PCA General Assembly in June: Keeping You Informed of the Latest (3/31/2021)
Dear PCA Family,
This is a quick update regarding where we are on planning and timing for the General Assembly scheduled for June 28-July 2. As I wrote you a few weeks ago, we were surprised by the late shift of perspective of St. Louis convention and hotel executives, who decided that Covid trends had downturned enough to hold the PCA to a June meeting contract.
Our next step in working through the contract specifics was to submit a required facilities-use plan to the St. Louis city government. Our expectation was that city officials, who have been quite restrictive through this past year, would be much more hesitant to approve June plans for our Assembly until the virus trends were more definitely in retreat. However, the city government very quickly approved our plans. So, how does this affect our General Assembly planning?
The approval of plans for June means that a September date for General Assembly is now a much more remote possibility. I should add that the approvals for June assume we will have six feet of distance between all commissioners, mask wearing, and onsite dining with Covid-measures enforced by the city – a very different Assembly in truly vast meeting rooms if all social distancing standards are still in effect in late June.
What we are all watching in these developments is the race between vaccinations (currently being administered nationally at the rate of 2.5 – 3 million per day) and local government decisions to re-open. We will know more in a few weeks, which is when the Administrative Committee next meets to determine if any changes must or can be made in General Assembly scheduling. For now, we in the Stated Clerk’s Office watch four different Covid trackers daily. They are currently divided over whether we reach adequate levels of adult population immunity by the end of May, or June, or July. The prognostications vary based upon estimates of how many have already been infected asymptomatically, whether the variant strains may gain ground, and whether Spring break and government openings cause us to lose ground already gained.
The health and wellbeing of our PCA family is most important to us, and while we believe the further out we can schedule the Assembly the better, we cannot undo our contract obligations without a significant change in the current trajectory of the virus – which for the sake of everyone’s health, of course, we do not wish! Breaking our contract with the businesses of St. Louis without sufficient medical data to back us, would damage our witness and cause financial penalties severely impairing the future of our ministry and the mission of the PCA at large. If we are yet forced by our evaluation of the medical data to break the contract to protect our people, then we will do so and will engage the legal necessities. But, until we believe we are on firm ground for that decision, we continue to plan for June and we will continue to watch the data trackers. If health concerns are sufficiently addressed, we all recognize that June is still the best time for our church to engage in this important work and return to normal schedules.
We continue to value your counsel and prayers for the health and wellbeing of all. As best we can discern, our people, who are able, are getting vaccinated at a high rate to help protect fellow commissioners, families, and workers who serve us in convention businesses. In the Lord’s providence, today’s news from St. Louis included this report: The Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force is targeting 75% of the adult population vaccinated as having achieved herd immunity. The task force estimates if we maintain the current rate of vaccinations, then we should reach herd immunity by the week of June 20. Let us all pray for such blessing and for clarity regarding these important trends.
Stated Clerk Pro Tempore
PS General Assembly registrations are currently almost 900 which is only a little below normal for this time of year. We sincerely thank our PCA commissioners who are preparing for Christ’s work with understanding and commitment to adjust as is necessary to serve His purposes. If you haven’t already registered for General Assembly, we would encourage you to register now at https://pcaga.org/register-now/. The Marriott host hotel is already near capacity and the Hyatt and Embassy Suites are filling. We are scheduling for a full docket of General Assembly activities, and are still attempting to handle the most significant items on Wednesday and Thursday with the hope of serving elders with tight schedules. We look forward to seeing you in St. Louis!
Update on General Assembly (2/25/2021)
Dear PCA Family,
During this pandemic, many of you have suffered deep losses as we all seek to honor the Lord and extend his Kingdom amid trials that we pray will turn hearts to the Savior. To further the work of Christ’s church in these difficult times, your Administrative Committee (AC) has been seeking God’s guidance regarding the timing of our next General Assembly (GA), a meeting that is so necessary for our faithfulness, fellowship, and progress as a united church. The result is this letter, the content of which is far different from what I expected to write only a few days ago.
For months, we have consulted medical, government, church, and business leaders at both the national and local level, providing updates to all presbytery clerks, your elected members of the AC, members of the Standing Judicial Commission (whose work is tied to the GA schedule), all denominational presidents and coordinators, and regional leaders. Last November we announced that the AC would wait until now to determine whether we would have our next GA as scheduled in June or later in the fall.
Since November, we have carefully examined many factors affecting 1) the health of GA participants and the families to which they will return, 2) the necessity of our denomination’s meeting for the furtherance of Christ’s ministry and mission, and 3) our financial obligations with St. Louis convention businesses that were contracted years ago.
Until this week we believed church leaders and convention officials were tracking together on the possibility of our GA being moved to the fall – as all key factors were indicating. Yet, just as the AC was convening to finalize our decision, convention business officials diverged in their thinking. What changed was the remarkable decrease in key pandemic numbers: reported infections have fallen 73% over the last six weeks, hospitalizations have fallen 60% during that period, and some experts (definitely not all) are predicting pandemic control by early summer.
Convention officials, concerned to maintain business and employment, are contending that these recent pandemic trends contractually obligate the PCA to a June GA in St. Louis. Your PCA leaders do not think trends have reversed so convincingly that we are ready to move away from a fall date, which more experts believe to be safer for participants and their families.
