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While at the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church last week in Portland, Oregon, I was asked to contribute a blog post to the Presbyterian Outlook regarding dependent care at General Assembly. This has been a long conversation for my wife and I, if you want to know the whole saga you can follow this link.

Here is the text of my post:

“I am so thankful for the new Dependent Care Reimbursement Policy that the Office of the General Assembly made available for the 222nd General Assembly. This solution has been a blessing to our family and is a beautiful third way that helps alleviate some of the stress of parents and caregivers who are called to service as commissioners and advisory delegates to the assembly. This, for us was a giant step forward.

I’m also thankful for the work of the Committee on Local Arrangements who has provided a family room to change diapers, nurse babies, and give kids and parents a place to be while here at the assembly, complete with live streams of the plenary sessions. I am so thankful for all those that helped make it possible for more people with dependents to be a part of this, the signature gathering of our denomination.

In 2012, my wife and I, both Teaching Elders, decided that we would meet my family in Pittsburgh for the 220th General Assembly of the PCUSA as observers, a chance to have a family reunion of sorts. It was a great opportunity for us to see family and connect with colleagues from around the nation, as well as, be a part of the beautiful connectional nature of our church. It was a reunion that Co-Moderator Jan Edmiston described as, “by blood and by baptism.”

We inquired with the Office of General Assembly about the options for childcare, family rooms, etc. as my son was stilling nursing at the time and my daughter was only two years old. The response from the OGA was suboptimal. At the assembly after talking to several people, including COLA, PCCCA, and OGA we were told that the office would take it under consideration.

Two years later, at the 221st General Assembly in Detroit, I was elected as a commissioner from Homestead Presbytery and my wife, again, planned to attend as an observer with our children. My father was volunteering in the newsroom and my mom was an observer. Once again, there were no options for parents or those with dependents; no quiet space to nurse babies, no dedicated space for children to be children, no place for them to be welcome in worship, no place to tend to the needs of people in our charge. Needless to say I was disappointed. 

That’s when Joseph Morrow of Chicago Presbytery and I submitted a commissioner’s resolution regarding, specifically, childcare at General Assembly meetings. Moments before I was to speak on the floor of the plenary I walked to the back of the hall, where I saw a woman huddled next to a stack of chairs nursing her young child. It further strengthened my belief that we could do better as particular churches, as mid councils, and as a denomination. The vote did not go our way, it was referred to the OGA in committee, after a heartfelt debate on the resolution on the floor of plenary, the assembly approved the recommendation to the committee. Our resolution had lost, we were sad and angry, but we are people of the resurrection.

I was so ecstatic to hear the news that the OGA was implementing the Dependent Care Reimbursement Policy. I think that the OGA and COLA have worked together to help those of us with children and dependents to have an opportunity to be here.

There is still some work to do. An overture (05-05) that would amend the Book of Order to require all councils to adopt a dependent care policy was disapproved by a close vote in committee. I would urge this assembly to disagree with the committee when if comes before you and vote to amend G-3.0106. As Overture Advocate, Kathy Stoner-Lasala, Teaching Elder from Great Rivers Presbytery said, “There are many in the cloud of witnesses who are not here. These are excluded disciples.” 

In my own presbytery, there are a significant number of teaching elders with young children, ruling elders with spouses who are sick or in need of care, there are people who have the energy, the passion, and the calling, but they can not answer the call to serve because we have not opened our hearts, minds, and souls to the needs of those with dependents. We have not listened to their struggles; we have not worked together to do better.

I believe the OGA and COLA have done their part, they have answered the call of welcome. I want to thank Joann Lee and the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns for carrying this mantle for so long, I want to thank the OGA and COLA for their work, I want to thank Great Rivers Presbytery , New Castle Presbytery, and Santa Fe Presbytery for picking up the mantle and taking it on. The question, now, is will our sessions, will our presbyteries, will our synods provide a policy that meets the needs of those in their communities?

May it be so.”

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ImageThis evening I spoke to the plenary of the General Assembly about the need for childcare at our meetings. If you want to know more about how we get here you can find out more herehere, here, and here.

The vote did not go our way, we lost 53%-47%, but there was a life-giving debate and I felt wholeheartedly supported by the church that has nourished me and raised me to be the Christian, father, pastor, commissioner, and leader I have become.

I continue to believe that We. Can. Do. Better. and I will continue to be in conversation with the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and the Committee on Local Arrangements in Portland. I believe that our 222th General Assembly will embrace our children with open arms.

These are the remarks that I made on the floor of the General Assembly:

I rise in favor of approval of item 03-13, this simply worded resolution requiring subsequent General Assemblies to be more welcoming to families and I trust that the COGA and COLA, given this mandate, will provide a variety of options for people with children.

I have been coming to General Assemblies since I was 10, y’all remember Biloxi? There and in every church I have ever attended I have heard the phrase, “We are hoping to have more young families…” By passing this resolution we are sending a clear message to those with children that we want them here and are willing to make it so you can be here.
 
