General Assembly Schedule Changes

By Brad Isbell | February 11, 2022

The 49th Stated Meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) promises to be jam-packed with drama and deliberation, but there’s good news—the schedule proposed by Stated Clerk Bryan Chapell (posted here) packs in more than three hours of extra business prior to the always-stressful, open-ended Thursday night session. The Assembly will enjoy fifteen and a half (15.5) hours of business by 6 PM on Thursday at this year’s meeting, whereas last year’s Assembly saw only twelve (12) hours of business by that time in the week.

Though some of that business time is taken up with required reports and such (as always), commissioners who dread the drama and mad dash that looms as the clock ticks on Thursday can expect that more time for business may equal less drama and an earlier conclusion. Thursday is typically the last day of business unless the Assembly bleeds over into Friday (a thing to be avoided since commissioner travel plans means Friday attendance is always diminished). In 2021 the Thursday evening session did run into Friday, ending at 12:43 am, but the Assembly did not have to reconvene on Friday.

The relatively small amount of business done on the Assembly’s first two days has irritated commissioners in previous years. In 2021, for instance, barely six (6) hours of business took place between Tuesday (a half day) and Wednesday afternoon when business ended at 4:30 PM for a worship service. Wednesday nights are reserved for free time, mostly for parties and social events. It would seem to require little imagination to see why small-town pastors or Ruling Elders (by Wednesday in their third day of burned vacation or lost wages) would find the traditional Assembly schedule to be inefficient if not irrational. By late Thursday night, nearly everyone, Teaching and Ruling Elders alike, has had enough of a long and trying day — trying to make up for lost time.

The new schedule is much better, but much more could be done. First, assuming everyone not on a committee understands that Monday is a travel day, business could begin earlier or go later on Tuesday. The next two suggestions touch the proverbial ‘third rails’ of worship and party time. Doing business on Wednesday night would mean hours of extra business time at the expense of partying and socializing. Canceling any of the optional worship services (only the opening one which must include the Lord’s Supper is required by the Rules of Assembly Operations) would also free up time. Neither of these options would be popular, nor would cutting out the music concerts often appended to at least one of the worship services. The PCA General Assembly is first a court of the church, but it has grown to be much more than that.

One permanent solution might be to amend the Rules of Assembly Operations to require the Stated Clerk to propose a docket with minimum amounts of business time for each day of the Assembly. A formula requiring two (2) to four (4) hours of business on the first day, eight (8) on the second, and eight (8) before 6 pm on Thursday would guarantee several more hours for critical business than the most recent dockets have done.

Back to the present: this year’s schedule is a great improvement, though the improvement may not be apparent given the large amount of controversial and time-consuming business this year’s Assembly almost certainly has in store. Hours will still be in short supply, and so may be the patience of the participants.

Brad Isbell is a PCA Ruling Elder serving on the session of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, TN. A version of this article first appeared on The Aquila Report, here. It is reproduced with permission of the author and publisher.