(Guest post by MDiv student, Michael O’Steen, who is a pastoral assistant at St. Andrew’s Chapel)
I had the opportunity to attend the annual General Assembly of my denomination (PCA) for the first time this year, and as a visiting non-commissioner, I want to share my experience for those who might find themselves at GA for the first time next year.
First of all, GA offers a lot. From denominational business to hours of seminars, you can easily fill your schedule. Things really got started for me on Tuesday when I got a feel for the convention space and started visiting exhibitor booths. There are hundreds of exhibitor booths. At your first GA, take some time to visit them. You can learn about exciting ministries that you had never knew existed, and who knows, maybe even make some meaningful connections. You may also want to bring some extra luggage on your trip. There’s enough free stuff to fill a suitcase.
Tuesday afternoon, I took advantage of the seminars being offered. You should do the same when you go to GA. With over 10 seminars offered every hour from 2:00PM–5:00PM, the hardest thing to do is to choose which ones to attend. I tried to choose the ones most relevant to my interests, my struggles, and those that seemed like they would bless me in ministry. There was one seminar offered on Wednesday morning that every GA first-timer needs to attend: GA for Rookies. As I understand it, this is a seminar offered every year by Stated Clerk Roy Taylor. He really helps you to understand what to be looking for during GA, how to process parliamentary procedure, and he highlights some of the major issues being brought to the floor. He also gives a brief history of the PCA, which may end up enduring you to the denomination all the more.
After GA for Rookies, there was an assembly-wide seminar presenting a study report on the roles of women in the PCA. If there was one thing I could do differently in preparation for my first GA, it would have been to read the study report before it was presented. This would have been very helpful to me to follow along deeper and be more engaged with the study committee presentation. It would have also helped me to track with the business that ensued on the commissioner floor when the committee’s recommendations were passed. Perhaps these study reports are something you will have access to when you go to GA for the first time.
After the assembly-wide seminar, denominational business kicked off through Thursday. I found it helpful to sit next to someone who could give me some insight into what was happening. If you know someone at your first GA who might be willing to help, it would be a good idea to sit with them, especially if you have yet to come under the care of your presbytery and haven’t been to a number of presbytery meetings.
Beside getting caught up in the newness of everything, take a look around. You will likely see pastors from all around the country happy to see one another, giving you a window into the love and comradery of the PCA.