My wife and I are both pastors, we have two small children, we are active in the life of the wider church. We love coming to GA, even as observers, heck we use GA as a family vacation. When we began to prepare to come to the 220th GA we were shocked to find that there were no onsite options for childcare or even child friendly options for our children. After repeated contact and problem solving with members of the OGA we were rebuffed and told that the barriers were too great to provide a welcoming space for families and those with children.

The intent of this resolution is to provide a strong message of support for our members with children and for whom the lack of onsite childcare and child friendly activities provide a barrier to come to know and love this church that has nurtured both my wife and I.

I have already been in conversation with the OGA, COLA, ACWC, and the committee on Biennial meetings since 2012. I’m afraid if we simply refer this to COGA it will fall through the cracks or be cast aside because it’s too complicated or it might cost us some money.

At the very least we should provide a room with comfortable chairs, low light, changing tables, and possibly sleeping mats for nursing mothers and for caregivers to find a place for their child to rest and relax.

We already provide childcare and child-friendly options for Big Tent, so why not General Assembly. By passing this Commissioners Resolution we will show that having families and children at our national gatherings is a priority as we come together to do the business of the church and witness to our calling to exhibit the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Abounding in hope I believe with all my heart that We. Can. Do. Better.

Thank you. 

Here are three possible ways we can make this happen:

1. Available onsite childcare from 7:00 AM-5:00 PM in Two blocks of time during the business days of General Assembly. 7 AM-12 Noon and 1 PM-5 PM for parents and guardians to sign up and drop off their children allowing them to participate in the life of the larger church. This service would be a pay service $40/day is a conference norm. This would allow for families like mine to have a commissioner do their work, a pastor connect with the larger church, and a parent to do their job.

 

2. A space during worship specifically for children, there are many creative people in our churches that can make this a life giving and worshipful place allowing our youngest members to participate in the joy of GA worship.

 

3. At the very least provide a room with comfortable chairs, low light, changing tables, and possibly sleeping mats for nursing mothers and for caregivers to find a place for their child to rest and relax.

As always, please feel to comment here or contact me on twitter.

Blessings,

Rev. Greg Bolt

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ImageHaving attended General Assemblies of the PCUSA since I was 10 years old, they have become family affairs for me and my family. I often see them as a family reunion, celebrating the connectionalism that we hold so highly in our words and deeds as a church.

Now that I am a father and on this day in which we celebrate fathers I have been frustrated with the lack of support and care for families and especially children for those attending the General Assembly. Two years ago, as the church gathered in Pittsburgh and my wife and I began to plan our trip to observe and celebrate our family, church and biological. We were met with hurdle after hurdle and flat out disdain for the desire to share the expereince of General Assembly with our two small children. I am a lucky one. My mother and father, love General Assembly and love their grandkids, so we had support. We didn’t think we were the only pastors or observers that would be interested in attending our church’s most important meeting but were prohibited only be the lack of options for our children to participate in so they can come to know and love the wider church in the same way they are loved and known by their local church.

To that end, as a commissioner from Homestead Presbytery, I have entered a simple Commissioner Resolution to the 221 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) directed the Office of the General Assembly to provide child friendly and child care options during our biennial meetings. Below is the text of that resolution.

Recommend that the 221st General Assembly (2014)
1. 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.

Rationale:
The PCUSA continues to emphasize the importance of the involvement of young adult members. In order to support the participation of many of these Presbyterians, childcare must be provided.

Big Tent http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/big-tent/children-and-youth-programs/

Young Clergy Women’s Project http://youngclergywomen.org/conference/childcare/

Conference Childcare http://conferencechildcare.com/

Rev. Greg Bolt TEC Homestead Presbytery

Joseph Morrow REC Chicago Presbytery

I continually look to the words of my beloved wife and fellow pastor…

I continue to believe that we can do better.

May it be so.

Rev. Greg Bolt (TEC Homestead Presbytery)

PS If you want to know a little more about the history of this conversation you can catch up here.

UPDATE: Below is a copy of the text I read to the General Assembly Procedures Committee (#3) regarding our childcare resolution.

My wife and I are both pastors, we have two small children, we are active in the life of the wider church. We love coming to GA. When we began to prepare to come to the 220th GA we were shocked to find that there were no options for childcare or even child friendly options for our children. After repeated contact and problem solving with members of the OGA we were rebuffed and told that the barriers were too great to provide a welcoming space for families and those with children.

The intent of this resolution is to provide a strong message of support for our members with children and for whom the lack of childcare and child friendly activities provide a barrier to come to know and love this church that has nurtured both my wife and I.

We are proposing three things:

1. Available onsite childcare from 7:00 AM-5:00 PM in Two blocks of time during the business days of General Assembly. 7 AM-12 Noon and 1 PM-5 PM for parents and guardians to sign up and drop off their children allowing them to participate in the life of the larger church. This service would be a pay service $40/day is a conference norm. This would allow for families like mine to have a commissioner do their work, a pastor connect with the larger church, and a parent to do their job.

