The General Assembly constitutes the bond of union, community, and mission among all its congregations and governing bodies. (Book of Order G-13.0103)
A couple weeks ago, I traveled to Indianapolis for the General Assembly Biennial Review Committee. Not the sexiest committee to be on, but as I soon found out, our task is certainly an important one. In 2002, at the 214th General Assembly (GA), there was an overture to form a committee that would fully evaluated the effectiveness of biennial assemblies. At the previous GA, the responsibilities of our committee expanded to evaluating the whole function and form of GA: number of commissioners, election of the moderator, committee work, use of Robert’s Rules of Order, etc.
As daunting as this task may seem, there is also great excitement of the possibilities. For years if not decades, we have come to believe that needed change in the church is too slow and that denominations as a whole are irrelevant to the realities of local congregations and people of faith. One of the most visual ways we see this played out is at General Assembly. Depending on who you talk to, GA is either a reunion of not-so-often-seen friends or a place to politic and be divisive according to any given issue. However if you read your Book of Order, it says in G-13.0103 that the main responsibility of GA is to constitute “the bond of union, community, and mission among all its congregations and governing bodies.”
First of all, I am struck with the word “union.” Now given the fact that this statement was a carry over when Presbyterian Church in the United States merged with the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America in 1983, the word “union” carries a different meaning. But today, this word can have a very positive meaning. What would GA look like if it was to successfully build bonds of union – not unity, union. To me, being in union doesn’t mean being in agreement or giving up one’s convictions for another. To me, union is about being in a covenant relationship in spite of diverse opinions, beliefs, and convictions. What brings us in union is our sense of community, our call to mission, and our identity in Jesus Christ.
So, if we were to be more intentional about living out G-13.0103 at GA, what would that look like? That is the task before this committee. How can GA be a place where we celebrate our diversity and speak to the truth of our convictions as well as come together in the spirit of union, community, and mission? I am excited to journey in this process of answering that question. I believe we are at an opportune time to discuss and discern this, especially at a time when larger congregations are being “graciously” dismissed to other denominations on disagreements about sexual orientation; especially at a time when interest in organizing more non-geographic presbyteries based on language, culture, and theology are growing; especially at a time when the overall membership in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. is declining; especially as the economy has challenged us to rethink where we put our money; and especially as more and more people are growing tired of the divisive nature at GA that seems to separate us more than bring us together.
Whether you faithfully attend GA annually or have only gone once, how would you answer these questions:
- What should the meetings of the General Assembly keep doing?
- What should the meetings of the General Assembly stop doing?
- What should the meetings of the General Assembly start doing?
- What message do you want the Review Committee to hear?
We, as ruling and teaching elders, are the General Assembly. It is us who are empowered to voice how we go about doing God’s work? Surely, decently and in order, but even that hasn’t protected us from the weariness of doing God’s business. So your input is welcomed and important.