Commissioners and Advisory Delegates to the
[posted here 6-2-10]
219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
July 3-10, 2010, Minneapolis, Minnesota
If you have
comments, suggestions for changes in the letter, or
anything else, we'd be happy to hear from you.
Please just send a note to
congratulate you on your
election as a commissioner or advisory delegate to this year's
General Assembly. It will be an exciting time for all of us in
CONGRATULATIONS AND WELCOME!
At some point you may begin to feel that you are receiving too
much mail about the General Assembly. But we hope that this memo
will help you understand some potentially confusing aspects of
the Assembly and enable you to participate more effectively.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions.
HOW ARE ASSEMBLY COMMITTEES FORMED?
A computer has
assigned you to an Assembly committee by random selection. In
preparing for the Assembly you will want to read the reports and
materials assigned to your committee. We hope, however, that you
don't focus on these to the exclusion of the other materials
mailed or e-mailed to you, since you will eventually vote on
all the matters
that come to the Assembly floor.
WHO COMES TO G.A. — AND WHY?
The cast of
characters for the General Assembly drama consists of (1)
commissioners and advisory delegates; (2) staff and elected
members of the General Assembly Mission Council, its committees
and divisions, and Special Committees; (3) "camp followers"; and
(4) affinity groups.
have the power to speak and vote, both on the floor and in the
committees. The committees debate the overtures and reports
assigned to them, then recommend action to the entire Assembly.
The pace can be fast and furious, and it's easy to feel lost
amid the maneuvering. Commissioners are not to be "instructed"
by their presbyteries on how to vote. But they are often
subjected to arguments as various sides vie for their votes.
Sitting with the
commissioners are Young Adult
Advisory Delegates (YAADs) elected from the
presbyteries, and Theological
Seminary Advisory Delegates (TSADs) elected from the
seminaries, as well as
Missionary Advisory Delegates from abroad. In
committees, advisory delegates have the right to speak, and
usually to vote. On the floor of the Assembly, they have the
right to speak; their vote, which is taken first, is advisory to
come from the elected or appointed membership of the General
Assembly Mission Council (GAC), its committees and divisions,
the Special Committees, other churches in communion with the
PC(USA), and moderators of past Assemblies. They are seated on
the floor and may speak to matters related to their areas of
expertise, but they may not vote. Moderators of earlier General
Assemblies do not speak frequently; but when they do, they can
be very important to the course of the debate. (They are not
"former" or "retired"; each remains Moderator of a General
Assembly with its own number.)
2. Staff and
elected members of the GAMC, its Committees and Divisions, and
Special Committees are those
who implement the policies of the General Assemblies, year in
and year out. The ongoing activity of the PC(USA) and its
national staff is governed by these various boards, agencies,
and committees whose members are elected by successive
Assemblies — more than 200 positions each time. The General
Assembly Nominating Committee (GANC) carefully vets the people
who are nominated, with attention to diversity — geographic,
gender, racial ethnic, age, proportion of ministers and elders.
Nominations can be made from the floor, and each year some
alternative candidates are proposed, but the GANC's
recommendations are usually followed.
Staff members are
our "institutional memory." You'll recognize them by their red
name badges. They can tell you what has been done, indicate
pitfalls, and define alternatives. They have accumulated wisdom
and savvy from previous Assemblies and are valuable sources of
information and ideas. They work for the whole church (including
you), so feel free to consult them. Staff do not make policy.
The "advice and counsel" memos that you will receive, commenting
on various proposals before the Assembly, have been approved by
the various committees, all of them elected by past General
followers" are those who are
"just visiting." Many accompany the Assembly year after year as
it moves around the country (you yourself could find the
Assembly addicting!). The "camp followers" add a family flavor
to the Assembly. They fall into three general types: (a)
pastors and church staff, who are trying to
understand the church better (the Assembly is the PC(USA) in its
national and in fact international role, and there's no
substitute for experiencing it firsthand); (b)
people who attended GA in the past and got hooked on it;
and (c) spouses and friends
of commissioners, who occupy the gallery seats and
provide spontaneous responses to speakers they know (their
responses aren't always reflected in the voting of the
another important group, although they aren't just visiting.
They are the local folk,
proud to have an Assembly in their region and now acting as
gracious hosts. Those on the
Committee on Local Arrangements (COLA) should be
thanked lavishly and often. Without their many hours of loving
labor, the Assembly wouldn't happen.
4. "Affinity" or "special purpose"
organizations are not new to
the scene. The concept dates back to 1902. Special organizations
help to inform and educate commissioners and advisory delegates.
