behind the scenes,” Henderson said with a smile. “We’d love to have you there.”
GA Live broadcasts at 10 a.m. Eastern Time each morning that business is conducted at the 225th General Assembly. Watch it here.