To Commissioners and Advisory Delegates of the 224th General Assembly,
Thank you again for your willingness to continue to serve as a commissioner or advisory delegate to this most unusual General Assembly. We hope that you have been checking the GA web site and following the updates from the Presbyterian News Service on how plans are proceeding for the online General Assembly. For more background on the decisions regarding holding an abbreviated online assembly we encourage you to read the guest commentary by Barbara Gaddis and Stephanie Anthony of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA), published in The Presbyterian Outlook https://pres-outlook.org/2020/05/planning-for-general-assembly-in-a-pandemic-reflections-from-the-leaders-of-coga/
We also encourage you to view the video message on a digital assembly by Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, II https://www.pcusa.org/news/2020/5/4/j-herbert-nelson-weighs-digital-general-assembly/
The Assembly docket and business. Last week the Business Referral Committee met online and approved three recommendations from COGA, which means these will be recommended to the General Assembly for approval at its first meeting on June 19, 2020. These concern special standing rules that will cover how this assembly will be conducted, the assembly docket, the items of business that will be considered by this assembly, and those that will be referred to the 225th GA in 2022 for consideration and action. These can all be found in PC-biz as items 01-02, 01-03, and 01-04 and can be found here.
The docket includes plenary sessions on June 19 (starting 7pm EDT), June 26 and 27 (starting 11am EDT both days) so please continue to hold those days and times. There are other optional events that will be of interest to you as well. The docket is available on PC-Biz as Item 01-03.
Online assembly participation: You may be wondering how this will work. Fortunately, since 2006 the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) has been working with developers to build and improve on PC-Biz, the platform where all who are interested can read the reports and recommendations to the assembly and follow the Assembly’s actions. It also includes tools that commissioners and advisory delegates use during the GA meetings to make motions, vote and request recognition from the Moderator to speak. In other words, most of this functionality was already in place and well-tested. In addition, we will use Zoom technology as the platform for commissioners, advisory delegates and corresponding members to see and hear each other. Observers will view the GA via livestreaming on our GA website.
Equipment and Internet needs: participants will need to be able to access both PC-Biz and Zoom. Both systems can be run on the same device, though two screens are recommended for a more immersive experience. Participants may also use more than one device for accessing the Zoom meeting room and PC-Biz, which will be in sync. And while neither PC-Biz nor Zoom require much bandwidth to run, a reliable connection is needed. If you are concerned about the adequacy of either your computer equipment or the Wi-fi connection at your home, office, etc., we suggest that you first contact your presbytery. They may be able to help with a loaner tablet or hot spot, or perhaps make space available in the presbytery office, a nearby church, or another location with a quiet, internet-connected space.
Training: To be sure that all are prepared to participate fully, 15 training sessions (conducted using PC-Biz and Zoom) are scheduled between June 9 and 17. Each commissioner, advisory delegate and corresponding member will be required to sign up for and attend one of these hour-long sessions. You will have the opportunity to test your equipment, bandwidth, etc., as well as learn to use the PC-Biz tools for speaking, voting and making motions. “Help Desk” staff and volunteers who will be on hand before and during the assembly plenaries will also be available during these sessions.
Assembly registration: We plan to launch the GA registration process the week of May 18. Expect to receive an email next week from the GA Meeting Service with a link to use to confirm your plans to attend the online GA, to sign up for one of the training sessions, and to indicate whether you want to take part in one of the Bible Study small groups. There will also be some questions you may answer that will be used for some community building in small groups before GA. Later in May you will hear from the commissioners who will be convening the small groups about those opportunities.
In the meantime, if your plans have changed and you are no longer able to participate as a commissioner or advisory delegate, please contact the stated clerk of your presbytery as soon as possible. TSADs, please contact email@example.com if you are no longer able to attend.
We regret that we will not be able to gather in Baltimore in June for so many reasons – the negative impact on Baltimore businesses and those who work there; the sadness felt by the members of Baltimore Presbytery’s Committee on Local Arrangements who planned for years to welcome participants to their city; the delay in the General Assembly being able to act on significant reports and recommendations, and of course the loss of the opportunity for commissioners, advisory delegates and other participants to have the full assembly experience.
Thank you for your understanding and patience as we all find new ways to be together and to carry out God’s work.
Keeping you all in our thoughts and prayers,
GA Meeting Service Team Members