How to GA

Headed to the PC(USA) General Assembly in St. Louis this summer? Whether you have been to GA (important shorthand lingo) many times, or this is your very first trip to one of the biggest, complex, exhausting and exhilarating (yes, for real) gatherings for U.S. Presbyterians, we want to help you have a great trip. (There are good resources for those following along at home, too!)

General Assembly can be overwhelming. As a first-time commissioner or advisory delegate, it can be easy to get lost in the overtures, in the schedule, in the convention center, and in the city. You will get tired – try to get at much rest as you can, but know that the kind of work we do together at GA is exhausting. Listening to each other and the Holy Spirit is not always easy or clear cut. But, we hope these tools, resources and best practices will help keep your spirit enlivened and refreshed even as your mind and body tire.

We collected resources and tips from across the PC(USA) to share with you because we wanted to share the best of the best.

First, one of your main resources (that also links to many of the tools and links we list below), is the official General Assembly page for GA223 Commissioners and Advisory Delegates.

There you will find links to tools like PC-Biz, and answers to questions like “What is General Assembly?” (For your friends who keep asking you.) Much of the information on the page is helpful for staff, visitors, overture advocates and people following along at home, as well, so bookmark this page!

Tools

  • PC-Biz – This lists all the business, and kept current of any changes, get familiar with all the work for your committee, take notes, etc., read each night as homework for next day’s issues – in your committee and for plenary. You can also get familiar with other issues coming before the GA before you go. (Remember, if you are a commissioner or advisory delegate, you won’t just be considering your own committee’s issues.)
  • Guidebook App – maps, event schedule and rooms, connection to other participants – download the app, and you will get info when the guidebook is up. To download, look in your mobile phone or tablet app store (Apple or Android), and search for “Guidebook.” The logo is a white, lowercase ‘g’ on a blue background.
  • Commissioner and Advisory Delegate Handbook – We love this guide to the nitty-gritty of committees, structure and procedure that will make you feel more at home in the room.
  • Computer – virtually everything is digital, on PC-Biz, so this is essential. If you need access to a computer, let your presbytery know (probably in registration info, too?)
  • Chargers – Since devices are essential, make sure you keep them charged.
  • Book of OrderAvailable digitally (and hard-copies are nice for bookmarking and notes)
  • Book of Confessions – This is a little less necessary for day-to-day business, but can be helpful as you consider issues. Also available digitally.

Resources

  • Main GA223 Page for Commissioners and Advisory Delegates – As we said above, this a great central hub for finding training, PC-Biz, FAQs and travel information. And, if you are a commissioner or advisory delegate who hasn’t registered yet, this is the time and place!
  • Presbyterian Outlook – The Outlook provides a good overview and explanation of issues and moderator candidates beforehand, and helpful daily coverage during GA. They also have a great cheat-sheet for commissioners (with a few additional tips to our own).
  • Daily e-digestsSign up to receive daily summaries and articles on what is happening at GA – good for both those keeping informed at home and those in St. Louis.
  • PC(USA) Governance Intro – This is a short video outlining Presbyterian governance that is helpful as you get ready for GA.
  • Social Media – Social media pages and accounts on Facebook and Twitter are great sources of up-to-the-minute coverage of important (and mundane) GA issues.
    • Facebook pages to follow are: Spirit of GA, PC(USA), other denominational pages, your presbytery and synod pages and the Synod of the Northeast GA Facebook group. As we prepare for GA223, the Spirit of GA page is hosting weekly Coffee With the Clerk Facebook Live events on Mondays (11am, Eastern time, and on the page after that). J. Herbert Nelson talks to other leaders in the PC(USA) and beyond and discusses important issues coming up as well as explaining procedures and structures.
    • On Twitter, it is a similar list – search for PC(USA) or specific entity names to find the accounts, and follow hashtags like #ga223, #presbynerd, #ga223afterdark, #pcusa, #stlouisga, #pcusaga to find others tweeting and sharing from St. Louis, or engaging from home.
    • If you are not a commissioner, remember it is taboo to lobby them on issues, whether in person or on social media, but you can certainly comment on and engage the issues with others. And, send prayers and encouragement to commissioners and advisory delegates as they do their work. The Holy Spirit will do the rest.
  • Acronyms and Lingo – There are a lot of acronyms and lingo that even experienced Presbyterians need to look up sometimes. These are helpful to have at hand when you have no idea what this “PILP” or “MRTI” thing is that everyone keeps talking about. And so much more.
  • Commissioner Gatherings – There are many opportunities for breakfasts, lunches and receptions for specific organizations that focus on particular issues in front of the PC(USA), in general, and also in front of GA223. On Saturday, June 16, there will be a Women’s Orientation Breakfast that outlines many issues, especially those pertaining to female members of the PC(USA). Check your schedules for that and for the nightly large gatherings for the Young Adult Advisory Delegates that are open for visitors to sit in and hear more about the issues of the day, and upcoming. No other group of commissioners has that kind of daily digest, and all are welcome to listen in.
  • Presbynerds – At GA there will be an abundance of presbytery and synod staff and longtime Presbyterians who know and love everything Presbyterian, and would be happy to help you understand an issue, PC(USA) structure and procedure, or a procedure or process in a committee or plenary session. If you have a question, find a Presbynerd.
    Your average Presbynerd is worth their weight in gold. They can help you with everything from explaining a complicated issue to connecting you to the people who can to making you laugh about a difficult or dry issue. There is usually a booth in the exhibit hall staffed by various presbytery, synod and general assembly staffers throughout the event, so check it out and mark it on your maps!
    Note: This is definitely a “don’t judge a book by its cover” situation – some of the older participants have never been and some of the younger participants (and non-commissioners) have been going since they were young. When in doubt, ask a staffer – they will be identifiable by their name tags.