The only way that we have been able to navigate our differences without legal resort (that no one desires) is to allow more time to define the trends. Unfortunately, there is no more time to wait if we are to provide for the constitutional deadlines, practical arrangements, and financial commitments of a June GA. So how shall we proceed?
In this extraordinary time, we are requesting extraordinary understanding from our church family. We are asking that you register now (see link below) for a June 28-July 2 Assembly, but also reserve September 20-24 on your calendars. If pandemic control is not attained in advance of the June dates, you will automatically be registered for GA at the September dates. If you are able to attend in June, but not in September, your registration will be refunded to you upon your request.
While we all wrestle with this needed complexity in our Assembly plans, the entire PCA family is exceedingly grateful for the St. Louis Host Committee and AC Staff, who have exerted unprecedented efforts to convene medical panels, consult government officials, renegotiate contracts with short-staffed convention businesses, plan for multiple contingencies, and trust our ever-faithful Lord through the many unanticipated twists and turns of this past year. The St. Louis Committee’s congeniality and level-headedness under extraordinary pressure has been an especially fine example of Christian character and sacrificial churchmanship. As our church gathers for Christ’s ministry and mission in St. Louis, we can be thankful his witness has been vividly exhibited by these brothers and sisters who have worked selflessly on our behalf.
Knowing our gathering is vital for maintaining our fidelity to the Lord’s Word and mission, we praise God for the opportunity to meet when the time is appropriate, and we pray for the Holy Spirit to use our fellowship in these challenging times for treasuring anew our love for one another and for sparking afresh our zeal for the Kingdom.
Stated Clerk Pro Tempore
P.S. Following are answers to some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
1. What motion did the Administrative Committee formally adopt at its February 25, 2021 meeting?
“In accord with our Rules of Assembly Operations (10-6), upon the recommendation of the Moderator of the 47th General Assembly and the Stated Clerk Pro Tempore, the Administrative Committee (AC) approves continued planning toward this year’s General Assembly in St. Louis from June 28 to July 2, 2021, with the understanding that rapidly changing pandemic dynamics affecting medical and governmental standards may later require a change of date to September 20-24 in St. Louis. If time is of the essence for deciding dates, and a 10-day-advance-notice, called meeting of the AC is not feasible, then the AC authorizes the GA Moderator, Stated Clerk Pro Tempore, and AC Chairman to choose an appropriate date.”
2. Why is it important to keep an alternative September date in contingency?
CDC data available at this time of the AC’s decision indicates that only 6 percent of the nation’s population has received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine after 2.5 months of availability. Missouri, the location of the Assembly, has fully vaccinated 5.4 percent of its population. Georgia, the location of most Assembly staff, has fully vaccinated 5.9 percent. The present pace is too slow for us to expect that most adults will have been vaccinated by a June Assembly – the CDC estimates roughly 30 percent of the population will have received both doses by that time. This vaccination rate is far lower than the 70-90 percent needed for “herd immunity.” At the same time, some experts believe that the current drop in reported infections is due to the probability that many more people have already been infected than have actually been tested for the virus (with actual infection rates as much as six times higher than national test results). This could account for much higher projected levels of immunity in the general population by summer. Only time will tell.
Of course, new vaccines and distribution processes may increase the vaccination rate, but these are uncertain. We also must remember that new strains of the virus (already reported in more than half the states) may challenge present vaccines’ effectiveness.
3. Why don’t we just settle for a June date, and remove all contingency plans?
The medical panel assembled by the St. Louis Host Committee unanimously advises against a June Assembly. The panel includes medical authorities from the St. Louis university community, hospitals, secondary schools, and general practice. The conclusion of all our medical advisors is that our June GA is “on the wrong side of July.” [Note for those really wanting to dig into the data: Since it takes five weeks for vaccines needing two doses to reach full effectiveness, the St. Louis medical panel estimates at least 70-85% of GA participants would have to be vaccinated no later than May 21-25, 2021, to ensure reasonable safety for commissioners’ prolonged exposure in the enclosed spaces of a June General Assembly. No credible epidemiological source has told us to expect this scope of vaccination coverage so early in the summer.]
4. Why not go to another location with fewer complications?
A) At another location we would have no less a Biblical obligation to try to protect the health of our leaders, families, and contracted workers.
B) Contracts signed years previously (as are all General Assembly contracts) obligate us to St. Louis, unless very specific conditions are met. Businesses cannot operate without such contracts, and we would have no assurances for our Assemblies’ arrangements that are approved years in advance without such contracts. We are bound Biblically and Confessionally (see WLC #141) to honor such contracts. Further, to break the contracts would not only result in severe financial penalties but would require additional costs and arrangements at another location that cannot reasonably be absorbed by the PCA or a local host committee.
C) The St. Louis Host Committee has already made significant investments of time and finance that cannot be recouped if the PCA does not meet there.
5. What health standards are we likely to face in St. Louis, whether our GA meets in June or September:
St. Louis government authorities have been quite strict about maintaining business shutdowns to control the virus. Even though the convention businesses are currently seeking to hold the PCA to a June date, local government standards may not allow for gatherings such as ours at that time. Government officials are watching the same trend lines that we are to make decisions about summer meetings and are unwilling at this time to indicate what summer standards will be. As a heads up, government regulations may possibly soon require proof of vaccination or prior recovery for hotel and convention registration. Airlines are currently debating requiring such proof. We expect Covid-19 precautions (masks and social distancing) still to be in effect this summer and fall for GA-type events/venues.
