By John W. Coleman
Because of ongoing restrictions on large gatherings, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Eastern PA Annual Conference and its four District Conferences will all meet not in person but online in September and October. Forced into interactive, virtual meetings, as many churches have been, they will use Zoom video webinars, Facebook Live for livestreaming and the eBallot secure online balloting system for electronic voting.
For the Annual Conference everything will be accomplished in carefully orchestrated steps, after numerous meetings of conference staff and the Commission on Conference Sessions. But a key first step will be a hoped-for vote by conference members on August 26 to approve temporary rules changes that would allow for the virtual conference session, electronic voting and a reduced session agenda.
That proposed agenda would care for only necessary conference administrative business—that is, major mandated reports and votes. Submitted legislative resolutions would not be addressed but may be resubmitted for consideration at the 2021 Annual Conference next May.
The October 13-14 Annual Conference (Tuesday and Wednesday) will include the annual, closed Clergy Session October 13, from 9 to 11 AM, and no Laity Session. The full conference legislative session will follow from 1 to 5 PM. Bishop Peggy Johnson will preside over the conference session from the Conference Office in Valley Forge, assisted by new Conference Secretary the Rev. Jacqueline Hines, Conference Lay Leader David Koch and the Rev. Bruce Rogers, Parliamentarian, who will be off-camera.
The annual Memorial Service for deceased clergy and clergy spouses will follow October 14, at 10 AM, at Olivet UMC in Coatesville. Onsite attendance—mostly by families of the deceased—will be by invitation only and limited to five persons, while others can watch it on livestream video.
After the sanctuary is sanitized, the annual Service of Ordination and Commissioning will follow at 2 PM that day (following a rehearsal the evening before). Again, attendance at the church—mostly by families of those being ordained and commissioned—will be by invitation only and limited to five persons, while others can view it on livestream video. In addition, ordinands may have up to two sponsors each to accompany them at the altar.
Bishop Peggy Johnson will preach briefly at the session’s opening worship service and at the Memorial Service. Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi of the Pittsburgh Episcopal Area (Western PA Conference) will preach onsite at the closing Service of Ordination and Commissioning.
The Commission on Sessions, which meets again September 2, will continue to monitor cautionary guidelines provided by PA Governor Tom Wolf and adjust planning for the two onsite services accordingly. Here is a busy working schedule of important dates and activities to prepare for and execute this year’s virtual annual conference:
For the first time, the four District Conferences will meet not simultaneously onsite but on different dates in September and online in using Zoom webinars. That will allow Bishop Johnson to visit each virtual gathering to explain necessary adjustments planned for Annual Conference and also discuss the denomination’s new Dismantling Racism initiative and the importance of Discipleship. The District Conference schedule is:
Each District Conference must vote for any needed replacement equalizing members for the 2020 Annual Conference. (Equalizing members for the next quadrennium will be voted on at next spring’s Annual Conference.) Information on equalizing members and nomination slates for District Conferences will be emailed to all members September 4.
Districts will also vote on nominees for annual conference leadership, provide any feedback to the Committee on Leadership’s preliminary conference report, signify district clergy and leadership transitions, and thank churches that have paid 100% apportionments. Members may attend any district conference, but they should only vote in their own district’s conference. Members will vote by using the Zoom webinar raised-hand feature with automatic vote tabulation.
In addition to Zoom, the District Conferences may be viewed on Facebook Live (via livestreaming). And districts will provide, if requested, church locations for in-person viewing by voting members without computers or Wi-Fi capabilities at home. District assignees will tally and report vote counts in those locations.