In an historic decision, Eastern PA Annual Conference members voted overwhelmingly August 26 to approve temporary rule changes that will allow for their 2020 annual conference on October 13-14 to be a Zoom videoconference webinar with electronic voting and a reduced agenda.
The vote—conducted through eBallot, a secure online voting system—tallied 508 “yes” votes and 14 “no’s,” with a quorum of participating members. The result will be a conference agenda that handles only matters required by the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline and other mandatory conference business.
That conference business includes reports on key programs and operations, and votes needed to approve an annual budget, clergy equitable salary levels, and pension and health benefit plans. As always, many votes may be combined on the Consent Calendar. Legislative resolutions will not be addressed this year but may be resubmitted for consideration at the 2021 Annual Conference.
Because of ongoing restrictions on large gatherings, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Annual Conference and its four District Conferences will all meet not in person but online. Forced into interactive, virtual meetings, as many churches and ministry groups have been, they will use Zoom video webinars, Facebook Live for livestreaming and the eBallot secure balloting system for electronic voting.
District Conferences meet in September
District conferences will meet virtually on four different evenings in mid-September, rather than simultaneously as usual:
- South District: Tuesday, Sept. 15, 6:30 PM
- East District: Wednesday, Sept. 16, 6:30 PM
- North District: Thursday Sept. 17, 6:30 PM
- West District: Monday, Sept. 21, 6:30 PM
Bishop Peggy Johnson, who presided over the rules-changes voting session, will speak to each of the district conferences. Districts will fill vacant equalizing-lay-member-to-conference slots for the rest of this quadrennium and will also celebrate new clergy retirees, recognize persons preparing for commissioning and ordination in October, and address other concerns.
Preparations for the Annual Conference and related gatherings have been carefully planned during numerous meetings of conference staff and the Commission on Conference Sessions. The next Annual Conference-related event on Zoom will be a session to practice voting with eBallot on Sunday, October 4, at 3 PM. At that gathering Bishop Johnson will discuss and demonstrate the use of eBallot and other matters to be addressed at Annual Conference the following week.
Members who lack adequate access to computers or Wi-Fi service will be able to view the Annual Conference at an equipped church location in each district, where they will be able vote by raised their hands. They must first indicate that need when they register. The conference offered the same alternative for the August 26 rule changes voting session; but no members were present at any of those locations.
Registration for the Annual Conference business session will open September 8. An invitation will be emailed to all delegates with instructions on how to register for the session Additionally, a letter will be sent by USPS to all those without an email address in our system. There will be a $30 Annual Conference registration fee to help pay costs for the 2020 session, including electronic voting costs.
MORE ANNUAL CONFERENCE INFORMATION
- 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 happen 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 will continue to monitor cautionary guidelines provided by PA Governor Tom Wolf and adjust planning for the two onsite services accordingly.
- Information to register for the October 4 practice session will be sent to conference members by September 18. Instructions for using the eBallot voting system will be emailed to registrants October 3. This voting practice session will not be livestreamed.
- Instructions to access members’ eBallot portal will be emailed October 12 to all members who have registered for Annual Conference and the Clergy Session. Those who registered to attend Annual Conference at in-person locations will receive instructions for raised-hands voting there.
- The Annual Conference session and worship services, October 13-14, (but not the Clergy Session) will all be livestreamed on Facebook Live for guests to view, due to limits in how many people can view these events using the conference’s Zoom account.