6. What arrangements are being made for commissioners whose occupations will not provide ready opportunity to attend the General Assembly outside the vacation season?
For both the June and September dates, we are working hard to compress the essential business of the Assembly into two days (Wednesday and Thursday). A full schedule of normal events and activities is still planned, but we are seeking as much as possible to accommodate ruling elders’ and other commissioners’ occupational obligations by ensuring that they can participate in the most essential business of the church with only one or two nights away from home obligations.
7. What arrangements are being made for the families of commissioners to the General Assembly?
The Host Committee is working hard to update its programs for both the June and September dates. We anticipate opening Women and Family registrations soon, but we understand these date contingencies will probably result in scaled-back activities and events. Information will be sent to all registered commissioners once it is available. Even after we open registrations, we will need to be sensitive to minimum thresholds of registered attendees that will be needed to hold certain programs. Updates will be clearly communicated to all registered attendees as we move forward.
8. Why are other denominations having summer conventions?
To date we only know of one major denominational assembly that is being held without caps on attendance or hybrid/virtual arrangements. We have consulted other denominations about their plans. Those meeting with thousands of participants by hybrid/virtual arrangements simply do not have the kind of deliberative Assembly that PCA business requires.
9. Why not have a virtual or hybrid General Assembly?
The quick answer is that our constitution makes no provision for such a method of meeting. The only contingency we can foresee that would move us to a virtual or hybrid Assembly is if the Covid-19 virus cannot be controlled.
In that scenario, we would need to arrange a “provisional Assembly” under the “general consent” of the denomination obtained at the presbytery level – perhaps with the goal of gathering a quorum of delegates at a central location, observed virtually by presbytery gatherings. Such a “provisional Assembly” would require approval of all of its actions at a subsequent, regular General Assembly. Again, there is no constitutional provision for such an approach. So, our church would have to come to a general consensus at the presbytery level to proceed in this fashion.
We are not proposing such an approach at this time and pray that it will never be needed. Still, we want all to be aware that the Administrative Committee you have elected considers the General Assembly vital to our ongoing ministry and mission. We will do all we can to further the work of the church, including planning for additional contingencies, if they become necessary.
10. What do exhibitors need to do to register for the General Assembly?
Exhibitors are an important part of how the General Assembly keeps costs down for commissioners while helping all attendees learn more about helpful tools for their own churches and ministries. All approved exhibitors will be contacted when exhibitor registration is available, which we anticipate opening within the next week. If your ministry or business is interested in exhibiting at GA and is not yet approved, please contact us for information about the approval process at email@example.com.
11. How will a June GA affect deadlines for Assembly-related business and operations?
We are currently operating under these deadlines, and will continue to do so unless the June GA dates are no longer feasible.
February 15, 2021 – Statistical forms from churches.
March 15, 2021 – Presbytery records (minutes, standing rules, rolls) and Responses to Exceptions (RAO 16-4, 16-7, 16-10).
March 31, 2021 – If your presbytery would like their BCO votes or Overture printed in the Commissioner Handbook, they must be submitted by this date. Final deadlines for Overtures are below. For BCO votes to be counted, they must be submitted by the beginning of the Stated Clerk’s Report at General Assembly.
April 30, 2021 – Overtures and other matters needing reference to the Committee on Constitutional Business (including proposed changes to the BCO) (RAO 11-6).
– Committee of Commissioner representative appointments due.
May 3-4, 2021 – Meeting of Committee on Constitutional Business.
May 31, 2021 – Final deadline for all Overtures (not needing CCB review) (RAO 11-8).
TBD – Review of Presbytery Records and Nominating Committee meetings.
Note regarding NOMINATIONS: All current members of General Assembly level Committees, Agency Boards, Special Committees, and the SJC have had their term extended by one year. Those who were in the class of 2020 are now in the class of 2021 (serving until the end of the 2021 General Assembly). In light of this, we are not seeking new nominations for General Assembly positions, and the slate put forth by the Nominating Committee from their March 2020 meeting will go forward as the current slate. Floor nominations may be made through the regular process onsite at General Assembly (with either paper or online form) and are due to the Floor Clerks at the end of the regular business on Wednesday afternoon. The floor nomination form will be available when the Commissioner Handbook is published. Committee of Commissioners previously appointed to the 48th GA are still appointed unless the presbytery chooses to change the appointment.
12. How will a September GA affect deadlines for Assembly-related business and operations?
If the GA dates are moved to September, many key deadlines will be moved to reflect the new dates, but some deadlines are static in the year. Please make note of these in your planning:
February 15, 2021 – Statistical forms from churches.
March 15, 2021 – Presbytery records (minutes, standing rules, rolls) and Responses to Exceptions (RAO 16-4, 16-7, 16-10).
June 23, 2021 – If your presbytery would like their BCO votes or Overture printed in the Commissioner Handbook, they must be submitted by this date. Final deadlines for Overtures are below. For BCO votes to be counted they must be submitted by the beginning of the Stated Clerk’s Report at General Assembly.
July 23, 2021 – Overtures and other matters needing reference to the Committee on Constitutional Business (including proposed changes to the BCO) (RAO 11-6).
– Committee of Commissioner representative appointments due.
August 16-17, 2021 – Meeting of Committee on Constitutional Business (Confirmation to come).
August 23, 2021 – Final deadline for all Overtures (not needing CCB review) (RAO 11-8).
TBD – Review of Presbytery Records and Nominating Committee meetings.
