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April 2012 Session Meeting

by Kathryn Goldsmith, PHPC Director of Communications

The April 23 Session meeting kicked off with Word Share Prayer, which was led by the Discipleship Council. The message focused on dealing with anxiety and what the church can do better to decrease anxiety in members’ lives. This lively discussion carried on in a presentation and discussion led by the Council later in the meeting; I’ll expand on this later. 

After the Session approved minutes from the March meeting and the consent agenda, they heard a report from Church Financial Officer, Trey Angel. Trey reported that gifts and member giving was below forecast by about $32,911 for the month. Member giving in both February and March has been less than what was given in the same two months in 2011. Despite these shortfalls, year-to-date giving remains about 0.5% above goal. Also, spending continues to be managed below forecast. As ministries and teams prepare their budgets for 2012-2013, the Finance committee is directing them to assume no growth in member giving, and, therefore, they shouldn’t anticipate any new funding for program costs. The financial report was unanimously approved.

Next, a representative from Presbytery spoke to the Session about the next steps for searching for our Associate Pastor for Congregational Care. To officially begin the search, the congregation will need to approve a nominating committee comprised of five to nine members. The Session called a Congregational Meeting for Sunday, May 20, at 10:30 a.m. in the Sanctuary in order to elect this committee. Following this business, Blair Monie and Paul Seelman welcomed the Interim Associate Pastor for Congregational Care, Vanessa Potter, and told the Session about the selection of the church’s next Lily Resident, Elaine Murray Dreeben. Elaine will begin her two-year term as resident in September. 

As I mentioned earlier, this month the Discipleship Council reported to the Session. This council oversees the educational ministries of the church, and Council Leader Fred Van’t Slot prompted the Session to think about and discuss the purpose and frequency of all-church events. The Discipleship Team would like to encourage more intergenerational events for the whole church family but also provide targeted events for distinct demographics of the church. The Session talked about the balance of offering these different types of events and the purpose that both types serve. The next part of the meeting focused on discussion surrounding the book Inside the Large Congregation by Susan Beaumont, which the Session is reading together. The Session spent some time discussing the highlights of the first section and focused their discussion on volunteer leadership development and whose role it is to help members find a place to serve and become integrated into the church. This is not a role that is currently being filled in a formal way at PHPC, and the Session discussed its value. They will tackle this challenge in upcoming meetings. 

Finally, Jim Finley gave a report on the status of collecting nominations for the next class of Elders and Deacons. He encouraged everyone on Session to think about and pray about who they might nominate. The meeting closed with a few staff reports, which updated the Session on upcoming activities within the church. Stay tuned for the next Session in a Nutshell report, which will cover the May 29 meeting. Please note, Reverend Paul Seelman will be writing this report in my absence as I will be out on maternity leave until August.

March 2012 Session Meeting

by Kathryn Goldsmith, PHPC Director of Communications

The Session meeting began with “Word Share Prayer,” a short devotion led by Anné Hughes. Anné had everyone write two affirmations — one personal affirmation and one for the church. Everyone read their affirmations aloud and in doing so was reminded of God’s blessings and activity at PHPC.

The first item on the docket was a report from Staff Committee members Gretchen Feemster and Kay Rainey regarding the searches for a new Pastoral Resident and Interim Executive Associate Pastor. Both representatives reported that a candidate had been selected for these two positions, gave the Session a summary of their qualifications, and each candidate was brought to a vote. Both were unanimously approved. The Session thanked both search committees for their hard work in presenting such outstanding candidates. As soon as some administrative work is complete, we will introduce you to our new staff members. Stay tuned!

After the February 27 meeting minutes and consent agenda were approved, Trey Angel gave a summary presentation on church finances. He reported that giving for the month of February was below forecast by about $60,000. However, despite this shortfall, year-to-date giving is about 2% above goal, and gifts and payments on pledges are $76,000 above where they were at this time last year. Spending continues to remain below forecast but is up approximately $127,000 from the same period last year. The Session unanimously approved the finance report.

In late 2011, the Session adopted two overarching goals to focus our work this year: 1. PHPC members are connected to the body of Christ, the Church, and 2. Christ’s love is shown to guests and strangers. A large portion of the meeting was spent discussing these goals and how each council plans to implement them in their work. Each council or committee has an Elder liaison, and each liaison gave a summary of their council’s plans put together over the last 2 months. Many good and exciting ideas were put forward by each council and committee. In future Session summaries I will report back to you their progress.

