Virtual meeting cancels General Assembly

15.4.2020 | General Assembly, Moderator, Statements, Special Assembly, COVID-19 Emergency

Due to the exceptional circumstances surrounding the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, for the first time in 180 years, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) will not be holding its annual General Assembly this June. The decision not to hold the meeting of the Church’s supreme governing body was taken by ministers and elders meeting in a unique virtual Special Meeting of the General Assembly.

The Special Meeting was called by Presbyterian Moderator, Rt Rev Dr William Henry, at the unanimous request of PCI’s General Council when it last met prior to the lockdown. Membership of the Special Meeting was based on the Roll of the 2019 General Assembly, with voting conducted online between 1st and 11th April.

The virtual Special Meeting agreed that the next stated General Assembly, convened to meet in Belfast, on Monday, 1 June 2020, be cancelled. It also agreed that all necessary business of the General Assembly be conducted through a ‘2020 Standing Commission of the General Assembly’, which would meet either in person, or by other means, depending on the circumstances at the time. It was further agreed that the Standing Commission would send to a Special Meeting of the General Assembly, ideally to be held in Belfast at a suitable time in the autumn of 2020, all non-urgent business, full reports from General Assembly Councils and Commissions and a full report from the 2020 Standing Commission.

Speaking about the decisions, Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said, “The General Assembly is the PCI family coming together and meeting collectively to discuss and decide matters that are central to the life, mission and direction of the denomination. Something that has become part of the rhythm of our Church life since 1840. Yet, unprecedented times often call for unprecedented responses to provide for a measure of certainty and continuity.

“Over recent weeks we have seen a wonderfully pragmatic response to the current situation from our congregations across Ireland to Sunday worship and other aspects of church life. In the same way, this contingency plan, agreed by the Special Meeting of the General Assembly, will enable the PCI to continue to function and take the necessary decisions that it needs to take in the short term.

“Like many organisations trying to navigate their way through this crisis, it is important that we find ways to make the decisions that need to be taken. In doing so, we need to ensure that we keep within government guidance, with the emphasis on the health and well-being of colleagues, and in the spirit of our longstanding commitment to openness and accountability as a Church. I would like to thank colleagues for having prayerfully considered the issues before them and for the decisions that they have taken, and those which others will be taking, for and on behalf of the Church.”

Mr Gribben concluded by saying, “In these difficult times I also want to take the opportunity to commend our congregations who are continuing to find ways to support those in need, quietly and compassionately in the name of Jesus, as we hold fast to the fact that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Moving forward, I hope and pray that all within our congregations, and within wider society, would know and feel God’s love and his close presence, especially those who have been bereaved, as we continue to put our hope and trust in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The formal notice of the resolutions & decisions of  the virtual Special Assembly can be found here.

Historical note

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland met in Assembly Buildings, Belfast, from Monday, 3 June to Saturday, 8 June 1940, adjourning to convene again on Tuesday, 8 October 1940.

Following representations from the majority of the Church’s presbyteries to postpone 8 October meeting, on the advice of the Moderator’s Advisory Committee, it was agreed to postpone until the 1941 annual meeting of the General Assembly. This took place from Monday, 2 June to Wednesday, 4 June 1941. The decision to postpone, according to the minutes of the 1940 General Assembly ‘was arrived at on account of the acute National crisis.’

While the 8 October 1941 was postponed, no annual meeting of the General Assembly has been cancelled until this year's 2020 meeting.

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