For GA-level committee nominations, please see the note in the previous question.
13. If I register for General Assembly now and cannot come in June, or the GA is moved to September and I cannot come in September, what will the refund policy be?
Early registrations are vital for financing the upcoming General Assembly (and we are exceedingly grateful for those who so register every year). Registering now also ensures immediate access to the Commissioner Handbook when it is complete, as well as all related Assembly communications. If you register now and find you are unable to attend the General Assembly, then please follow the instructions below:
Please send your refund request in writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Before May 26, 2021 – receive a full refund
- May 27-June 9, 2021 – receive half of a refund
- After June 9, 2021 – except for extraordinary circumstances, no refund will be considered.
Please note – these deadlines will be extended and published online if GA moves to September.
14. When can I register for the June General Assembly?
Now! Registration is open! Please go to this link https://pcaga.org/register-now/ to register for the Assembly.
Having addressed these questions related to this contingency decision of the AC, we fully recognize that some commissioners may have reasonable concerns about why we did not come to different conclusions. Unquestionably, in this complex and rapidly changing situation, we are making judgment calls with which sincere and godly brothers and sisters may differ. We want to communicate respect for such differences, even as we communicate our reasoning in carrying out the responsibilities committed to us by the GA.
As our church advances the cause of the Gospel with confidence in the Savior who goes before us, our prayer is that all in our PCA family would be guided by the Apostle Paul’s charge: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:9-10). When such faith rules our hearts, our Assembly cannot fail to do Christ’s work no matter the timing.
Update on General Assembly (11/12/2020)
Dear PCA Family,
I am writing you on behalf of the Administrative Committee of the PCA to let you know that we will not be asking you to register for the 48th General Assembly (GA) beginning in January as we would ordinarily do. Let me assure you that we are continuing to press toward having our General Assembly as planned next June. Our national gathering is extremely important for our corporate mission, and we have important issues to address. However, uncertainties surrounding Covid-19 make it prudent to allow additional time to assess our nation’s response and local resources/restrictions in
St. Louis before deciding if we will need an alternative schedule.
Despite promising news this week about a vaccine, medical advisers indicate that it remains unclear when vaccines will be available nationally that could provide a necessary level of protection against the virus, especially for the most vulnerable among us. Even if vaccines become widely available this winter, there is a strong possibility that major conventions such as ours will not be approved for services by St. Louis convention center/hotel staffs until the fall of 2021.
For this reason, the Administrative Committee is not planning to make a decision about any change in timing of the 48th General Assembly until the end of February 2021. In March, we will be notifying you of a decision, after we have been able to consult leaders across our denomination, as well as medical and government advisors. As a contingency, we are exploring possible options for our GA in St. Louis in the fall of 2021 (most likely from Mid-September to Late-October), if the June date becomes infeasible.
Depending upon the timing that seems best for our GA, we will also consult with leaders across our denomination to get their counsel about the implications of an Assembly delay for our church’s operations, nominations, and decisions. Please pray for all those involved in these consultations that have momentous implications for how we collectively serve Christ’s mission in accord with our Presbyterian commitments to mutual accountability and cooperative ministry.
I write with continued thankfulness for those of you who donated your 2020 GA fees rather than asking for a return, when that Assembly was postponed. We do not want to make a similar request of you should we be required to postpone again. At the same time, it is important for you to know that without normal General Assembly registrations, the administrative operations of the PCA are seriously affected. Last year’s donated registrations were not sufficient to cover our organizational expenses, and a second year with no GA will have far-reaching consequences for the capability of GA committees and commissions to carry out ongoing responsibilities that serve and protect our churches, presbyteries, and GA ministries. This is a vital time for every able church’s careful stewardship of our corporate mission.
Our hope is in the name of the Lord who made the heavens and the earth. Our mutual confidence in Him and our mutual desire to serve him according to the principles of his Word make me confident that I can write for your prayers and understanding in this tentative time. We have the privilege of knowing that our corporate witness to the Rock of Our Salvation in such a time will be especially powerful as the earth shakes and Christ speaks through his church.
Stated Clerk Pro Tempore
P.S. If you have thoughts or concerns that you think would be helpful for our planning, please send them to email@example.com. We recognize that the overall situation is fluid, and we will continue to update you in the midwinter months, as information affecting our decision-making becomes available (e.g. vaccine availability and usage, local government policies, convention center access).
Update #4 on General Assembly (4/28)
All registration fees for the 2020 General Assembly will be accounted for as a charitable donation as of June 1, 2020. A receipt for the donation will be issued and mailed at that time. If you desire a refund of your registration fee, please contact the Administrative Committee no later than May 31, 2020.
We have received questions about the financial impact of postponing the General Assembly, and we want to share a word of explanation from the PCA Business Administrator, Rev. John Robertson. You can read it here.
Update #3 on General Assembly (4/13)
At a special meeting on April 13, the Administrative Committee (AC) of the Presbyterian Church in America approved a recommendation to postpone the General Assembly scheduled to meet in Birmingham on June 15-19, 2020. The recommendation to postpone came from the Moderator, Ruling Elder J. Howard Donahoe, and the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Dr. L. Roy Taylor, in the interests of the health and safety of PCA commissioners and their families. Moreover, the AC approved a recommendation to schedule the meeting of the 48th General Assembly for June 29-July 2, 2021 in St. Louis, Missouri, hosted by Missouri Presbytery. They also approved the 49th General Assembly to meet in Birmingham in 2022 hosted by Evangel Presbytery. We invite churches and their members to join us in prayer as we ask for God’s mercy upon the church, nation, and world during this time.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Forty-eighth PCA General Assembly
Will General Assembly happen in Birmingham this year?