As I mentioned in the last “Session in a Nutshell”, a new part of Session meetings is the inclusion of a “Big Picture Discussion.” This month’s discussion focused on budgeting and stewardship. While the church is in solid financial shape, there has been a small decline in the number of pledges even with the addition of more household giving units. The Session also spoke about the current staff expenses as a part of the total church budget. These topics sparked lively conversation regarding generational giving and how the church communicates the need for pledges and the cost of running the church. These ideas gave way to discussion about creating community outside the church walls and engaging more members. 

The meeting closed with a report from Jim Finley, who gave a summary introduction of the book Inside the Large Congregation by Susan Beaumont. Susan is a senior consultant for the Alban Institute and one of the primary researchers for the Alban report for PHPC. The Session was assigned part one of the book before the next Session meeting which they will take up at their next meeting on Tuesday, April 23.

February 2012 Session Meeting

by Kathryn Goldsmith, PHPC Director of Communications

Ever wondered what goes on at PHPC Session meetings? As your Director of Communications, I get to attend Session meetings each month and report to you on what happened. These are my observations from the February 27 meeting.

As it always does, the meeting kicked off with “Word Share Prayer,” which was led by the goals task force. The focus of the devotion was Romans 12. The group discussed which parts of the reading particularly inspired them. Much of the discussion focused on the segment of the scripture, “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us…” The Elders discussed how blessed PHPC is to have the gifts of each individual member and how collectively all the different talents make up one body to do Christ’s work.

The first official part of the meeting was a Finance Report given by Church Financial Officer, Trey Angel. Trey reported that for January, giving was over budget compared to this time last year. On another positive note, expenditures for the year have only slightly increased since last year. At this time, receipts have grown more than expenditures. Regarding Stewardship for 2012, the church has received 828 pledges of giving. At this time last year, it had received 850. The group asked Trey to collect more information regarding giving and demographics, and it planned to discuss the issue further at the next meeting.

Next, the group heard a report from a representative from Grace Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry and from PHPC’s Interim Associate Pastor Search Committee. They reviewed the process for finding an Interim Associate Pastor and where we are in the process. The committee has not yet found an Interim but is diligently working to select a candidate that’s just the right fit for congregational care. Linda Smith, PHPC’s Director of Human Resources, also reported on the progress being made to find our second Lily Pastoral Resident beginning this coming fall. The committee has conducted interviews and hopes to identify the new resident in March or April.

A bulk of the meeting was spent on “big picture discussion.” This is a new element of the meetings that Reverend Seelman has suggested be included in every meeting. The focused discussion this month was on integrating new members, helping inactive members become more active, and developing new lay leaders at the church. The Session engaged in lively discussion about these topics, and it was inspiring to hear such passion regarding the life of PHPC. The desire is for these kinds of conversations to inspire the planning of how we do church in the future.

The meeting concluded with routine items such as approving minutes and consent agenda items, and hearing staff reports. Next month’s meeting will be held March 26. You can always find archived Session summaries at

January Session Meeting

by PHPC Director of Communications, Kathryn Goldsmith

The January Session meeting was a milestone for PHPC as it was the first Session meeting in the church’s conference room. The downsizing of Session has been going on for three years and came out of the 2007 Alban Institute report to move to team ministries. Blair kicked off the meeting with a thought-provoking devotion and activity. Based upon Jesus’ letters to the churches found in Revelation 3, Blair asked everyone to write a letter to PHPC from Jesus. It was quite inspiring to listen to each Elder share how they imagined the Lord speaking about the character of our church life. The exercise helped remind Session of their role as leaders and visionaries.

The first item on the Session’s docket was a report from the Seminarian Care Team. The Session heard a report from Seminarian, Amy Moore. Amy talked about her studies at Perkins and what it has meant to her to be supported and cared for by PHPC throughout her time at seminary. The Session unanimously voted to endorse Amy Moore to become a candidate for the Ministry of the Word and Sacrament. This is the last step before ordination.

