The 224th General Assembly Gathering

By Rev. David Oyler, Executive Presbyter
Posted June 30, 2020

The 224th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) was preparing to meet in Baltimore, Maryland in late June–until COVID-19 altered the landscape. Nevertheless, commissioners gathered, worship was celebrated, and actions were taken on critical matters through an online platform.

Reflections on GA 224:

  • Your Beaver-Butler commissioners—Ruling Elder Wayne ‘Chip’ McCoy and Teaching Elder Mary Kitchen—fulfilled their responsibilities in thorough fashion. Chip McCoy was one of many who asked a relevant question within the zoom context about long term finances of the denomination.
  • Three basic categories of business were created in light of the online format: 1. Business requiring action in 2020; 2. Business that could be adopted in 2020 without comment; 3. Business that could be referred on to the 225th General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio in 2022. Understandably there were a few items recommended for referral to 2022 that people desired to act upon in 2020. By General Assembly action most were, in fact, referred though some were brought to the current Assembly.
  • There was a great desire to speak to matters of racism in light conversation surrounding the death of George Floyd. Normally such matters would be discussed within a committee, then brought to the floor of General Assembly. The online format did not permit that. A statement was adopted, even as the detailed attention normally provided to such matters was not possible.
  • Discussion also occurred on a letter sent to national leaders on racism. The Assembly ended with 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence in acknowledgement of racism and racial injustice.
  • Rev. J. Herbert Nelson was elected to a second four year term as Stated Clerk of the denomination. His passion for matters of social justice, along with the significant administrative details that are the responsibility of the Stated Clerk, will guide his important work in these coming days.
  • For those who follow General Assembly business, you observed that a complex topic has emerged with San Francisco Theological Seminary becoming a graduate school of Redlands University. The co-moderators of the 2020 General Assembly, Gregory Bentley and Elona Street-Stewart, have decided to intervene in the conversation between San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS) and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COTE) in place of holding a conversation that was made more difficult in an online setting.
  • As pressing matters persist, there are also ongoing conversations to care for all people among us. A policy was adopted by the assembly that confirmed updates to the child/youth/vulnerable adult protection policy for the General Assembly agencies and entities. This policy also provides a model for presbyteries and congregations in sharing policies that care for all people.
  • General Assembly adopted a per capita of $8.98 per member for both 2021 and 2022, a slight increase from 2019 and 2020. This is one way in which you and I participate in the support of God’s work regionally and nationally.

So…God is leading into the future. There are moments when you and I may feel that God is tugging us into the future–perhaps even against our will. And there are times when you might suggest that a General Assembly gathering of a denomination has relatively little impact on your congregation. Yet there is more to learn. Chip and Mary helped in pointing toward embracing God’s leading in unprecedented times. Your leadership makes a difference, gaining insight from others across this denomination.