No. Due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, the General Assembly will not be meeting this year in Birmingham. Commissioners looking for registration information should look to the last question in this list.
What will happen to the Forty-eighth General Assembly?
The Forty-eighth General Assembly has now been moved to meet in St. Louis, Missouri, June 29-July 2, 2021.
Who has the authority to postpone General Assembly?
Under RAO 10-6 the Administrative Committee has the authority “to make alternative arrangements” for the date and site of a meeting of the General Assembly in case of an emergency. On the recommendation of the Moderator and the Stated Clerk, the AC is acting to make such alternative arrangements.
Why did not the AC act sooner than April 13?
The AC staff had to negotiate with the convention center and hotel decision makers and then confer with the Local Arrangements Committee. In addition, RAO 4-14 requires a ten-day notice for a special meeting of General Assembly Permanent Committees. We acted as quickly as we possibly could.
Why don’t we just have a virtual General Assembly via the Internet?
We cannot have a virtual Assembly because of rules and logistics. There is no provision in the BCO or RAO for a virtual Assembly. Moreover, there would be major logistical problems in having a deliberative virtual Assembly where everyone could participate according to parliamentary procedure. A multi-day General Assembly of 1,000 to 1,300 commissioners is not like a committee meeting of a couple of dozen people having a Zoom call.
What about hotel reservations made for the General Assembly in Birmingham this year?
If you made a reservation in our room block with the Westin or Sheraton hotel, you should have already received a notice of cancellation from the hotel. If, however, you have not received a cancellation notice, or if you made a reservation with another hotel, you will need to contact your hotel directly to cancel your reservation.
What about my airline reservation?
If you have already made an airline reservation, you need to contact your airline carrier directly to cancel or change your reservation.
What about reports to the General Assembly?
Because General Assembly is being postponed for a year, there will not be a Commissioner Handbook for 2020. However, we will be posting on the General Assembly web site reports of the Stated Clerk, Permanent Committees and Agencies, Special Committees, the Standing Judicial Commission, and the two ad interim committees. This year’s Committee recommendations may need to be updated or replaced since they will not be acted upon until the Forty-eighth General Assembly meets in 2021.
What about Permanent Committee and Agency board members, ad interim committee members, or Standing Judicial Commission members whose terms are due to expire?
Robert’s Rules of Order (11th ed.), p. 490, l. 34 – p. 491, l. 5, states that committee members serve until their successors have been chosen. PCA Committee and Agency board members in the Class of 2020 have a term that expires at the adjournment of the Forty-eighth PCA General Assembly. There is no rule in the BCO or RAO regarding the extension of the terms of office for existing Committee, Agency board, and SJC members. The Stated Clerk does not issue rulings: he only gives advice and offers opinions. In the current situation, this is his considered opinion: that the terms of office for all members of Permanent Committees, boards of Agencies, special committees, ad interim committees, and the Standing Judicial Commission will be extended for one year, until the Forty-eighth General Assembly elects their successors in 2021.
It is worth noting that when the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee decided on March 24 that their convention would not meet in 2020 but would be carried over to 2021, they stated that all committee and board members, and officers of the convention would remain in place until the next convention elected successors.
What rule authorizes the extension of the terms of office for existing Permanent Committee, Agency board, and SJC members?
That is precisely the problem; there is no rule in the BCO or RAO regarding what to do when a General Assembly is postponed under RAO 10-6. The hierarchy of rules is: 1) the PCA Constitution (WCF and BCO); 2) the Rules of Assembly Operations; and 3) Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised. The closest thing we have to a rule is Robert’s Rules of Order (11th ed.), p. 490, l. 34 – p. 491, l. 5., that committee members serve until their successors are elected. With coronavirus pandemic, we are navigating uncharted waters.
Is there some committee or commission that can issue a ruling on what to do about the terms of existing committee, board, and SJC members?
No, there is not. The Committee on Constitutional Business only offers advice: the CCB does not make rulings on matters submitted to it by Presbyteries (non-judicial references), by the General Assembly, by the Stated Clerk, or by the Overtures Committee (RAO 8-2). The Standing Judicial Commission is forbidden to offer advice (OMSJC 12-1): the SJC only makes rulings on judicial cases (OMSJC 13, 14, 15, 16). The Nominating Committee’s charge is only to submit nominations to the General Assembly, not to interpret the Constitution (RAO 8-4, particularly 8-4.h). With the coronavirus pandemic, we face a chaotic situation that the Church and the world have not experienced since the Spanish flu epidemic a century ago.
What is the status of the 2020 Nominating Committee’s nominations?
The Nominating Committee has already met to select a slate of nominees to the Forty-eighth General Assembly. That slate will be acted upon in 2021.
What about Permanent Committee Coordinators who are elected at the meeting of each General Assembly?
It is the opinion of the Stated Clerk that, as with Committee members, Coordinators will continue in their positions until elections at the next Assembly.
The present Stated Clerk has stated his wish to retire. What are the implications for the Administrative Committee’s nominee for Stated Clerk before the next General Assembly meets?
