Much work has been done to make the General Assembly as inclusive a gathering as possible. Fair representation of both Ruling Elder and Teaching Elder Commissioners is ensured. We hear from Advisory Delegates, who represent a wider swath of voices, the majority of whom (YAADs) represent a younger generation, prior to all plenary votes. The LEED Certified Platinum Oregon Convention Center is not only fully accessible, but also conveniently located near public transportation. Resources are made available from the Office of the General Assembly for the full participation of people with sight or hearing disabilities and for people who do not speak English.
And as we continue to wrestle with how best to include all of God’s Presbyterian voices at the table, one area that has seen a dynamic shift at this General Assembly is in the area of childcare. The implementation of a dependent care policy, providing pre-approved reimbursable funds for Commissioners and Advisory Delegates with children, has welcomed in a new day for the demographic of Presbyterians with young families. Indeed if it were not for this policy, I would not have been able to attend General Assembly and serve as a Teaching Elder Commissioner for the Hudson River Presbytery. I am the father of two young children and the policy is providing the funds for my parents (both Ruling Elders) to travel from Michigan to stay with them during the time I am serving in Portland.
While the dependent care policy is not exclusively concerned with childcare (many care for parents, siblings, and other dependents), the majority of people for whom this policy increases access are women and younger adults.
Stemming from discussion, blog posts, and activity prior to the 220th General Assembly (2012), a Commissioners Resolution recommending to, “Direct the Office of the General Assembly to ensure that childcare and child-friendly spaces are provided at all General Assembly meetings, following models used for other Presbyterian meetings, such as Presbyterian Women’s Gatherings and Big Tent,” was entered at the 221st General Assembly and then discussed on the floor of plenary. Though narrowly voted down 53% to 47%, the conversation initiated the process which helped form the policy that is in place for this year’s Assembly.
The policy seeks to “to demonstrate “the full and prayerful participation of those seeking the mind of Christ for the whole church.” Addressing a community that could not fully participate due to parental responsibilities, the Dependent Care Reimbursement Policy for Commissioners and Advisory Delegates to the 222nd General Assembly states that “Commissioner or Advisory Delegates may include in vouchered expense, the cost of dependent care, as long as it replaces (sic) that is normally provided by the commissioner”, and that it “does not exceed $800 per dependent or $400 per additional dependent.”
For many, this is indeed a prophetic action. While the dependent care policy is not exclusively concerned with childcare (many care for parents, siblings, and other dependents), the majority of people for whom this policy increases access are women and younger adults. Perhaps it is something of a kairos moment: In this 60th anniversary of the ordination of women, and during a time when the PC(USA) and all mainline churches are seeing a drastic decline in young adult attendance, the church is opening an important door.
Indeed if it were not for this policy, I would not have been able to attend General Assembly and serve as a Teaching Elder Commissioner for the Hudson River Presbytery.
Ten families are making full use of this policy during this GA. Their proposals were submitted to the Office of the General Assembly and then forwarded on to a subcommittee of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA). Once approved, the decision was communicated back to the Commissioners or Advisory Delegates, informing them of the decision and encouraging them to put their childcare plans into action. The flexibility of the policy allows for many types of childcare coverage for families, providing parents the freedom to choose how best to care for their children. Additionally, room 126 in the Convention Center has been designated as the “Family Room.” This room has child-friendly snacks and toys, a TV and DVD player with a selection of child-friendly DVD’s, a refrigerator, a microwave, and a private area curtained off for those who need some privacy. Diapers, wipes, ointments, and other changing supplies have also been made available.
Sadly, not everyone who could have used the policy is taking advantage of the opportunity. Though unfortunate, this means there is a chance for further growth and new possibilities for the program. As we live into a world where parenting and childcare options are continually evolving, maintaining and improving a policy like this is a must. This policy allows for parents with children and families of all sizes to create their best possible childcare plan. It provides a safe space for nursing mothers. It provides a safe space designated for children and young families. It empowers parents with the financial flexibility to love their children in new and exciting ways, while serving the Assembly.
As the PC(USA) searches to find new ways to ensure “full and prayerful participation,” the Dependent Care Reimbursement Policy is indeed good news, allowing parents to choose how best to parent, while freeing them to prayerfully seek the mind of Christ.
AUTHOR BIO: Rev. Jacob Bolton is the Associate Pastor of Huguenot Memorial Church. He is a Certified Christian Educator and a GreenFaith Senior Fellow.