Stated Clerk Pro Tempore Issues Statement on General Assembly Dates
By Bryan Chapell

Following a called meeting of the Administrative Committee on Feb. 25, Stated Clerk Pro Tempore Bryan Chapell issued the following statement:

Dear PCA Family,
During this pandemic, many of you have suffered deep losses as we all seek to honor the Lord and extend his Kingdom amid trials that we pray will turn hearts to the Savior. To further the work of Christ’s church in these difficult times, your Administrative Committee (AC) has been seeking God’s guidance regarding the timing of our next General Assembly (GA), a meeting that is so necessary for our faithfulness, fellowship, and progress as a united church. The result is this letter, the content of which is far different from what I expected to write only a few days ago.

For months, we have consulted medical, government, church, and business leaders at both the national and local level, providing updates to all presbytery clerks, your elected members of the AC, members of the Standing Judicial Commission (whose work is tied to the GA schedule), all denominational presidents and coordinators, and regional leaders. Last November we announced that the AC would wait until now to determine whether we would have our next GA as scheduled in June or later in the fall.

Since November, we have carefully examined many factors affecting 1) the health of GA participants and the families to which they will return, 2) the necessity of our denomination’s meeting for the furtherance of Christ’s ministry and mission, and 3) our financial obligations with St. Louis convention businesses that were contracted years ago.

Until this week we believed church leaders and convention officials were tracking together on the possibility of our GA being moved to the fall – as all key factors were indicating. Yet, just as the AC was convening to finalize our decision, convention business officials diverged in their thinking. What changed was the remarkable decrease in key pandemic numbers: reported infections have fallen 73% over the last six weeks, hospitalizations have fallen 60% during that period, and some experts (definitely not all) are predicting pandemic control by early summer.

Convention officials, concerned to maintain business and employment, are contending that these recent pandemic trends contractually obligate the PCA to a June GA in St. Louis. Your PCA leaders do not think trends have reversed so convincingly that we are ready to move away from a fall date, which more experts believe to be safer for participants and their families.

The only way that we have been able to navigate our differences without legal resort (that no one desires) is to allow more time to define the trends. Unfortunately, there is no more time to wait if we are to provide for the constitutional deadlines, practical arrangements, and financial commitments of a June GA. So how shall we proceed?

In this extraordinary time, we are requesting extraordinary understanding from our church family. We are asking that you register now (see link below) for a June 28-July 2 Assembly, but also reserve September 20-24 on your calendars. If pandemic control is not attained in advance of the June dates, you will automatically be registered for GA at the September dates. If you are able to attend in June, but not in September, your registration will be refunded to you upon your request.

While we all wrestle with this needed complexity in our Assembly plans, the entire PCA family is exceedingly grateful for the St. Louis Host Committee and AC Staff, who have exerted unprecedented efforts to convene medical panels, consult government officials, renegotiate contracts with short-staffed convention businesses, plan for multiple contingencies, and trust our ever-faithful Lord through the many unanticipated twists and turns of this past year. The St. Louis Committee’s congeniality and level-headedness under extraordinary pressure has been an especially fine example of Christian character and sacrificial churchmanship. As our church gathers for Christ’s ministry and mission in St. Louis, we can be thankful his witness has been vividly exhibited by these brothers and sisters who have worked selflessly on our behalf.

Knowing our gathering is vital for maintaining our fidelity to the Lord’s Word and mission, we praise God for the opportunity to meet when the time is appropriate, and we pray for the Holy Spirit to use our fellowship in these challenging times for treasuring anew our love for one another and for sparking afresh our zeal for the Kingdom.

In Christ,

Bryan Chapell
PCA Stated Clerk Pro Tempore

PS. Following are answers to some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):


1. What motion did the Administrative Committee formally adopt at its February 25, 2021 meeting?

“In accord with our Rules of Assembly Operations (10-6), upon the recommendation of the Moderator of the 47th General Assembly and the Stated Clerk Pro Tempore, the Administrative Committee (AC) approves continued planning toward this year’s General Assembly in St. Louis from June 28 to July 2, 2021, with the understanding that rapidly changing pandemic dynamics affecting medical and governmental standards may later require a change of date to September 20-24 in St. Louis. If time is of the essence for deciding dates, and a 10-day-advance-notice, called meeting of the AC is not feasible, then the AC authorizes the GA Moderator, Stated Clerk Pro Tempore, and AC Chairman to choose an appropriate date.”

2. Why is it important to keep an alternative September date in contingency?

CDC data available at this time of the AC’s decision indicates that only 6 percent of the nation’s population has received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine after 2.5 months of availability. Missouri, the location of the Assembly, has fully vaccinated 5.4 percent of its population. Georgia, the location of most Assembly staff, has fully vaccinated 5.9 percent. The present pace is too slow for us to expect that most adults will have been vaccinated by a June Assembly – the CDC estimates roughly 30 percent of the population will have received both doses by that time. This vaccination rate is far lower than the 70-90 percent needed for “herd immunity.” At the same time, some experts believe that the current drop in reported infections is due to the probability that many more people have already been infected than have actually been tested for the virus (with actual infection rates as much as six times higher than national test results). This could account for much higher projected levels of immunity in the general population by summer. Only time will tell.

