Mar 19, 2021 | John W. Coleman

General, Jurisdictional conferences moved to 2022

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[This story was updated March 30, following a Council of Bishops meeting.]

While The United Methodist Church’s General and Jurisdictional conferences have been postponed once again until 2022, due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the 236th session of the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference will meet as planned May 20-22.

The shortened Annual Conference will take place mostly online for a second consecutive year, after making history with that first-time format in 2020. The annual Clergy Session is set for Thursday, May 20, at 9 AM, and the Laity Session at 1 PM—both online. The Conference’s opening worship and business session will begin on Friday, May 21, at 9 AM. And a Conference teaching session will begin at 2 PM.

The full day’s session will be held as a Zoom webinar for voting members. All members must use a computer or tablet to vote on legislation using Zoom’s polling feature, Non-voting members will again be able to view the session livestreamed on the Conference’s Facebook page.

On Saturday, May 22, the Conference will return to Olivet UMC in Coatesville for its Memorial Service (10 AM) to remember deceased clergy and clergy spouses, followed by its Service of Commissioning and Ordination (2 PM). Again, only families of the deceased honorees and families of clergy to be commissioned and ordained will attend the two services onsite, along with staff and hospitality volunteers. Others may view it livestreamed on the Conference website. 

General and Jurisdictional conferences postponed to 2022

Both General Conference and the Northeastern Jurisdictional (NEJ) Conference are rescheduled for 2022. The postponed 2020 General Conference will meet August 29 – Sept. 6, 2022. The gathering has been postponed twice to ensure the safety, ability to travel and full onsite participation of its elected delegates from the U.S., Philippines, Africa and Europe. The conference site remains the same: Minneapolis, Minn.

Because of that change, the NEJ Conference will ensue in October 2022, when it will assign bishops to lead episcopal areas and may elect new bishops to replace those who retire. Three NEJ bishops, including our own Bishop Peggy Johnson, have requested voluntary retirement, which requires Jurisdictional Conference approval. Two, Bishop Johnson and Bishop Jeremiah Park of the Central PA Conference, will leave their posts in August to do other work as they await official retirement in 2022. Active bishops will provide episcopal “coverage” of their areas through December 2022.

As Bishop Johnson prepares to leave, the NEJ College of Bishops has chosen Bishop John R. Schol, who leads the Greater New Jersey Conference (New Jersey Area) to also cover the Eastern PA Conference of the Philadelphia Episcopal Area, beginning Sept. 1. The Peninsula-Delaware Conference of the Philadelphia Area will realign with the Baltimore-Washington Conference and be led by Bishop Latrelle Easterling of the Washington Area.

Bishops Cynthia Moore-Koikoi of the Western PA Conference (Pittsburgh Area) and Sandra Steiner-Ball of the West Virginia Conference (West Virginia Area) will share leadership of the Central PA Conference (Harrisburg Area), as Bishop Park steps down to await his retirement. All other NEJ bishops will stay in their current roles at least through the 2022 NEJ Conference.

“There will not be any changes in conference boundaries or mergers happening at this time,” said Bishop Johnson.

The reduced number of active bishops and more sharing of episcopal leaders may provide a much-needed cost-savings in a fast-dwindling Episcopal Fund budget.* Other jurisdictions across the UMC are making similar adjustments, while waiting to see what their conference memberships and structures will be after the next full General Conference. That conference is expected to lead to denominational division, as some congregations disaffiliate and leave with their church properties to join new denominations, prompted by disagreement with church law regarding LGBTQ clergy and marital acceptance.

The NEJ Conference’s delegates will determine in 2022 if any—and how many—bishops will be elected to lead its 10 conferences when they reconvene following General Conference. The UMC’s Council of Bishops is recommending that no new bishops be elected anywhere next year because of the denomination’s anticipated schism and the possibility of membership declines and financial challenges that may result.

Bishop Johnson presented some of these changes to Eastern PA Conference members in a March 1 “town hall” webinar on Zoom. But much of what she reported then has since changed. The Rev. Joseph DiPaolo, a member of the General Commission on General Conference, helped explain that commission’s reasons for further postponing the General Conference and its consideration of proposals for denominational division.

The commission’s Technology Study Team determined that trying to hold a fully online General Conference, with legislative committees and debates, was not feasible, given the variations of connectivity, electricity, translation, and 24 time zones across our global church. Thus, the Council of Bishops set the new 2022 dates for the onsite international gathering.

“We have been discerning our future for a long time,” said the Rev. Bumkoo Chung, West District Superintendent, in his town hall opening prayer. “But we put our trust in you, Lord, because we believe that your plan is better than our plans.”

Eastern PA Conference delegates elected in 2019 to the postponed 2020 General and Jurisdictional conferences will be allowed to proceed with their representation in 2022.

Annual Conference plans

At our online Annual Conference in May, there will again be pre-recorded reports and award presentations. But members will vote this year via the easy-to-use Zoom polling feature, rather than the e-Ballot online system employed last year. There will be no voting by telephone this time. And voting members without access to computers will need to obtain assistance from their pastors or fellow members to cast their vote.

But first Conference members will meet via Zoom on Sunday, April 18, at 3 PM, to vote on a motion to suspend the Session Rules of Order and thus, allow for a second online Annual Conference with online voting. District Conferences will then convene in separate Zoom meetings at 4 PM to handle key District matters.

This year’s Annual Conference will include only six, mostly administrative resolutions that should probably draw little if any debate. The East District recommends that First UMC in Perkasie and Asbury UMC in Norristion both be discontinued. And the Conference Trustees recommend distributions of various required payments from churches that use the disaffiliation agreement authorized by the 2019 Special General Conference (UM Book of Discipline, para. 2553) to leave the denomination.

The Benefits Board will recommend adjustments in:

  • Rental/Housing Allowances for Retired or Disabled Clergypersons;
  • Advanced Funding of the Past Service Rate for Pre-82 Participants for 2023; and
  • Clergy Retirement Security Program payments.

In addition, the Conference Global Ministries Team recommends approval of six Advance Special projects for second-mile church funding support.

Conference planners instituted a new system in which submitted resolutions are published in advance as Google documents for conference members to read and respond with suggested changes. March 5 was the deadline for the Conference Secretary to receive all resolutions, which are now posted online and available for members to read and offer questions and suggested changes until April 2. Final versions of the resolutions, with any revisions, will be republished by April 13.

Other groups and individuals that intended to submit resolutions to address various concerns have decided not to submit them, partly due to the shortened session and the expected difficulty of using the Zoom chat section for legislative amendments and debates.

At the town hall webinar Bishop Johnson explained her decision to retire after 13 years of serving the Philadelphia Episcopal Area. She and her husband, the Rev. Michael Johnson. will move to Carrollton, Va., to live near their oldest son and his family.

“Go forth and spread the news, and help people understand the huge changes about to happen,” she urged members. “And let’s do the best we can in the meantime.”

* Questions about the Episcopal Fund answered  
A public webinar on Feb. 13 led to multiple questions related to the Episcopal Fund, which supports the work of United Methodist bishops. Staff at the General Council on Finance and Administration and United Methodist Communications put together answers to frequently asked questions.  Read FAQ   UM News: Scrutinizing the proposed hold on new bishops