Next, the Session reviewed reports from various entities including Preston Hollow Presbyterian School, the Columbarium Committee, and the PHPC Foundation. These annual updates help the Session stay informed about their activities and developments. A report was received from Rev. Elizabeth McLean on the Community Outreach Council. Elizabeth reviewed every mission that falls under the council, including VMLC, McShan Elementary, Epiphany Ministry, etc. It provided a great opportunity for the Elders to learn about the many ways PHPC serves our community and world and provided an opportunity for the Elders to think about our overall mission strategy. 

As with every Session meeting, time was spent in routine business; minutes and the consent agenda were approved. The consent agenda includes noncontroversial items that usually don’t require discussion such as baptisms approvals and 2012 worship dates. 

Trey Angel presented the finance report through December 31, 2011. Approximately 18% of the church’s receipts come in during December. Receipts were about $13,000 short of forecast in the period. However, due to a surplus carried forward from November, the church is approximately 2.7% ahead of plan and 1.3% ahead of where it was at December 31, 2010. Trey also reported on Stewardship for 2012. We are approximately 30 pledges short of where we were at this time last year. The pledge goal is 860, and the church has received 804. The Stewardship committee will be meeting to develop a plan to work toward our goal. The motion to receive the financial report was approved. 

The meeting concluded with staff reports. This gives the staff present a chance to speak about any big items or events in their areas of ministry. Attending her last Session meeting, Fran Shelton made her closing remarks and goodbyes. She thanked the Session for their support and the ability to serve such a wonderful church over her past ten years on staff.

November Session Meeting

by PHPC Director of Communications, Kathryn Goldsmith

The November 28 Session meeting was the last Session meeting for 2011, and it served as a time to welcome the new officers and say farewell to those rolling off. The meeting, as always, started off with a devotion in the form of Word Share Prayer, which was led by the outgoing Elders. They reflected on the beatitudes, specifically, on the theme of honor and their feeling of being honored to have served PHPC on Session. The bulk of the meeting was devoted to the examination of the new officers. This time gives the new officers the opportunity to speak about their faith story, as well as share about one of the ordination questions they had previously been assigned. At the close of small group time, the current Elders unanimously voted to accept the new officers. As the new officers were celebrated, the outgoing officers had a chance to speak about their time on Session. As Jarl Johnson said goodbye to his three years on Session, he had a particularly poignant remark, “My term is up. I will return to the pew, still a place of honor, still a place of privilege, and still with an obligation, no less than before, to be a part of the mission of the church.” The theme of the outgoing Elders was honor, and this was what he ended with.

Another large part of the meeting was devoted to an update from John Hamm on the major funds campaign. This $12 million campaign will fund renovations and construction on the north campus of PHPC and a new PHPC mission. $6 million will go to the mission component and $6 million will go to the building component. The facilities visioning group has met with and interviewed four different architecture firms and recommended that Session approve the choice of Page Southerland Page (PSP) to work on the initial plans and visioning. The money to hire PSP has already been earmarked and will not affect the operating budget or stewardship of PHPC. Regarding the mission aspect, a group has formed to identify the needs of our community, where a new PHPC mission might be able to serve those needs, and the key criteria for the new mission.

Welcome, Incoming Officers!

Elders: Krista Chalkley, Anné Hughes, Debbie Tunnell (also Clerk of Session), Shane Sumrow, Stan Woodward, and Mike Wright

Deacons: Emily Colter, Gary Hammer, Kristine Kamm, Ed Love, Peggy Reppe, Z. Zsohar

October Session Meeting

by PHPC Director of Communications, Kathryn Goldsmith

The October 25 Session meeting was a unique and special time for the Session. Over the past few months the Session has been in the process of evaluating its purpose and goals for the church. The October 25 meeting served as a time of reflection and discussion to address these important topics. Before the meat of the meeting began, several routine docket items were completed. One of these items was a financial report from Church Financial Officer, Trey Angel. Trey reported that September giving was slightly below forecast, but that overall, giving was above where we were in September last year. Trey also reported that spending is down by 4% or $46,000. The financial report also covered a stewardship update. Trey reported that we are well ahead of where we were last year with regard to the number of pledges. Finally, he reported that the church’s annual audit was completed and accepted by the Finance Committee.