Of course, new vaccines and distribution processes may increase the vaccination rate, but these are uncertain. We also must remember that new strains of the virus (already reported in more than half the states) may challenge present vaccines’ effectiveness.

3. Why don’t we just settle for a June date, and remove all contingency plans?

The medical panel assembled by the St. Louis Host Committee unanimously advises against a June Assembly. The panel includes medical authorities from the St. Louis university community, hospitals, secondary schools, and general practice. The conclusion of all our medical advisors is that our June GA is “on the wrong side of July.” [Note for those really wanting to dig into the data: Since it takes five weeks for vaccines needing two doses to reach full effectiveness, the St. Louis medical panel estimates at least 70-85% of GA participants would have to be vaccinated no later than May 21-25, 2021, to ensure reasonable safety for commissioners’ prolonged exposure in the enclosed spaces of a June General Assembly. No credible epidemiological source has told us to expect this scope of vaccination coverage so early in the summer.]

4. Why not go to another location with fewer complications?

a. At another location we would have no less a Biblical obligation to try to protect the health of our leaders, families, and contracted workers.

b. Contracts signed years previously (as are all General Assembly contracts) obligate us to St. Louis, unless very specific conditions are met. Businesses cannot operate without such contracts, and we would have no assurances for our Assemblies’ arrangements that are approved years in advance without such contracts. We are bound Biblically and Confessionally (see WLC #141) to honor such contracts. Further, to break the contracts would not only result in severe financial penalties but would require additional costs and arrangements at another location that cannot reasonably be absorbed by the PCA or a local host committee.

c. The St. Louis Host Committee has already made significant investments of time and finance that cannot be recouped if the PCA does not meet there.

5. What health standards are we likely to face in St. Louis, whether our GA meets in June or September?

St. Louis government authorities have been quite strict about maintaining business shutdowns to control the virus. Even though the convention businesses are currently seeking to hold the PCA to a June date, local government standards may not allow for gatherings such as ours at that time. Government officials are watching the same trend lines that we are to make decisions about summer meetings and are unwilling at this time to indicate what summer standards will be. As a heads up, government regulations may possibly soon require proof of vaccination or prior recovery for hotel and convention registration. Airlines are currently debating requiring such proof. We expect Covid-19 precautions (masks and social distancing) still to be in effect this summer and fall for GA-type events/venues.

6. What arrangements are being made for commissioners whose occupations will not provide ready opportunity to attend the General Assembly outside the vacation season?

For both the June and September dates, we are working hard to compress the essential business of the Assembly into two days (Wednesday and Thursday). A full schedule of normal events and activities is still planned, but we are seeking as much as possible to accommodate ruling elders’ and other commissioners’ occupational obligations by ensuring that they can participate in the most essential business of the church with only one or two nights away from home obligations.

7. What arrangements are being made for the families of commissioners to the General Assembly?

The Host Committee is working hard to update its programs for both the June and September dates. We anticipate opening Women and Family registrations soon, but we understand these date contingencies will probably result in scaled-back activities and events. Information will be sent to all registered commissioners once it is available. Even after we open registrations, we will need to be sensitive to minimum thresholds of registered attendees that will be needed to hold certain programs. Updates will be clearly communicated to all registered attendees as we move forward.

8. Why are other denominations having summer conventions?

To date we only know of one major denominational assembly that is being held without caps on attendance or hybrid/virtual arrangements. We have consulted other denominations about their plans. Those meeting with thousands of participants by hybrid/virtual arrangements simply do not have the kind of deliberative Assembly that PCA business requires.

9. Why not have a virtual or hybrid General Assembly?

The quick answer is that our constitution makes no provision for such a method of meeting. The only contingency we can foresee that would move us to a virtual or hybrid Assembly is if the Covid-19 virus cannot be controlled.

In that scenario, we would need to arrange a “provisional Assembly” under the “general consent” of the denomination obtained at the presbytery level – perhaps with the goal of gathering a quorum of delegates at a central location, observed virtually by presbytery gatherings. Such a “provisional Assembly” would require approval of all of its actions at a subsequent, regular General Assembly. Again, there is no constitutional provision for such an approach. So, our church would have to come to a general consensus at the presbytery level to proceed in this fashion.

We are not proposing such an approach at this time and pray that it will never be needed. Still, we want all to be aware that the Administrative Committee you have elected considers the General Assembly vital to our ongoing ministry and mission. We will do all we can to further the work of the church, including planning for additional contingencies, if they become necessary.

