By John W. Coleman
The Eastern PA Annual Conference will happen October 13-14, with a tight schedule that shortens it from three days to two, to save on time and money. But the agenda will be much the same as usual, featuring worship, holy conferencing, conference reports and legislative resolutions, presentation of the 2021 conference budget, ordination and commissioning of clergy, a memorial service, and celebration of new clergy retirees.
The Tuesday and Wednesday midweek dates are the best conference planners could get at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, where many other spring events, cancelled due to the pandemic restrictions against public gatherings, had to be rescheduled. The Commission on Sessions, meeting May 4, approved the new schedule, which was postponed from June 18-20. All District Conferences will happen on Sunday, October 4, from 3 to 5 PM, in four locations.
Meanwhile, conference leaders will monitor the pandemic safety concerns and recommendations for holding—or not holding—such large gatherings this fall. “Online options are being explored,” said Bishop Peggy Johnson, “and a decision about this will be made by late August.”
The Conference session will begin October 13 with the annual, separate Clergy and Laity sessions, from 9 to 11 AM, followed by service of boxed lunches. The conference’s Latino Commission will lead opening worship, as originally planned, but without a guest preacher this year. The commission will instead welcome the Rev. Dorlimar Lebrón Malavé as guest preacher in 2021 when they will lead opening worship again with a full celebration program.
Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi, leader of the Pittsburgh Episcopal Area (Western PA Conference), will preach at the Service of Ordination and Commissioning October 14 to end the session. Bishop Mark Webb, of the Upper New York Episcopal Area, was scheduled to preach at the service originally but has agreed to do so in 2021 instead.
The Rev. Junius Dotson, General Secretary of United Methodist Discipleship Ministries, was slated to teach at this year’s annual conference. He would have likely promoted “See All the People,” his agency’s evangelism and church revitalization resourcing campaign. He will teach next year instead.
The Tuesday schedule includes a boxed lunch and dinner on one’s own. Wednesday’s lunch will feature light reception fare, prior to the closing Ordination Service at 2 PM. There will be no displays, nor sufficient time to visit them, this year.
Annual Conference registration fees already paid for June are being refunded. A new, lower fee for the fall session will be announced soon. New clergy retirees will have their annual fellowship and recognition luncheon September 17 at a location to be determined.
“Annual Conference will only be held in this onsite, in-person format if it is safe to do so, according to recommendations from the state and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention),” said Bishop Johnson. “Online options are being explored, and a decision about this will be made by late August.
“The October dates would still be used, whether our session is held in-person or virtually. Many annual conferences around the connection are using online gathering options this summer. If we need to shift to an online option we will learn and benefit from their experiences and best practices.”
The 2021 Annual Conference is scheduled for May 20-22, with a Special Session scheduled for October 9, 2021, to handle post-General Conference business, including approval of a quadrennial budget. Eastern PA Conference delegates elected last year to the 2020 General and Northeastern Jurisdictional conferences will attend those postponed events in 2021.
The Rev. James Anderman chairs the Commission on Annual Conference Sessions.