For a number of years the General Assembly has been looking at this important issue with significant change taking place in 2019, the first time business was also conducted over two evenings. By necessity, changes also took place this year, with the Assembly starting on a Monday Morning and not evening, with business conducted over three days and two evenings.
In its work, the Task Group, which was convened by Rev Jonathon Boyd, the minister of Hyde Park and Lylehill, in County Antrim, identified several areas were accessibility could be improved. This included, enabling attendance by people who find it difficult to attend because they work or study in the daytime and on weekdays, enabling those who are able, but lack the motivation to attend, while enabling participation in the Assembly by people who were unfamiliar with the business or the procedures The Task Group also looked at encouraging participation when people were not confident that their voice would be listened to.
Addressing the Assembly, Mr Boyd said that it can be hard for some people to engage with the work of the General Assembly and hard for them come, “Even when they're here it can be hard to get up and speak, or even to understand issues so as to vote on them in an informed manner…it's not easy for everyone. I can’t sit here in this Assembly thinking it works fine because it suits me. I need to think of how to make it easier for others to attend and be involved.
In bringing its report to the General Assembly, he also said that the Task Group “brought together a variety of people from across the Church and across the island to meet on three Saturday mornings in Portadown, rather than during the week in Belfast. We had a young mother with her new born child alongside retired people, ministers alongside people who work during the week, folks from the Greater Belfast area, the hinterlands of Northern Ireland, and several from the Republic…Together we considered the obstacles to people attending the Assembly and participating in the business, and came up with some recommendations for how we could do things better.
The Task Group also recommended that the Assembly start later in June, but with reports being published at the usual time. This would give those attending a chance to read and understand them. To further assist, it also recommended that PCI’s 19 regional presbyteries run an event each year before the Assembly to help those attending understand its procedures and discuss the reports, so that they can be better informed and better able to participate.
Mr Boyd concluded by saying, “We'd like to see these changes trialled for five years. That might seem like a long time, but we think it takes a bit of time to see if something works… [A] shorter trial makes it easy for people to opt out of changes and ignore them for a couple of years, hoping that they'll be able to go back to normal. But we need a new normal.
“Throughout the Church we have work to do, at all levels, to make it easier for people to attend and participate in the courts of the church. There are broader cultural issues to work on than just the Assembly. But if we set a good pattern here and find things that help, hopefully that can help to change the way we do things, for the better, throughout the church.”
With the approval of the Task Groups recommendations, the Opening Night of the next General Assembly will take place on Wednesday, 22 June 2022, The Opening Worship and election of the Moderator will take place that evening, with an evening celebration, including worship taking place on Thursday. Business will then continue on Friday, including evening business sessions, with the General Assembly closing on Saturday afternoon.
Photos: Some images from this year's General Assembly (1) husband and wife reverends, Rev David and Rev Mairisíne Stanfield of First Presbyterian Church, Bangor, County Down (2) discussing a speech, (left) Rev Robert McClure of Creggan and Second Newtownhamilton in south south County Down with Rev Richie Cronin, minister of Trinity Cork and Aghada Presbyterian Church in East County Cork, PCI's most southerly congregations and (3) the Moderator, Dr Bruce.
The General Assembly concluded this afternoon, Wednesday, 6 October. Business also took place on Monday and Tuesday evening. For full details visit the General Assembly Overview page here.