RAO 4-17 authorizes Permanent Committees to elect a provisional coordinator until the next General Assembly, if the Theological Examining Committee has approved the candidate. The Stated Clerk is the AC Coordinator. The AC’s nominee, Dr. Bryan Chapell, was examined and approved by the TEC when he served in second- and first-level positions at Covenant Theological Seminary. Therefore, the AC may elect Dr. Chapell to serve as provisional Stated Clerk until the General Assembly can act on his nomination in 2021.
What about the Moderator of the General Assembly?
The Moderator of the Forty-seventh General Assembly, Ruling Elder J. Howard Donahoe, will continue in office until the Forty-eighth General Assembly in St. Louis elects his successor.
Since the General Assembly approves Committee and Agency budgets annually, what about those budgets?
Budgets are spending ceiling limits. Committees and Agencies have the discretion to adjust expenditures within the spending limits. Other related matters are expected to be discussed at the AC meeting on April 23. With the economic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic, Committees and Agencies will probably face reduced income issues.
What is the status of overtures from Presbyteries?
Presbyteries submit overtures to a specific General Assembly. The Overtures Committee and Assembly at the Forty-eighth General Assembly will consider overtures to the Forty-eighth General Assembly when it meets. The deadlines for overtures listed in RAO 11-6; 11—7; 11-8; 11-9 will be adjusted according to the dates of the Forty-eighth General Assembly in 2021.The OC of the Forty-eighth GA will consider overtures that have already been submitted as well as overtures newly submitted according to revised deadlines for the Forty-eighth Assembly.
What about BCO amendments sent down by the Forty-seventh General Assembly to the presbyteries for voting?
Presbyteries may continue to submit their votes until the convening of the Forty-eighth General Assembly in 2021.
What does the General Assembly registration fee cover?
It covers much more than the rental of a convention center. Part of the registration fee is for the expenses of the Standing Judicial Commission. Parts go to the preparation and publication of the General Assembly minutes. In addition, a part of the fee is used for AC staff time used in preparing for the Assembly. The AC has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on preparations for a 2020 General Assembly in Birmingham. Much of this money cannot be recouped – staff members have already worked, travel to prepare has already occurred, registration material has already been printed…and the list goes on.
Does the General Assembly require the AC at least to break even on General Assembly expenses?
Yes, in 2012 the General Assembly approved a plan that required the AC at least to break even on the expenses of the General Assembly. The coronavirus pandemic crisis was unpredictable. The AC committee and staff are seeking to deal with the turn of events wisely and well.
Does the PCA Foundation or some other General Assembly entity cover budget shortfalls?
No, there is no existing fund in the PCA Foundation or anywhere else to cover shortfalls like this.
What is the AC doing about the downturn of the economy, financial hardship of churches, and expected financial shortfall?
People who survive coronavirus infection have lost loved ones, jobs, income, and places to live. Most churches will experience financial shortfalls. The AC will lose in the neighborhood of $400,000 due to the postponement of the Forty-eighth General Assembly. The AC, as other Permanent Committees and Agencies and churches did in the “Great Recession” of 2008, will implement contingency plans and reduce expenditures. The economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic are worse than we experienced in the 2008 recession. We pray and hope that the coronavirus pandemic ends quickly, that the economy rebounds soon, and God’s people will have the means to give generously once more. However, we cannot predict the future.
What should I do if I registered for Women and Family activities?
All prepaid Women and Family activities will be fully refunded. A credit will be issued to your credit card for the full amount of any prepayment. If you paid by check, you will receive a check for the full amount of any prepayment. All refunds will be received by May 15, 2020.
What about refunds for exhibitors and sponsorships?
We will be reaching out to our exhibitors and sponsors and working with them directly.
What if we have ancillary events scheduled around the General Assembly?
Any ancillary events currently scheduled through the Administrative Committee should consider these cancelled. An AC staff member will be in touch to confirm. If you scheduled an event outside of our contracted meeting space or directly with the facility, you will need to cancel your event independently.
What will happen with the General Assembly Registration Fees that already have been paid? Is there a plan for refunds?
While we understand that these are financially stressful times for all, the Moderator, the Stated Clerk, and the AC together request that Sessions and commissioners consider their 2020 General Assembly Registration Fees a contribution to the AC rather than seeking a refund. If we were to refund each registration fee, a severe financial hardship would be created that could leave the Administrative Committee financially incapable of carrying out our mission assignments.
To preserve the financial viability of future Assemblies, we are asking every registered Commissioner to donate their registration fee. In doing so, it will become a charitable donation and a receipt will be issued to reflect it as such. This request would be in keeping with the spirit of RAO 18-1, “Each congregation of the denomination shall be encouraged each year to make a specific subscription donation to assist in defraying the expenses of the General Assembly, whether a commissioner is sent to the Assembly or not.”
We do not want to burden our churches – without you, there would be no need for us! But we do want you to understand the financial burden the General Assembly is on our budget and resources – even when we need to cancel it. If your church is not in a position to contribute the cost of your registration, we will refund it to you, and be glad to encourage your church in its gospel mission! Would you take an opportunity in your next budgeting session to see if there would be an opportunity to contribute to the AC then? We would love for you to partner with us each year as we seek to serve the PCA.
Update #2 on General Assembly (4/3)
If you booked a room through our room block at the Sheraton or Westin, you may have recently received a communication by email or text. We are sorry for this premature communication – our partners at the hotels are also facing staffing and resource shortages, and we keep them in our prayers. The Administrative Committee has not yet met but has now scheduled a called meeting for Monday, April 13 – we have more information about that in our previous communication below. We will continue to update everyone as decisions are made.
