I’ve been watching the PCA’s General Assemblies since they started streaming video in 2008, but 2012 was my first time there as a commissioner. Even with a decent knowledge of how things “work” in our denomination (having served as the clerk of my session and moderator of my presbytery), and even after having read Sam’s guide for GA newbies, being at GA in person still provided a new perspective on “how the sausage is made.”
There are a number of things to say about this year’s GA, but I wanted to throw out a few observations, as a first-timer.
The low number of ruling elder commissioners
I don’t remember the exact figures, so I’m approximating here — there were a little over 1000 commissioners at this year’s General Assembly. Of that thousand, about 300 of them were ruling elders. The rest were teaching elders. Now, most of you reading this are probably thinking something like “how cute. The n00b expects ruling elders to show up at GA!”
Yes. Yes, I do.
Every particular church in the denomination is permitted at least two RE commissioners — more, if the church is on the larger. At the very least, that’s potential for 3000 ruling elders. Three-thousand! Now, I’m not saying that it should ever be expected that every church send all of the REs that it can, nor am I saying that it’s easy for every RE to swing a trip to General Assembly every year. We generally have full-time jobs already, and governing the church generally isn’t part of the description. We have to take time off from work, time away from our families (unless they come with us), time away from our local congregations, etc. It can be tough. Not only that, but lots of our REs (not to mention our TEs) find the work of any court higher than the local session to distract from the mission. Governing the church is part and parcel of the mission, though — especially for those of us called to the office of ruling elder. WE RULE! So, let’s rule.
Where The Action Is
For those of you who don’t know, every year, presbyteries, sessions, and even individual church members can take the opportunity to send requests — called “overtures” — to the General Assembly. Before those requests make it to the floor for the consideration of the full Assembly, they are first referred to a committee, where they’re debated and voted upon at that level. Overtures sent to the GA usually fall into a few typical categories: procedural/operational, civic communications, and theological. The debate over these requests is often vigorous and detailed. Well, I volunteered, some might say foolishly, to serve on the Overtures Committee at this, my very first General Assembly. Future n00bs: I know that Sam said to avoid the Overtures Committee your first year. I didn’t follow his advice in this case and I’m glad I didn’t. Maybe it’s just my personality, but I really enjoyed it.
At the very least, I’d say that taking the time to sit in as an observer on the committee’s proceedings will be good for your preparation for the floor debates.
I’ll just say it: this year’s venue (the Kentucky International Convention Center) wasn’t great for this kind of assembly. The layout sprawled all over the place. If you wanted wifi access through the whole facility, you had to pay $100… a day. Not only that, but they had a funeral directors’ convention scheduled at the same time as GA. Following the suited man you saw walking down the hall may have land you in a GA committee meeting… or in a seminar on new embalming technology. (I will say, though: it did afford the creation of the new super-fun guessing game “Presbyter or Funeral Director”!)
On the other hand, the city of Louisville was a fantastic overall choice. Just a beautiful city with lots of stuff to do. The men of Ohio Valley Presbytery were wonderful hosts to us all.
Overall, my first General Assembly experience was great. The connections made with fellow pastors and elders from around the country, the opportunity to have a hand in our denomination’s future, and (to be honest) the chance to get away from the daily grind to do the work of the church were all a welcome change for the week. (I unfortunately didn’t get to attend any GA seminars this year, but there will be many more in years to come.)
I look forward to seeing you all in Greenville next year — especially you ruling elders.