Next the Session enjoyed an interesting report from Abbie Watters. Abbie recently attended a conference called “The Four Cornerstones of Emerging Christianity,” which was held at PHPC. She was inspired by what she learned and wanted to share her thoughts. One of the key messages she took away was that different people are led to Christianity in different ways. She also spoke about how the church is neither coming nor going – but it’s at the threshold right now. Abbie’s report was refreshing and enlightening.

A large portion of the meeting was devoted to reviewing and discussing the proposed Session goals. The Session has been reviewing and learning from their previous goals and created a task force to develop new goals for 2012.

The task force reduced the number of goals and made them broader so that each council can easily align their work with the goals. The Session approved the two new goals recommended by the task force: “PHPC members are connected to the body of Christ, the Church” and “Christ’s love is shown to guests and strangers.” They also engaged in thoughtful discussion regarding questions such as “how will council liaisons track these goals?”, “how will we share the goals with the congregation?”, and “how will councils learn about them?”

To conclude, a time for open reflection and discussion began. The Elders adjusted their seating in Jubilee Hall to form a close circle and engaged in heartfelt discussion about the new goals. They also discussed other topics such as how visitors and new members are welcomed and engaged and how to keep inactive Elders engaged with the Session. The time served as a great opportunity for sharing and reflection.

Stay tuned for more information about the new Session goals and how you can be a part of this exciting and thoughtful time in the church. You can always read archived Session in a Nutshell reports online at

September Session Meeting

by PHPC Director of Communications, Kathryn Goldsmith

Aside from the occasional Dallas Cowboys game score update, the September 26 Session meeting was very productive. Each Session meeting begins with a report from a Council. The September meeting featured the Discipleship Council; this entailed a report from Children’s Ministry, Youth Ministry, and Adult Education. These three groups gave an excellent overview of the exciting things going on in each program. I was particularly impressed by two things. First, the representatives talked about learning from what works and what doesn’t. If a particular class or program doesn’t receive a great reception or turnout, the staff doesn’t dwell on it – they use it as a chance to improve and learn. I was also impressed by how much these three groups have embraced technology and are looking to embrace it even more. There are exciting things on the horizon for Discipleship at PHPC!

Next on the docket was a presentation by the chairmen of the Stewardship Committee. They discussed the timing and the theme for this year’s campaign, “Of Great Value.” The campaign kicks off on October 16. Elders were encouraged to turn their pledges in early and to encourage others to pledge. The Session gave the Stewardship Committee (Randy Skattum and Sally and Bill Dix) a round of applause for kicking off a great campaign.

Next the group heard a presentation from Reverend Paul Seelman regarding an update to guest group policies and wedding policies. The group approved updates that came about from a routine review of wedding fees and policies compared to comparable-sized churches. Paul continued down the docket and gave an update on a Major Funds Campaign. After some down time, plans for this campaign are picking up speed. Half of the funds will go to facilities upgrades and the other half will go to missions. The committee is in the process of selecting an architectural firm. Regarding the missions component, the committee is researching an important question, “what would make the next flagship mission for this church?”

Susan Roach spoke next on behalf of the Staff Committee. She reported that the committee has made a change to Paul Seelman and Blair Monie’s titles. The title “Head of Staff” will be moved from Blair’s title to Paul’s title. The Session approved this and also approved a search for a new Lily pastoral resident. Reverend Melissa Lopez’ two-year term as resident will conclude in August 2012, and the committee must begin their search for her replacement now.

Next, Elizabeth McLean spoke to the Session about her sabbatical. She gave an interesting report on what she gleaned from her time for reflection and inspiration. Stay tuned for a Herald article from Elizabeth, or just ask her about her sabbatical -- she would love to share her thoughts with you!

Stay tuned for a report from the October 25 Session meeting.

August Session Meeting

by PHPC Director of Communications, Kathryn Goldsmith

Ever wondered what goes on at PHPC Session meetings? As your Director of Communications, I get to attend Session meetings each month and report to you on what happened. These are my observations from the August 22 meeting.