What to Pack

It’s time to get ready. But you don’t want to bring three suitcases, “just in case,” so what do you really need to bring?

  • Rev. Laura Cheifetz wrote this great piece before the last General Assembly, and it has great practical tips on staying healthy and hydrated as you can so you can make it through the busy schedule and deal with convention center climate control. Some of these tips were repeated in our surveys, so you’ll see them below, too. (Share this with your Episcopal friends, too – they are meeting in Austin in July.)
  • Good shoes – You will be walking. A lot. You will want shoes that are comfortable to walk in. (Hint: No one cares what your shoes look like.)
  • Layers – Sometimes plenary hall and committee rooms (and hotel rooms!) are too cold, sometimes too hot. St. Louis is warm and humid in the summer, so be prepared for either situation.
  • Water bottle – Good for the environment, but also helpful in case your room or area of the convention center runs out of cups or glasses.
  • Snacks – You may not realize how much energy listening and concentration use, but having a few favorite snacks to keep your blood sugar up is always a good idea.
  • Portable chargers! Everyone has devices to charge, so having a portable charger is handy when the outlets are occupied.
  • Bible – This is not for the business side (though it has definitely come in handy for some committee work), but for you when you need sustenance or guidance, prayer when you don’t have the words. It’s always good to have one on your phone, but some people just need to have a hard copy. If that’s you, bring it!
  • Fidget tools – Coloring books, play-doh, legos, bubbles, knitting – something you can do to keep it light in the meeting spaces, and engaged while still listening.
  • Leave room for swag – there is a lot of wonderful items being given away and sold in the exhibit hall. You won’t know you even need it until you get there!
  • Backpack or roller bag – where else are you going to put all these things, and carry them without getting a neck or back ache?

Best Practices

  • Move around – Take advantage of every break to stretch your legs and refill your water bottle, walk occasionally during plenary (those meeting halls are big enough to walk around outside the plenary area without being too conspicuous) – you will be sitting so much during plenary and committee meetings, keep your body moving to keep your mind moving
  • Check out the exhibit hall – you won’t have a lot of time for this, but some of the most engaged, knowledgeable Presbys are in there talking about their ministries. You will find in those aforementioned Presbynerds a good perspective on the breadth and depth of the Presbyterian church and help if you need some advice on procedure or practice in GA committees or plenary.

Prayer and Presence

  • Prayer – before you go, as you arrive, in and for your committee, in the morning, at lunch, in the evening after you go to your hotel
    • There will be a prayer room for quiet reflection (and prayer partners) when you need it.
    • There are people praying for you in your committee rooms! You probably won’t notice them – they will look like any other observer – but they are there just to pray for your work. If it gets tough in the room, know there are people praying for you (and you can ask for a prayer break in a tense moment, which is often welcome).
    • Have a prayer partner who listens to and prays with you each day – whether at GA or at home – it could be just through texting. Someone who won’t tell you what to do or think, but will listen, help you process difficult issues, moments or people, and will pray for you every day.
  • Presence – Be fully present – be prepared, listen more than talk, when you do talk make it count, know that everyone else is also trying to listen to and be faithful to God, be open, get to know fellow commissioners (especially if you disagree).
  • Synod of the Northeast GA Living Room – The Synod of the Northeast will be hosting a Meet & Greet on Sunday evening, June 17 from 8:00-10:30pm at the Synod Living Room in the Magnolia Hotel, just steps away from the convention center. Drop by and stay for a minute, or an hour, at this open house-style fellowship event.

    In addition to the Meet & Greet, the Synod Living Room will be open Sunday, Monday, & Tuesday (June 17-19) from 8:00am-3:00pm and 5:00-8:30pm. They are providing this space as a respite from the hectic pace of the GA schedule, a comfortable spot to connect with colleagues, and a location to host small meetings. Light refreshments will be served throughout the day.