THE 224TH GENERAL ASSEMBLY The 224th General Assembly was held over the past week. Originally planned to be held in Baltimore, the meeting was shifted to an online gathering using Zoom and PC-Biz. The amount of business was shortened with many overtures and reports postponed until the 225th GA in 2022, which is scheduled to be held in Columbus, Ohio. The Assembly met in plenary sessions over four days, on Friday, June 19, Saturday, June 20, and one week later on June 26 and 27.
Business that was acted upon were items deemed critical and that could not wait until 2022. Actions that were taken are subject to review and confirmation by the 225th General Assembly (2022), due to the bylaws and standing rules of the GA not sufficiently addressing the ability for a virtual meeting to be held. In the midst of the actions that were taken, three stand out:
Budget actions for 2021-2022, including the per capita apportionment rate for the General Assembly ($8.98 for both years, an increase of three cents; PC-Biz Items 00-22, 00-24)).
A statement about the COVID-19 pandemic (PC-Biz Item 00-30).
A statement “On the Church in This Moment in History.” (PC-Biz Item 00-29)
The Budgets for the General Assembly are always complicated documents but really are similar to CFP’s budget in that they have similar income streams: per capita apportionment, mission support, and investment income. Like all levels of the church, there is much uncertainty on the income side of the ledger. Holding the biennial meeting virtually instead of in Baltimore resulted in savings on transportation, lodging, and food for well over 1,500 people, counting commissioners, advisory delegates, corresponding members, staff, and volunteers. But these savings are offset by the amounts of per capita that are projected to be uncollectible due to the financial impact of COVID-19.
In adopting budgets of $80,179,337 for 2021 and $83,442,129 for 2022, the Assembly took an action to “authorize the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation Board, and the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board to spend amounts in excess of, or less than, amounts budgeted for a specific line item as a result of emerging situations. Any variance from the approved] budgets shall be reported to the 225th General Assembly (2022).” The three entities mentioned provide oversight to the mission and per capita budgets of the General Assembly. For comparison, the totals for these budgets were $82,097,234 in 2011 and $80,550,613 in 2012.
We have been living with the effects of COVID-19 for four months now, as the initial cases in the United States were reported in late February or early March, depending on location. The 224th GA met with a theme of “From Lament to Hope,” which was reflected in the actions taken on the coronavirus pandemic and the racial justice issues confronting our nation. The COVID-19 response opens with these words:
From the moment of Creation to today’s unprecedented pandemic known as COVID-19, God has called the church to embody the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the Word made flesh. In this time of global catastrophe, the church must rise to answer the call, offering its life as witness in word and work, heart and hand, in prayer and practice for the healing of the world God so loves.
This is not an initiative for new action or a reordering of priorities. Doing the ministry and mission of Christ is what the church is already about. Rather, this moment requires a response from the church to a world drowning in a great flood of suffering, fear, deprivation, abandonment, and death, compounded by the pandemic. The challenge before us is not so much about adjusting to a new normal in the days ahead, but how we will continue to grow as new humans in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. In the context of a destructive virus, how will we say and show the great ends of the church?
We must declare ourselves to be a community of faith, of hope, of love and reconciliation, of Gospel witness. (F-1.03)
The statement presents 13 affirmations for the church to consider as it continues to minister within the context of this pandemic. Perhaps at this point it is helpful to be reminded that the General Assembly does not speak for the church as a whole, but speaks to the church with resources and perspectives that come from a wider voice than that of our own. Pastors and sessions are encouraged to read Item 00-30 on PC-Biz and share this information with our congregations for continued prayer, lament, advocacy, and action in the midst of the pandemic.
The third area of significance is that of racial justice in light of the current situation in many parts of our country following the deaths of George Floyd and others. Item 00-29 is “On the Church in This Moment in History – Responding to the Sin of Racism and a Call to Action.” It calls the church to lament its role in being slow to face the reality of systemic racism and calls it to “pledge to join hands and hearts with our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) siblings to actively confront and dismantle systemic racism in our church and in society at large, and to work for a more just, merciful, and peaceful country that allows all of God’s children to flourish.”
This statement has eight parts and calls the church to actions such as repentance for past actions and a willingness to listen to voices that have been silenced. It recommends that sessions and presbyteries adopt an anti-racism policy (Item 02-137 that sought to amend G-3.0106 to add this policy to the list in the section, consideration postponed to 2022), and recommends several resources that were submitted to this GA but deferred to 2022, including:
02-020, “Disparities Experienced by Black Women and Girls Task Force Report”
02-034-INFO, “Special Committee on Racism, Truth, and Reconciliation Progress Report with Recommendation”
02-041, “Lazarus is Walking in Baltimore - from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy”
02-084, “A Resolution Addressing the Lack of Installed Pastoral Leadership in People of Color Congregations in the PC(USA) - From the Racial Equity Advocacy Committee”
02-100, “Approval of Part 1 of the 2021–2022 Mission Work Plan for the Presbyterian Mission Agency—From the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board,” especially the sections on dismantling structural racism
At least seven of CFP’s congregations have registered as Matthew 25 Congregations. This Item provides additional depth and helpful guidance to the Matthew 25 commitment to address structural racism and dismantle systemic poverty. Perhaps it is helpful to be reminded that our Book of Order assigns the following responsibilities to all councils of the church, and not just the General Assembly:
planning and leading ministries of social healing and reconciliation in the community in accordance with the prophetic witness of Jesus Christ;
warning and bearing witness against error in doctrine and immorality in practice within the congregation and community. (G-3.0201a, c.)
I am grateful to our commissioners and advisory delegates who served during this unusual Assembly, and met and overcame the challenges that it presented. These commissioners are available to you should you have questions or needs surrounding these actions, or any of the actions taken by the 224th General Assembly. Our commissioners and advisory delegates are: