The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly held its fall meeting at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville. Photo by Rick Jones

The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly held its fall meeting at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville. Photo by Rick Jones.

The topic of unification and what church governance may look like was one of the main conversations on day two of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly’s fall meeting. The committee spent Tuesday morning focusing on legacy as it moves toward unification.

“My only experience as a COGA member is post pandemic, having joined in 2020. Given that, it’s important to note that the big part of this work is General Assembly. It’s more than an event and can’t be accomplished with a lot of event planners,” said Robin Pugh. “It’s important you have an elected body like COGA because the assembly is at the heart of our church polity.”

Referring to preparations for General Assembly, Pugh said she was encouraged to see a “very strong commitment” to refining decision-making to include expansive thinking and promote inclusion.

COGA member Leanne Masters said she feels as if she has served on three different versions of COGA over the last six years, encompassing pre-pandemic, pandemic and post-pandemic years.

“I continue to wrestle with the question of just what our purpose is and what we are called to do. How do we do that work? Whether we are actively planning General Assembly alongside staff or providing resources for staff and the church, it has completely shifted every two years,” she said. “What is our core purpose? Maybe we need to strip away all the things we’ve done over this period of time. Sometimes in life, we end up doing things because it’s the way we’ve always done them. I look at unification as a chance to ask hard questions and re-create and re-imagine new ways to do the work we are called to do and what we are intended to do.”

OGA’s Deputy Stated Clerk Kerry Rice said the significance of the agency’s work is the connection and relationship with mid councils.

“That will be an important piece to address with the commission because mid councils are the lynchpin of our system,” he said. “The whole system is only as healthy as mid councils are. It is something for us to think about.”

The conversation also centered on the role of the stated clerk in the new church.

“Looking at the office of stated clerk since reunion, is it important to have someone who is a practicing stated clerk, or someone who is more like a president of an educational institution focusing on relationships and bringing people in with expertise in administrative responsibility?” asked Rice. “We’ve gone with different approaches in years past. How would this shape the way the commission is thinking in its structure of the new entity?”

“I’m wondering if we can have both,” said COGA member Cheni Khonje. “If someone has experience as a stated clerk, great. If they are a pastor, great. I don’t think a hard and fast rule is a good thing. It eliminates all candidates with gifts to serve the church.”

“What I’ve learned in watching the Office of the General Assembly over the last seven years is how the clerk is an office and officer. But there is no way that one person can do all the work that must be done by this entity,” said COGA member Andy James. “For most people in the church, they experience the stated clerk as an individual, but to understand the national church, the stated clerk is a larger organism, an individual yes, but also people working together. The whole office has to be built to support that role.”

During its afternoon session, COGA approved the stated clerk position description as proposed by the Stated Clerk Nominating Committee. The description includes some wording recommended by the Unification Commission reflecting that it is possible there would be “significant changes to the scope of the Stated Clerk’s work,” as a new organizational structure emerges. It states that the job description may need to be reviewed annually and that the stated clerk shall work closely with the commission to bring the process of unification to completion.

The nominating committee is meeting this week to finalize the details. Committee members have indicated the possibility of asking candidates to submit videos with their applications. A new Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA) will be elected at the 226th General Assembly in Salt Lake City next summer.