They often testify before Assembly committees. They try to
influence the decision-making process. Consequently some people
perceive them as a threat rather than a resource. They can be
both, depending on your point of view — and the methods they
use. It is important to remember that these organizations are
made up of Presbyterians;
they are insiders, not
outsiders. They manifest the church's pluralism and
If you go to their
booths with your commissioner badge, you will get a royal
welcome and receive lots of information and talking points on
their issues. Special purpose organizations are interested in
working with you to give "background" or help draft motions. We
hope you will have many positive contacts with these
organizations during this year's GA. Most, including
Presbyterian Voices for Justice,
have rented booths
in the Exhibition Hall, where they welcome inquiries from you.
We think you will find these exhibits some of the most
informative and lively at the GA.
HOW IN THE WORLD DOES ALL THIS WORK?
The drama of the
Assembly has several acts. The avalanche of the printed (or now
electronic) word hits even before you leave home. The
Manual of the General Assembly
serves as the bible for those who want to know procedures. The
Manual for this
Assembly was approved last year; you will be asked to approve
the Manual for the
2012 Assembly. The Reports to
the 219th General Assembly (2010) will be sent to you
in multiple parts. When you arrive you will be given a
Worship Book, which contains the services for the
Assembly, and an updated
program book for the Assembly, which contains seating
charts, locations of meeting rooms, detailed dockets, the list
of commissioners and advisory delegates, and other helpful
information. The final deluge of paper or electronic information
comes in the form of reports distributed to your seat (or
laptop) in the Convention Hall, starting even before you sit
down. It is a dearly beloved GA tradition to complain about the
blizzard of paper (or of digitized data) you are expected to
weather. Complaining about it — or reading it — may help to pass
the time during the play's boring moments.
encourage you to come to
Voices for Justice Commissioner Orientation
Breakfast on Saturday, July 3, 7-8:30 a.m.
What do Presbyterian progressives need to know in
order to be effective participants in the Assembly?
This wake-up call will include a continental
breakfast, interactive shring, worship, and
information about GA issues. It will be in the
Hilton Hotel; tickets are $27.
regret the cost of this event. Commissioners who
attend will receive $10 cash back. Please fill out
the coupon below:
phone connection ___________________________________
The curtain will rise on Saturday afternoon. After various
housekeeping actions there will be reports, some of which may
cause wailing and gnashing of teeth over budgets and membership
takes place on Saturday evening with the excitement of a
political convention. Candidates for Moderator are nominated
with speeches; commissioners get a chance to question the
nominees, then the voting takes place. When there are more than
two candidates, voting can go into a second or third ballot (all
candidates remain on the ballot). The newly elected Moderator
leads the Assembly in prayer and takes office immediately
following the election, then appoints the Vice-Moderator.
Act II consists of
several days of Assembly committee meetings. Each committee has
a moderator and a vice-moderator, as well as an assistant from
the office of the Stated Clerk to help the process flow
will receive reports from the relevant agencies, which may also
present draft policy statements that were called for by previous
Assemblies. Pay careful attention to their reports and
especially the "background" information they supply; there's
usually a good reason for dealing with these topics, and the
reports have been prepared with the help of other Presbyterians
who are knowledgeable about the issues.
will come in the form of overtures from presbyteries. And you
can introduce new business through a Commissioners' Resolution
signed by two or more commissioners. A deadline will be
announced (probably on Sunday). Recently the Office of the
General Assembly has required the commissioners to appear
personally and sign the document.
You may feel
impatient with the amount of material you are expected to read,
and then ask how the Assembly could ever make judgments about so
many issues. Listen to the testimony from those who have worked
on the studies — and to those who have signed up for the open
committees have more options than simply to approve or
disapprove, even though that might be your first instinct when
you arrive as a green commissioner. They may
amend any document before them, or
approve with comment,
wording, or substitute
completely new wording of their own, or
refer to a GA entity
or a future Assembly. Please don't start off with a motion to
disapprove; that will only create confusion and block fair
discussion. If that happens, raise an objection and offer a
substitute motion to approve, so that the issues can be
The committee can
set its own operating rules and change the agenda drafted by its
moderator; it can appoint drafting committees to develop more
satisfactory wording; it can break up into sub-committees to
examine documents more thoroughly; it can go into the "committee
of the whole" mode and discuss issues without the straitjacket
of Robert's Rules of Order, giving "air time" to all members of
the committee; it can ask to hear from representatives of
diverse viewpoints before undertaking its own discussion of
Sylvia's Top Ten
Thorson-Smith of Tucson, AZ, has watched committees
with the hope of achieving better "power-sharing"
and "advancement of justice issues."
Questions to Ask
is speaking and who isn't?
is moving their agenda and how are they doing it?
the will of the committee being served?
needs enabling or helpful support?
