By Carol M. McDonald
The 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has begun in Detroit, MI. Thousands of people are gathered here to worship, celebrate, converse, listen, discern, and debate. And when the crowds disperse on Saturday, June 21, many of us will remember fondly reconnecting with old friends, acquiring new friends, amazing singing, and the power of gathering daily at the communion table. But I daresay ALL of us will remember how the approximately 700 commissioners and advisory delegates debated the issues and discerned God’s will for our church for ‘such a time as this.’
It has been my profound privilege to moderate, since 2010, the Committee to Review Biennial Assemblies. From the beginning of our work together, our dream has been for ‘a different kind of Assembly.’ We have encouraged the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly to structure the Assembly docket to include intentional times of conversation and prayer. And we are particularly excited about the possibilities for a new kind of plenary session in 2014.
On Thursday morning, June 19, the plenary meeting of the Assembly will be a time for conversation and discernment, rather than a time for debate. The Moderator of the Assembly, in partnership with the Stated Clerk, will select two critical/key/potentially contentious issues being brought to the plenary from two of the Assembly Standing Committees. Each committee Moderator will make a 5 minute presentation to the Assembly – being clear about what it is the Assembly will be asked to vote on. Following each presentation, groups of 8 will be invited to be in conversation: a.) What did you hear that might lead someone to support the committee’s recommendation(s)? b.) what did you hear that might keep someone from supporting the committee’s recommendation(s)? Following the small group conversations, the Assembly Moderator will ascertain that what the Assembly will be asked to vote on is clear and will then lead the Assembly in prayer.
The hope of the Biennial Review Committee is that this non-parliamentary plenary with informal discussion of key issues will hopefully change the way critical and contentious issues are then debated and decided upon.(1) It is our prayer that all commissioners and advisory delegates, during this time of conversation, will have both the opportunity to speak and the privilege of being heard. You will want to be in the Plenary Hall – or glued to your computer screen for live-streaming – on Thursday morning, June 19. Tune in to learn which issues will be discussed in a new and different way.
(1)Glen Alberto Guenther, member of CRBA, in Presbyterians Today, “Can General Assembly Offer More Than Debate?”