What you need to do now – if the General Assembly proceeds as planned, we will work with the hotels to be sure your room reservations are honored. At this point there is no need to reach out to the hotel or to the Administrative Committee. Once a decision is made regarding General Assembly, we will alert everyone. If the GA is postponed, at that point more hotel information will made available.
Again – we are sorry for this premature communication from our partners at the hotels, and are working with them to make sure everyone’s reservations are cared for.
Update #1 on General Assembly (4/3)
A special meeting of the Administrative Committee (AC) has been called for April 13. The committee will meet virtually to consider a recommendation from the Moderator, Ruling Elder J. Howard Donahoe, and the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Dr. L. Roy Taylor, to postpone the 48th General Assembly scheduled to meet in Birmingham, Alabama on June 15-19, 2020. The Moderator and Stated Clerk are making this recommendation in the interests of the health and safety of PCA commissioners and their families.
The Administrative Committee cannot act earlier than April 13 because RAO 4-14 requires a ten-day notice for a special meeting. Moreover, the AC Business Manager, John Robertson, and Meeting Planner, Amanda Burton, have been in negotiations with the convention center and hotels, and needed to confer with the Host Committee of Evangel Presbytery.
The Moderator, Stated Clerk, and staff have been monitoring the situation since the pandemic has spread and restrictions upon gatherings have been put in place. There is a provision in our Rules of Assembly Operations (RAO) for the AC to make alternative arrangements for a meeting of the General Assembly when the Moderator and the Stated Clerk make such a recommendation to the AC (RAO 10-6).
We are grateful that the Host Committee of Evangel Presbytery has responded so well to this crisis. We will communicate the decision of the Administrative Committee after its meeting on April 13.
Please consider joining us this month in praying for the church, nation, and world during this crisis. We also invite you to join with other denominations for a special day of prayer and fasting on Good Friday, April 10. You can find out more about both of these special prayer events here: https://pcaga.org/prayer/
Update on General Assembly (3/27)
We know many of you are curious about whether the 48th General Assembly scheduled for June 16-19, 2020 in Birmingham will continue as planned. A decision has not been made, but we want to answer some common questions about how the decision will be made and the impact of a postponement on our work as a denomination.
Is the Assembly required to meet annually?
Yes. BCO 14-2 states, “The General Assembly, which is a permanent court, shall meet at least annually upon its own adjournment.”
But, the Rules of Assembly Operation have a contingency clause to account for extraordinary circumstances. According to RAO 10-6, “In case of extraordinary events occurring or unusual circumstances arising that make it impractical for the General Assembly to hold its annual stated meeting on the dates or at the site previously approved by the Assembly, the Moderator with the Administrative Committee shall be authorized, upon the recommendation of the Stated Clerk and Moderator, to make alternative arrangements.”
When will a decision be made regarding the 48th General Assembly?
The next important date in the decision-making process regarding the 48th General Assembly is April 23 when the Administrative Committee will have its normally scheduled meeting virtually due to the crisis. The current situation is fluid and the decision could be accelerated as local, state, or federal officials impose regulations about large gatherings, but at this time the AC does not have a special called meeting on its schedule to consider the matter (RAO 4-14).
Who will be part of the decision-making process?
Besides the Administrative Committee and any special regulations imposed by governing authorities, two other parties will have a part in the decision-making process:
- The Moderator and the Stated Clerk will be part of the process as required by RAO 10-6 previously cited.
- We will also consult the local host committee from Evangel Presbytery who will have a significant voice in the decision-making process. They have worked for over a year to put this event together and are more familiar with the way the current crisis has impacted Birmingham and their volunteers.
According to RAO 10-1, “Final approval of all decisions regarding the Assembly shall rest in the Administrative Committee.”
The Moderator and the Stated Clerk have not yet made a recommendation to the Administrative Committee.
The Administrative Committee will also take into account that many presbyteries will have cancelled their spring meetings when they might normally take action on items pertaining to the Assembly (BCO amendments, overtures, etc.).
If postponed, what happens to the business scheduled for the 48th General Assembly?
All the overtures and business scheduled to be dealt with in Birmingham would be postponed until the 48th General Assembly is able to convene.
If postponed, when will the 48th General Assembly convene?
RAO 10-6 empowers the Administrative Committee to make alternative arrangements based upon the recommendation of the Moderator and Stated Clerk. Though we are investigating all options, the most likely outcome is we would not have a General Assembly in 2020 and the 48th General Assembly would convene in St. Louis on June 29-July 2, 2021.
What about the Moderator?
In the event of a postponement, the Moderator of the 47th General Assembly, RE Howie Donahoe, remains the Moderator until the 48th General Assembly convenes and elects a new Moderator. If Mr. Donahoe is unable to be present when the Assembly gathers, the Stated Clerk shall call the assembly to order (RAO 2-2).
What about the Stated Clerk nominee?
Dr. L. Roy Taylor, the current Stated Clerk, has submitted his resignation to be effective June 30, 2020, so the PCA would have a Stated Clerk Pro Tem. The Administrative Committee has nominated Dr. Bryan Chapell to serve as the next Stated Clerk. If the assembly is postponed, the Administrative Committee will be required to appoint a provisional replacement for the position who must be examined and approved by the Theological Examining Committee (RAO 4-17). Dr. Chapell has already been examined and approved by the Theological Examining Committee when he was in a leadership role at Covenant Theological Seminary.