Whose interests are being served through the
"parliamentary mode" and the "committee of the
Things to Do
attentive to process as well as content.
Don't give up your voice.
Identify allies and support each other.
Take risks on behalf of love and justice.
Make the connections between interlocking issues.
Recently an observer kept count in one committee and found a
three-to-one male-female ratio of participation. Males, many of
them ministers, have plenty of knowledge and experience; but
they should make special efforts to listen for other voices,
too. Make sure that the committee moderator has a fair procedure
for recognizing commissioners in order and letting everyone
Remember that some
persons are authorized to take part in the committee's
discussions, while others are not (see pp. 21-22 of the
Manual of the General Assembly).
Members of the GAMC and staff members of its committees and
divisions may comment at any time. Representatives of the
Advisory Committee on the Constitution may comment on issues of
constitutionality, in an "advisory" capacity. You also have the
right to ask for information and perspectives from the
"advocacy" committees on social witness policy and on women's
and racial ethnic concerns.
Other persons have
access only through (1) signing up for hearings before the
deadline (sign-up sheets will be posted in the lobby of the
Convention Center), or (2) being invited, by vote of the
committee, to represent viewpoints that might not otherwise be
heard. Either way, it is important to hear all sides of a
complex issue. The procedures are intended to help the
committee's deliberative process; they should not be allowed to
become a filibustering session for one point of view.
The committee will
want to arrive at agreement on most issues, and this is often
possible. But you and other committee members have the right to
prepare a minority report
(or even more than one)
on any report that comes to the floor. If you take this route,
be sure that (1) you declare your intention before the committee
adjourns, (2) all the points in your minority report have been
raised in committee discussion, and (3) the committee moderator
certifies in writing that this is so. Minority reports will be
printed and distributed to the commissioners, and they will be
discussed along with the majority report in the plenary session
of the Assembly. A minority report is sometimes victorious on
the Assembly floor; even more often it makes a difference to the
discussion and the eventual outcome. So don't be afraid to
prepare one and argue for it if you think the majority's
perspective is mistaken or too narrow.
tradition values the free flow of information, so Assembly
committees are open to observers except on very rare occasions.
As a commissioner you may want to speak to an issue before a
committee other than your own, and you can do that
if you sign up before
the deadline and
get permission from your committee to be absent from its
deliberations. And please note that
any commissioner or
advisory delegate may speak to
any issue when a
committee's moderator makes its report on the floor of the
Don't be alarmed
if there is open conflict in your committee; it's a sign of
deeply held convictions. Usually the most constructive
discussion comes in the committee's deliberations. At times,
however, a constructive role can be played in the "backstage"
areas where drafts are written and revised or minority reports
with light work loads will conclude their business early;
others, like the Laborers in the Vineyard, bear the full heat of
the day (including the klieg lights of the news media) and
continue late into the night. Bills and Overtures never
finishes; it can be called off the Assembly floor and into
session at any time.
Let's hope your
committee's schedule gives you time to explore the Exhibition
Hall, where you will find a veritable cornucopia of
Presbyterianism. Virtually every organization in the church is
represented — not to mention an international shop with
clothing, jewelry, arts and crafts, and miscellaneous goodies
offered by SERRV International. This is your best opportunity to
experience the breadth, depth, and height of the Presbyterian
Church. Many organizations have not only booths but special
breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and other events; commissioners
and visitors will find themselves informed, inspired, and
You're invited for
Voices for Justice events at GA
The Presbyterian Voices for Justice Awards Luncheon
follows Sunday worship.
This will be in the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Nicollet
Ballroom, 12:00 to 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $42. The
keynote speaker will be Mary Elva Smith, retreat
leader, spiritual director, and staff member for the
San Francisco Theological Seminary's Diploma in the
Art of Spiritual Direction. She will invite us to
explore the question how, in this season of dis-ease
and uncertainty, we might have the courage to be
still and listen, to wonder and discern in community
what God may be calling us to do.
awards will be presented — the Andrew Murray Award
to an outstanding PC(USA) leader, the Whole Gospel
Congregtion Award to a congregation in the Twin
Cities area that exemplifies our commitments to
living out the Good News in our society and the
Tuesday, July 6, join us for the Voices of Sophia
will be in the Hyatt Regency Hotel, 7:00-8:30 a.m.;
tickets are $27. The speaker will be the Rev. Dr.
Christine Smith, professor of preaching at the
United Seminary of the Twin Cities (UCC) and
preacher for the first "Re-Imagining" gathering in
1993. Her theme will be "Re-Imagining Church:
De-Centering Privilege as an Act of Global
Tuesday evening you have the chance to take a break,
catch up with friends, enjoy great music, converse
informally, and dance the night away at the
Witherspoon Party and Dance.