Since Session did not meet in July, the August 22 meeting was a bit of a reunion for the Elders. After a deliciously not-so-healthy meal of fried chicken, Worship Council kicked off the meeting with their annual report. The Worship Council coordinates every aspect of worship other than the sermons. I learned that a large percentage of church involvement/volunteer opportunities relate to worship. For example, PHPC music alone is comprised of 311 volunteers weekly! Heather Brackett, who presented the council’s report, also reported that there was a significant increase in summer worship attendance this year over last year. This is important to note since this year the number of services was not adjusted for summer. Another important aspect of Heather’s report was that she explained that the council, instead of focusing on its easy-to-measure goals (such as worship attendance), would be focusing on its less concrete goals such as to provide worship that “challenges the people of PHPC to be part of the body of Christ.” That’s a tough goal to measure, but Heather made a great point by stating, “If we focus on the more subjective goals, fulfillment of the statistical goals will follow.” The Session congratulated the Worship Council on working hard to create alternative worship experiences such as EPIC and Taizé.

Next on the docket was approval of minutes and the consent agenda. During this time, the Elders read over minutes from the last meeting and approve items that don’t require discussion. Following a unanimous approval, Jim Finley and Lundy Forbes gave a brief preview regarding progress of a large-scale evaluation of the Session’s goals and goal-tracking process. A small task force of Elders is working to streamline this process; more information will be forthcoming as the process is improved.

Sharon Balch presented next - giving a preview of the Congregational Nomination Committee’s slate of officers and Foundation trustees to be voted upon at the Congregational meeting on September 25. The congregation will be given the list of candidates in early September.

Last but not least, Church Financial Officer Trey Angel reported on Financials. He reported that the month of June was a good month for the church. After four months of member giving being below forecast, member giving exceeded the forecast in June. Trey reported that, overall, the church is in a good financial position. Over the past four years, member giving has varied less than 1 percent. Trey also informed the Elders that planning for the season of Stewardship is underway. Elder Sandy Brown encouraged all of the Elders to submit their pledge before October 16.

The meeting, as always, closed with staff reports. Blair Monie welcomed Reverend Paul Seelman and announced that the Presbytery will be receiving Paul on September 9 at First Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth. 

Stay tuned for a report from the September 26 Session meeting. You can always read archived Session in a Nutshell reports online at

June Session Meeting

by PHPC Director of Communications, Kathryn Goldsmith

Ever wondered what goes on at PHPC Session meetings? As your Director of Communications, I get to attend Session meetings each month and report to you on what happened. These are my observations from the June 27 meeting.

The June 27 meeting was a milestone for the Session as it served as the first meeting without paper packets. No major mayhem ensued from the lack of paper, and the transition to electronic packets went well. Thanks to the Session for embracing the new green initiative! Now, on to the real meat of the meeting...June’s meeting was a very important meeting for several reasons. First, the June meeting is the annual time in which the Session reviews the budget for the following year. Trey Angel reported that the 2011- 2012 budget assumes no growth in program costs or receipts, but a 3 percent increase for staff expense. The Finance Committee annually forecasts a deficit, but cash reserves are sufficient to support that if it occurs.

Another important aspect of this month’s meeting was the Administrative Council’s annual report. This Council includes Communications Committee, Finance Committee, Staff Committee, and Property Management Committee; all committees were represented. The Staff Committee report was given by Susan Roach. Susan reported that the committee works hard to support and manage the Session’s strategic, visionary decisions about staff additions and organizational needs. Currently, staff expense is a little over 50 percent of the church’s budget. During Susan’s report the meeting went into “Executive Session,” which means that any attending staff members leave the room. During Executive Session, the terms of call for the pastors were approved. The terms will be presented for the congregation’s vote at the congregational meeting in September.

The final portion of the meeting was spent discussing Session goals for 2012. As you might recall from previous Session reports, the Session has been working toward tracking and achieving a set of six goals. As the Session moves into planning for 2012, it has become clear that the goal-setting process should be improved and that all the goals need to be evaluated in light of moving into a new year. A small group of Elders, including Bill Davis, Lundy Forbes, and Jim Finley, will work with Blair Monie and the incoming Executive Associate Pastor Paul Seelman on this process.

Finally, the meeting concluded with a touching tribute to Reverend Russell Jonas. This meeting was Russell’s last, and it was clear by the emotion in the room what a great impact Russell has had on the leadership and direction of the church. The Session gathered around Russell to support him in prayer and give thanks for the many gifts with which he has blessed PHPC.

