The EPC’s 41st General Assembly will be a hybrid of on-site and virtual participation, hosted by Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn. The modification is in response to local requirements for in-person gatherings.
“When we met with Second’s leadership on January 26, they told us that masks and six-foot social distancing are essential requirements for all onsite meetings at the church—and have been for months,” Jeremiah said. “They are working on the assumption that these restrictions will remain in place through the summer.”
The social distancing requirement reduces capacity of the church’s Sanctuary to 550, and correspondingly limits the capacity of meeting rooms and other campus facilities. Delaying the Assembly until the fall was not an option due to the church’s programming schedule and an on-site school.
“We quickly realized that to accommodate 550 people, we would have to cap registration at 400 commissioners to allow for spouses and guests,” Jeremiah said. “Limiting commissioner participation is something we never want to do. The idea of another fully virtual Assembly was a non-starter, since being together is such a core value of our Assembly.”
Jeremiah emphasized that a hybrid General Assembly provides the safest in-person gathering possible, while still giving Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders who are uncomfortable or unable to gather in-person the opportunity to participate in the Assembly.
“We think this in a win-win,” he said. “While we need to gather as an Assembly, our primary concern as an expression of loving each other is for the health and safety of our Commissioners, our host church, and its staff and volunteers.”
While a hybrid event is challenging, Jeremiah said, “We enjoyed great success putting on a virtual GA in September, and Second’s tech team has successfully facilitated virtual presbytery meetings. We are confident that all the pieces are in place to conduct a hybrid Assembly that both honors the high value of being together and allows more than 400 commissioners to participate.”
In response to the January 26 meeting, on January 27 the National Leadership Team elected to add the virtual participation component to the Assembly. On January 29, Jeremiah issued a provisional opinion that allowed virtual Commissioners—a situation not addressed by the EPC’s Rules for Assembly. On February 3, the Permanent Judicial Commission reviewed the provisional opinion and will recommend that the 41st General Assembly sustain it.
Because the virtual nature of the 40th General Assembly was believed to be a one-time occurrence, Commissioners to that Assembly were not asked to amend the EPC’s Rules for Assembly—which govern the proceedings—to permit virtual participation. Rather, as their first action Commissioners voted to suspend Rules for the duration of the 40th GA.
“In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I was asked by a Ruling Elder if it was appropriate to allow virtual participation in the 41st GA so Commissioners could consider amending Rules,” Jeremiah said. “In my provisional opinion, I am allowing virtual participation in addition to in-person Commissioners. I also am asking the 41st GA to consider if Rules should be amended to allow virtual provision so we don’t have to constantly suspend Rules to accommodate circumstances outside our control.”
Adjustments to various aspects of the Assembly—such as the Leadership Institute, Standing Committees, Networking Lunches, and other meetings—are likely and will be announced as details are confirmed.
Online registration is scheduled to open on April 1. For more information and regular updates about the 41st General Assembly, see www.epc.org/ga2021. To read Provisional Opinion 2021-01, see www.epc.org/files/provisionalopinion2021-01.