This will be in the Hilton Hotel from 9 until 1.
Tickets are $20, free for TSADs, with a special
price of $5 for YAADs; you can order these in
advance or buy them at the door. Please note that
alcoholic beverages are out of bounds for minors.
that all tickets can be ordered through the GA
ACT III begins as
the Assembly returns to plenary session on Wednesday morning.
Just when you have begun to feel like an expert on your own
committee's business, you will now have to catch up with
recommendations from all the other committees and learn the
arguments pro and con. Usually the issues will be presented
clearly by the committee moderator and in minority reports. But
you and others may well have new angles. Be prepared to speak,
either by raising a question of information or by arguing for or
against a motion. Depending on the progress of business, Friday
night could be a long session.
The curtain comes
down at noon on Saturday. This is one show that never runs late;
all the work must be completed or referred by that time. This
sometimes makes for less-than-careful consideration and
less-than-optimal results. But such is the nature of our play.
You may want to
compare your experience at this year's Assembly with the
following observations based on past experience:
1. Most committee
recommendations will be approved, perhaps with heated debate on
some one aspect, or with amendments that are readily agreed to.
2. Many of the
anticipated debates don't ever materialize, possibly because (a)
the committee did its work well and ironed out the kinks; (b) an
agreement was hammered out in the halls; or (c) time and
patience ran out. On the other hand, unanticipated debates do
occur, sometimes with explosive intensity, derailing the docket
and stopping the whole show. Debate is usually accompanied by
parliamentary maneuvering. The skill and charm of the Moderator
and the "parliamentary calls" by the Stated Clerk are key
factors in determining whether things can be kept on track with
3. Although the
Spirit often leads commissioners to vote more boldly than they
had anticipated, the Assembly can also lose its nerve. Overcome
by exhaustion or fatigued by a divisive vote, it may decree, "No
faith-risk this year," or, "No more funds," or, "We just don't
want to hear any more about it." As a result the Assembly may
miss a liberating moment.
WHAT ARE THE ESSENTIALS FOR ACTION ON THE G.A.
available in such massive quantities that
shared labor, specialization,
and trust are essential. The Assembly simply hasn't
the time to act as a committee of the whole (on occasion it does
try); the major work is done in the committees, with the
Assembly acting as arbiter. Up-to-date, accurate information is
one key to being an effective commissioner or advisory delegate
(this may also be difficult to obtain, especially while the
committees are in session). Feel free to ask for help from your
own committee's resource people. They are there to serve you and
facilitate the work of the Assembly. Listen, read carefully, ask
questions, and take time to reflect and pray. The ability to
concentrate and maintain patience for long hours with little
sleep is essential for being an effective commissioner or
advisory delegate. So, too, are camaraderie, a sense of humor,
and help from friends and allies. We hope you will number
Presbyterian Voices for Justice
among your Assembly friends.
Assembly is a unique experience, one you will always remember.
We hope it will serve to deepen your faith in God and your
commitment to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). May God bless
you as you begin your important work as a commissioner or
advisory delegate to the 218th General Assembly.
Presbyterian Voices for Justice
will be active at this Assembly as it has been at each Assembly
for 35 years. Please visit our booth in the Exhibition Hall. We
are there to discuss Voices and its concerns. We also want to
concerns and interests, and explore with you the ways they might
dovetail with the work of Voices. We will also be available to
provide information and resources at hearings of Assembly
We hope this
Assembly will be an exciting one, not only for you personally,
but also for our church. We hope that this Assembly will dare to
be the church preaching "good news to the poor, release to the
captives, sight to the blind, and liberty for the oppressed" —
the church preaching "the acceptable year of God."
In Christ's love,
justice, and peace,
Bill Dummer and
Colleen Bowers, Co-Moderators
Who Are We?
Presbyterian Voices for Justice continues the
Witherspoon Society, organized in 1973, and Voices
of Sophia, organized in 1995. We are a spirited and
passionate community of women and men in the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who are called to
proclaim the Gospel vision of God's extravagant love
and justice in church and society. We seek the
wisdom of the Spirit for following Christ's example
and for living into the hope of sustained gender
equality, racial reconciliation, full human rights
for LGBT persons, economic justice, environmental
wholeness, an end to war and all forms of violence,
and a justice-loving shalom over all the earth. We
commit ourselves to risking the transformation of
our own selves and our organization to live into
this vision, even as we invite both church and
society to meet this challenge.
our website at
www.presbyvoicesforjustice.org. We hope
you'll visit it often during the Assembly for
reports and commentary as the Assembly progresses.
If you have
comments, suggestions for changes in the letter, or
anything else, we'd be happy to hear from you.
Please just send a note to