10. What do exhibitors need to do to register for the General Assembly?

Exhibitors are an important part of how the General Assembly keeps costs down for commissioners while helping all attendees learn more about helpful tools for their own churches and ministries. All approved exhibitors will be contacted when exhibitor registration is available, which we anticipate opening within the next week. If your ministry or business is interested in exhibiting at GA and is not yet approved, please contact us for information about the approval process at

11. How will a June GA affect deadlines for Assembly-related business and operations?

We are currently operating under these deadlines, and will continue to do so unless the June GA dates are no longer feasible.

February 15, 2021 – Statistical forms from churches.

March 15, 2021 – Presbytery records (minutes, standing rules, rolls) and Responses to Exceptions (RAO 16-4, 16-7, 16-10).

March 31, 2021 – If your presbytery would like their BCO votes or Overture printed in the Commissioner Handbook, they must be submitted by this date. Final deadlines for Overtures are below. For BCO votes to be counted, they must be submitted by the beginning of the Stated Clerk’s Report at General Assembly.

April 30, 2021 – Overtures and other matters needing reference to the Committee on Constitutional Business (including proposed changes to the BCO) (RAO 11-6).
– Committee of Commissioner representative appointments due.

May 3-4, 2021 – Meeting of Committee on Constitutional Business.

May 31, 2021 – Final deadline for all Overtures (not needing CCB review) (RAO 11-8).

TBD – Review of Presbytery Records and Nominating Committee meetings.

Note regarding NOMINATIONS: All current members of General Assembly level Committees, Agency Boards, Special Committees, and the SJC have had their term extended by one year. Those who were in the class of 2020 are now in the class of 2021 (serving until the end of the 2021 General Assembly). In light of this, we are not seeking new nominations for General Assembly positions, and the slate put forth by the Nominating Committee from their March 2020 meeting will go forward as the current slate. Floor nominations may be made through the regular process onsite at General Assembly (with either paper or online form) and are due to the Floor Clerks at the end of the regular business on Wednesday afternoon. The floor nomination form will be available when the Commissioner Handbook is published. Committee of Commissioners previously appointed to the 48th GA are still appointed unless the presbytery chooses to change the appointment.

12. How will a September GA affect deadlines for Assembly-related business and operations?

If the GA dates are moved to September, many key deadlines will be moved to reflect the new dates, but some deadlines are static in the year. Please make note of these in your planning:

February 15, 2021 – Statistical forms from churches.

March 15, 2021 – Presbytery records (minutes, standing rules, rolls) and Responses to Exceptions (RAO 16-4, 16-7, 16-10).

June 23, 2021 – If your presbytery would like their BCO votes or Overture printed in the Commissioner Handbook, they must be submitted by this date. Final deadlines for Overtures are below. For BCO votes to be counted they must be submitted by the beginning of the Stated Clerk’s Report at General Assembly.

July 23, 2021 – Overtures and other matters needing reference to the Committee on Constitutional Business (including proposed changes to the BCO) (RAO 11-6).
– Committee of Commissioner representative appointments due.

August 16-17, 2021 – Meeting of Committee on Constitutional Business (Confirmation to come).

August 23, 2021 – Final deadline for all Overtures (not needing CCB review) (RAO 11-8).

TBD – Review of Presbytery Records and Nominating Committee meetings.

For GA-level committee nominations, please see the note in the previous question.

13. If I register for General Assembly now and cannot come in June, or the GA is moved to September and I cannot come in September, what will the refund policy be?

Early registrations are vital for financing the upcoming General Assembly (and we are exceedingly grateful for those who so register every year). Registering now also ensures immediate access to the Commissioner Handbook when it is complete, as well as all related Assembly communications. If you register now and find you are unable to attend the General Assembly, then please follow the instructions below:

Please send your refund request in writing to

  • Before May 26, 2021 – receive a full refund
  • May 27-June 9, 2021 – receive half of a refund
  • After June 9, 2021 – except for extraordinary circumstances, no refund will be considered.

Please note – these deadlines will be extended and published online if GA moves to September.

14. When can I register for the June General Assembly?

Now! Registration is open!  Please go to this link to register for the Assembly.

Having addressed these questions related to this contingency decision of the AC, we fully recognize that some commissioners may have reasonable concerns about why we did not come to different conclusions. Unquestionably, in this complex and rapidly changing situation, we are making judgment calls with which sincere and godly brothers and sisters may differ. We want to communicate respect for such differences, even as we communicate our reasoning in carrying out the responsibilities committed to us by the GA.

As our church advances the cause of the Gospel with confidence in the Savior who goes before us, our prayer is that all in our PCA family would be guided by the Apostle Paul’s charge: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:9-10). When such faith rules our hearts, our Assembly cannot fail to do Christ’s work no matter the timing.

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