May Session Meeting

by PHPC Director of Communications, Kathryn Goldsmith

Ever wondered what goes on at PHPC Session meetings? As your Director of Communications, I get to attend Session meetings each month and report to you on what happened. These are my observations from the May 23 meeting.

May’s meeting was both average and extraordinary. Trey Angel, Church Financial Officer, reported that receipts were stable but not growing, although the church is in a good financial position. Next month, the Finance Committee will present the 2011- 2012 budget for approval by Session. In light of discussion at a past Session meeting regarding the potential need for a new position, Susan Roach, reporting on behalf of the Staff Committee, explained the church’s process for making requests for new staff.

The entire Session also engaged in some heartfelt discussion regarding its role, and it adopted some changes. In February, the Session had attended a presentation by minister and author Leonard Sweet addressing unique challenges to the church moving into the 21st century (see your March 18 Herald if you’d like more details!). Leonard specifically highlighted the need to embrace technological and communications trends. After hearing some of Sweet’s challenges, several Session members, including Matt Brennan and Heather Bracket, recently attended a forum hosted by PC(USA) former Moderator of the 218th General Assembly Bruce Reyes-Chow. Bruce, too, embraces technology and social media in ministry. He is a prolific blogger with a vast social networking presence. Elder Abbie Watters recently had attended a similarly challenging conference at the PC(USA)’s Stony Point Conference Center in New York.

The collective result was some lively, fresh thinking and conversation among the Session. Several members expressed a desire to put some of these ideas into action, so a motion was made to devote an upcoming Session meeting to focus on “big picture” ministry issues and the Session’s role as spiritual leaders of the church. That motion was unanimously approved. In other action, the Session voted to eliminate paper Session packets in favor of electronic packets.

The meeting adjourned with prayer around 8:15. The next Session meeting will be held June 27 (sans paper!).

April Session Meeting

by PHPC Director of Communications, Kathryn Goldsmith

I learn something new every Session meeting. This month I learned about PHPC’s process for endorsing an “inquirer” (someone who believes that they have been called to ministry). If endorsed by Session (upon recommendation from the Seminarian Care Team and then the Presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry), the individual receives financial, spiritual, and educational support from the church and presbytery. At April’s meeting, the Session enjoyed a brief presentation from inquirer Greg Steible. Greg attended PHPC as a youth and told his story about being led to ministry and his plans to study at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary this fall. He was unanimously approved by the Session and immediately left the meeting to finish a daunting task of completing a 45- page paper on John Calvin’s and Karl Barth’s theology of sin. (Greg is set to graduate from the University of Tulsa this month).

As I’ve explained in previous “Session in a Nutshell” reports, each meeting features a report from a Council, and this month’s meeting featured the Evangelism and Membership Council. The representatives, Reverend Elizabeth McLean and Diane Fullrich, presented Council goals and gave a status update on each goal. It was compelling to see how progress on their goals has become evident in the church. For example, one of their goals is to inspire the congregation to share their faith stories. Throughout Lent we enjoyed faith stories in each service. This prompted Joan Curtis, a PHPC member, to share her story (see page one). Reports like these – from individual Councils – help the Session see how the Councils help it work toward achieving its six goals.

The next big item on the docket was a presentation by Reverend Russell Jonas on the church’s March financial report. While the Session received a full report in their packets, Russell highlighted that member giving (year-to-date) is $44,535 (or 1.5%) below forecast. As Councils look toward 2011-2012 and prepare their budgets, they have been instructed to assume that there will not be growth in member giving.

Last, the Staff Committee, represented by Susan Roach, presented Reverend Elizabeth McLean’s proposal for a sabbatical. Reverend McLean’s sabbatical would be from June 1 through August 31, 2011. Their recommendation was unanimously approved. A portion of the recommendation included a communications plan to inform the congregation, so you’ll hear more about Reverend McLean’s sabbatical in coming weeks.

Session meetings always conclude with staff reports. An item that was brought up during this time that provoked discussion was the topic of availability of child care for weeknight meetings (such as Session meetings). The consensus was that the church strongly supports parents of young children in church involvement and therefore should provide child care for all weeknight events. Council leaders were urged to keep this in mind when preparing 2011-2012 budgets.

The meeting adjourned with prayer around 9:15. The next Session meeting will be held May 23. You can learn more about the Session and its goals at