The General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) began today, and will continue through to Sunday. I’m here to meet folks, but I’m also representing the Church of Scotland at the gathering. Some 3,000 people attending- but there are only 688 commissioners and 221 advisory delegates (youth, theological students, ecumenical delegates and missionaries), so that in terms of the number of actual decision makers it’s not so very different in size from our own General Assembly.
The first major debating session begins with four nominees putting themselves forward and answering questions in order to be elected Moderator. We all had a brochure with their ‘manifestos’. Since we have only one nominee when we arrive at the Kirk’s General Assembly, this is a different way of dealing with things!
Other difference: we are in a huge conference centre, the worship is much more diverse, and it is much more overtly ‘political’ (or maybe that’s just the folk I’ve been mixing with!). The procedures are also more complex. There are far more overtures from Presbyteries. There is a series of committees which meet for the first few days of the GA to discuss the proposals on various issues from both the church’s central bodies and the Presbyteries. Commissioners are appointed to serve on these committees- but as I am not a commissioner, I’ll get to pop into a few of these (and perhaps I may be able to make a contribution there).
Similarities? This is an old denomination facing numerical decline. It is also theologically diverse, so issues of sexuality are divisive. It’s a church interested in public issues- but for some matters, that too can lead to controversy. And it is a fundamentally democratic meeting of representatives of local churches to decide the highest policy of the Church.
The GA can be followed at http://oga.pcusa.org/section/ga/ga220/ .
PS the Moderator elected was Neal Presa, a Filipino-American who is pastor of a New Jersey church. He has served in ecumenical bodies (including the World Council of Churches), and is a trustee of Princeton Seminary. If I were a betting man, he’s the one I would have bet on!