If postponed, what happens to registration fees already paid?
The Administrative Committee has contracts with vendors for the Birmingham event, some of which have been in place for months and even years. We will have to honor these contracts while also facing a loss of revenue. Moreover, it is still uncertain whether we will be released from our contract with the convention center and hotels without penalty.
To put things in perspective, the 48th General Assembly is one of the largest conventions the convention center will host this year, according to their report to us. To put on an event of this size, we incur expenses exceeding $600,000 before the Assembly ever convenes. Much of this money cannot be recouped – staff has already worked, travel to prepare has already occurred, registration material has already been printed… and the list goes on.
In Dallas last year we incurred expenses of $729,000 which was covered by registrations of $757,000. Imagine trying to pay these expenses without registrations! If we cancel the General Assembly this year, we estimate a loss occurring in the range of $450,000-$500,000. We are working to determine how much of the expenses can be avoided at this date, but without the suggested contributions these expenses will be very damaging.
To preserve the financial viability of future Assemblies, we will ask every registered commissioner to donate their registration fee. In doing so, it will become a charitable donation and a receipt would be issued to reflect it as such. This request would be in keeping with the spirit of RAO 18-1, “Each congregation of the denomination shall be encouraged each year to make a specific subscription donation to assist in defraying the expenses of the General Assembly, whether a commissioner is sent to the Assembly or not.”
We understand everyone is experiencing the impact of the economic downturn, including local churches. We are also mindful of the financial distress being experienced by hotel workers, restaurant staff, and vendors who depend on events like the Assembly for their livelihood. If we were to refund each registration fee, it would create a severe financial hardship that could leave the Administrative Committee financially incapable of carrying out their mission assignments.
What about special committees and study committees?
There are a number of special committees whose work is pivotal to the function of the Assembly, especially the Nominating Committee, Review of Presbytery Records, and the Committee on Constitutional Business. The Administrative Committee has already made arrangements for these committees to conduct their work virtually this year.
These committees would still meet this year and complete at least part of their work. But please note, a postponement would not change the fact that presbyteries are required to submit their minutes annually for review. Some work on the reviews will take place this year.
Any study committee reports scheduled for the Assembly in Birmingham would be presented when the Assembly convenes next, though, as has been the case in the past, their reports may be published when they are completed by the committee.
What about matters requiring annual approval?
Annual Reports. According to RAO 12-1, “The permanent Committees and Agencies, special committees, and ad interim committees of the Assembly shall make annual reports.” Of course, these reports can only be made if there is an Assembly who can receive them. If the Assembly is postponed, the Permanent Committees and Agencies can still publish an annual report but it will not be considered part of the Minutes of the Assembly unless the Assembly decides to do so when it convenes.
Annual Budgets. Ordinarily, the budgets approved by the 47th General Assembly would continue as the approved budgets for each Committee and Agency for 2021.
Permanent Committee Coordinators. The coordinators approved by the 47th General Assembly remain approved for those positions until the 48th General Assembly convenes. If a coordinator position becomes vacant before the 48th General Assembly is able to meet, the Committee would be able to appoint a provisional replacement (RAO 4-17). Agency Presidents and Executive Directors are elected by their respective Boards and are reported to the General Assembly but not elected by the General Assembly.
Update on General Assembly (3/17)
Dear PCA Members,
As news and guidance regarding COVID-19 spreads, the AC is working to reduce the exposure of our greatest resource, our people, while maintaining the infrastructure of the PCA. We are experiencing the same fears, frustrations, concerns, and questions that you are in your churches, homes, and businesses. As new information is gathered and guidelines are updated, we want to keep you informed of our work and provide you with resources and encouragement. And we want to answer your questions.
General Assembly – We are hoping to still have General Assembly in June. We are working closely with the host committee and our local contacts and are hopeful that these new measures of increased public confinement and quarantine will help reduce the spread of this disease. We are cautious and do not want to risk infection nor public speculation and condemnation, and will remain ready to make further arrangements if our current plans are not wise in coming months. As decisions are made, we will post them through byFaith online, on our website, and on the General Assembly Facebook page.
The PCA founding fathers made plans and rules for times like these. RAO 10-6 gives authority to the current General Assembly Moderator, the PCA Stated Clerk, and the Administrative Committee to make alternative arrangements in case of extraordinary events or unusual circumstances. While we find ourselves in these extraordinary and unusual times, we believe it is wise to wait, continue gathering counsel and guidance, before making any further decision on the General Assembly. We hope you will pray with us as we make these decisions.
Other Committees leading to General Assembly – We are now planning the upcoming Nominating Committee, Administrative Committee, and Committee on Constitutional Business meetings to meet virtually. While we know that face-to-face meetings are ideal, and we cherish the ability to be in fellowship with our fellow believers while making important decisions on behalf of the PCA, we also believe it wise to heed health and governmental authority wisdom at this time. We are working diligently on preparing platforms and technology that will help make these meetings fruitful.
Our Churches – As many of our church gatherings are reduced, cancelled, or moved online, we grieve and pray with you. We hope that our fellowship will be returned to full force soon, and we are thankful for the many ways technology still allows us to gather, hear the Word preached, and see the Gospel spread.
To aid churches, we have also published some practical considerations for local churches as they make decisions regarding assemblies and activities.