“I am so impressed with the commissioners and the advisory delegates [to the 225th General Assembly],” said the Rev. Eliana Maxim Tuesday during GA Live, especially “their ability to dive in and find a way forward and to see where the Church needs to go next to be faithful to God’s call.”
“I’m excited to see where the Spirit will lead us,” the Rev. Stephanie Anthony said during the same broadcast, which can be viewed here. “I am prayerful for what’s ahead.”
Maxim and Anthony are vice moderator and moderator, respectively, of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly. They spoke Tuesday to Fred Tangeman, a reporter in the Office of the General Assembly, as online plenary sessions were set to commence under the leadership of the Co-Moderators of the 225th General Assembly, the Rev. Shavon Starling-Louis and the Rev. Ruth Santana-Grace. Plenary sessions may be seen here. A schedule of business items and presentations scheduled for each plenary session is here.
Anthony said the technology to make the online aspect of the assembly work well took “tremendous leaps and bounds” between the all-online Assembly in 2020 and the current hybrid Assembly. “It has advanced, and it’s been shared with our partners around the world,” she said. “That technology was developed in the crucible of crisis, and it’ll continue to serve us well.”
Asked about both online and physical space for Black, Indigenous and People of Color to come together for support and decompression during the Assembly, Maxim said it’s “become very valuable and important to our BIPOC commissioners and delegates” who are navigating a “predominantly white denomination. Sometimes it’s overwhelming,” but “we have been pleased with the attendance and the richness of the conversations. People are feeling called into their leadership roles. They’ve found their voice and they’ve found their place.”
Equity primes also found their place in many committees as commissioners and advisory delegates were deliberating, said Anthony, senior pastor at Fox Valley Presbyterian Church in Geneva, Illinois. Anthony called the equity primes “tools for trying to make decisions that center inclusion and build equitable space for all participants.” The cards, distributed to the commissioners and advisory delegates, are designed to slow the deliberative process a bit and help answer questions including, “have we heard from all the voices and from those most impacted by this decision?” “A few committees used them formally. Others used the ideas even without the formal questions,” Anthony said. “I appreciate those who gave it a shot.”
Maxim, co-executive presbyter of Seattle Presbytery, said she’s noticed that when equity prime cards are used in presbytery and committee meetings, “it changes the tone and the concept of the conversations. It’s less about completing a checklist and makes for a richer conversation that can have transformative aspects to it. As church, isn’t that what we are looking for?”
In the committee work that she observed, Anthony saw a number of them employing small-group discussions and transitioning into quasi committee of the whole “to talk about things before they started amending. They made sure conversations were happening and not just parliamentary battles.”
Maxim saw the same thing. “There was a very intentional coming together to have these conversations of discernment,” she said. “It seemed much more intimate. I saw vulnerable conversations taking place.”
In addition to celebrating the technology advancements, both COGA leaders praised the people who were on hand to aid commissioners and advisory delegates when they needed help with PC-Biz.
“I couldn’t believe how quickly they could help a commissioner who was struggling. It was efficient and professional. People felt cared for, and nobody felt stupid because they couldn’t access PC-Biz,” Maxim said.
Both also expressed confidence in the Co-Moderators for the current assembly.
“They are both professionals and incredible leaders,” Maxim said. “We are going to be in for a fun week to be sure.”
But they differed slightly on how they assessed the current three-week-long assembly.
“The pace of these three weeks is a lot, especially for staff. It’s weighing and trying,” Anthony said. “It’s a difficult time, but folks are doing well. There will be time to exhale when it’s over, but we’re holding our breath a lot longer this time.”
“This three-week [assembly] is not sustainable, emotionally or physically, for staff and elected folks,” Maxim said. Commissioners and advisory delegates with work and educational responsibilities had to find a way to set aside up to three weeks away from work or school. “This type of engagement is way too much, but we had to do what we had to do,” Maxim said. “We have seen what [COGA wants] to carry with us into GA226 [in 2024].”
While some participants may find it difficult to stay engaged for the entire week, “this is important work of being the church,” Maxim said, “and I have no doubt we can do it, both elected delegates and staff.”