2. A space during worship specifically for children, there are many creative people in our churches that can make this a life giving and worshipful place allowing our youngest members to participate in the joy of GA worship.

3. At the very least provide a room with comfortable chairs, low light, changing tables, and possibly sleeping mats for nursing mothers and for caregivers to find a place for their child to rest and relax.

I will be here if you have any questions.

Thank you for your time.

 

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This is a response to comments over on Pomomusings, who took up our cause and continued to ask questions about the welcoming nature of the PC(USA).

If you are interested in where this started you can read my wife’s posts here and here and if you’re interested in helping us gather more information about childcare needs for commissioners and observers to future General Assemblies please fill out our survey.

Here is my response to Matt:

Matt,

As I am the person that created the survey, I thought I’d chime in here to my and my wife’s motives.

I think that my wife and I have been humble, hopeful, and engaging. We started by contacting the individual at the OGA and got no response, waiting two weeks. (maybe that wasn’t long enough) After not hearing anything, my wife posted a blog on our site explaining the situation and asking others to contact, Tom Hay. Several did so and got quick responses. Mr. Hay then responded to us and we began a dialogue with him about possibilities, challenges, and information. Following those conversations I contacted Pittsburgh Seminary, PCCCA, First Presbyterian Church–Pittsburgh, and then Crestfield Camp. After getting some energy and some ideas my wife posted a second blog offering the options that we had for those interested.

Nothing happened. We said, “maybe this isn’t really an issue.” When we came to General Assembly with our children, we saw 15-20 strollers at opening worship plus another 20-30 young children. In fact, we passed one man who was looking for childcare and ironically asked us.

We realized that this WAS an issue and we wanted to work to help those people with children, teaching and ruling elders, commissioners and observers an opportunity that they might not have otherwise. That’s when the survey came about, as we started talking to those people with children, we thought having some actual data, or at least anecdotes, to support our thoughts would be helpful.

So far this week, we have spoken with COLA for Detroit, OGA, and PCCCA about next General Assembly.

We are not asking for free childcare, but that would be nice, we are asking for some support. Whether that’s a rocking chair in the family restroom for nursing mothers, a children’s area for worship, a summer camp experience, licensed and bonded childcare workers, etc. we are hoping to make some inroads on this issue trying to make it a little more welcoming to those with kids.

OGA has provided forms of childcare at Big Tent and the Multi-cultural conference so it IS possible. I am willing to make as many phone calls, send emails, talk to whoever I need to talk to in order to take the weight of logistics off of OGA and COLA, but I need some help because ultimately it will be them that implements the plan.

That’s what we are asking for, some help.

(BTW my parents live about an hour away and were itching for family time. So childcare wasn’t an issue for us in Pittsburgh, but figured it was bigger than just us, we’re lucky others aren’t)

Blessings,
Greg

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I wrote a post a week ago about my extreme disappointment that child care is not offered at General Assembly.  Since before that post, Greg and I have been talking with folks in Pittsburgh Presbytery about the possibility of child-care offerings during General Assembly.
Good news!  Crestfield Camp and Conference Center, the camp for Pittsburgh Presbytery, is willing to offer a program (anywhere from babysitting near the conference to a few nights at their facility) based on the desires of those who would like child care.
If you are interested in exploring this option, would you respond to Greg (ggbolt16@gmail.com) or Heidi (heidig26@hotmail.com) or Betty Angelini (bangelini@pghpresbytery.org)?  If you know of folks who are thinking of attending GA and might be interested in this, could you forward this along?
Thanks!

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Greg and I are planning on going to General Assembly. We won’t be commissioners, but we enjoy being a part of the process. We enjoy seeing old friends and colleagues. We enjoy the conversations, worship, discussions that can only happen at GA. We enjoy being a part of the connectional church.

As part of our trip planning, I went on the pcusa.org website to see about childcare at GA since we have two young kids. This is what it said, “Parents are encouraged to carefully consider whether to bring their children to the assembly. Consider arrangements with family or your usual child-care providers.”

I was irate and also close to tears as I read this. This assumes all people wishing to attend have family or regular child-care providers who could provide this kind of long term care. I also read, “Your children are not wanted. If you have children, it is not important you attend. This is a meeting for those over 50.”

I do not believe that it would be difficult to offer some form of child care at General Assembly. Other conferences do it all the time. I do believe that what this says about our denomination is that we say we want young people but our actions tell the truth. We do not actually value them or their participation in the process of being church.

I emailed Thomas Hay, Director of General Assembly Meeting Service, two weeks ago expressing my concern about no childcare at General Assembly. I have not received a response.

Whether you have young children or not, whether you are planning to attend General Assembly or not, if you believe that General Assembly should attempt to provide some type of childcare to allow those with young children to attend, would you email Thomas Hay at thomas.hay@pcusa.org?

I want to be a denomination that welcomes younger adults at all levels of discussion. Don’t you?

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