By Rick Wolcott*
Annual Conference will relocate in 2021 to the John S. Knight Center in Akron.
A motion made and unanimously supported by Cabinet began the conversation to change the location of Annual Conference 2021 for these missional reasons: costs for members to attend Annual Conference, the travel distance to Lakeside Chautauqua, housing concerns, accessibility, and limited breakout space.
In speaking to the Cabinet’s motion, Canal District Superintendent the Rev. Ed Peterson said, “We as a Conference have made participation by newer people, younger people, and more diverse people a priority. Yet, the setting for Annual Conference sessions is not conducive for participation by all people. Cabinet acted to relocate the sessions of Annual Conference 2021 so that: more lay members will be able to commute from home, making it less cost prohibitive; those with health concerns regarding heat and humidity will be more able to participate; and people of all abilities and disabilities may be able to fully participate.”
Changing locations of Annual Conference sessions does not require a vote of Annual Conference members. The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church states in ¶603.3 that, “should it become necessary for any reason to change the place of (Annual Conference) meeting, a majority of the district superintendents, with the consent of the bishop in charge, may change the place.”
Bishop Tracy S. Malone gave her approval to proceed and formed an Annual Conference Relocation Task Group to do the exploratory work for finding a new location. The task group was comprised of a diverse group of lay and clergy leaders and some members of the Executive Staff of the East Ohio Conference.
Task Group Chairperson the Rev. Hannah Tucker said of the group, “We worked prayerfully and deliberately to find a location for conference that would allow us to live out our mission as the East Ohio Annual Conference. We strived to hear many voices and discern how the chosen location would allow for us to reach newer people, younger people, and more diverse people.”
The task group met several times over the past few months during which time: it conducted a thorough survey that was sent to all members of Annual Conference; did a study of locations and meeting dates of United Methodist conferences that are of comparable size to East Ohio; and researched venues in East Ohio that have hotels, restaurants and parking within walking distance and can also accommodate 1,600 people in a single room while providing smaller rooms for breakout sessions onsite.
The task group made the recommendation to relocate Annual Conference 2021 to the John S. Knight Center in Akron and Bishop Malone and the Cabinet affirmed the group’s recommendation. The venue was the host site of Youth Jam for several years and the East Ohio Conference hosted the NCJ Jurisdictional Conference there in 2012.
“We are excited to experience the work of the Holy Spirit in a new location. The John S. Knight Center will not only allow for breakout sessions and smaller meeting rooms for growing in community with one another, but we also have the opportunity to engage with and serve the city of Akron. We are hopeful that this move will provide avenues for new people to attend Annual Conference and for a new location to experience the love of Christ that is present in our connection. As with all change, we take this step with faith and courage trusting that God will continue to be at work,” Tucker said.
Lakeside Chautauqua was informed in a timely manner of the decision to relocate Annual Conference in 2021. Bishop Malone and Dan Dudley, interim director of Lakeside Chautauqua, had a good conversation about the reasons for the change and expressed their shared deep appreciation for, and their ongoing commitment to, the long-standing missional relationship between the East Ohio Conference and Lakeside Chautauqua.
The location for Annual Conference 2021 is changing, but the faithful ministry of East Ohio Conference pastors, congregations and faith communities remains unchanged.
“God’s spirit shepherds us and enfolds us wherever and whenever we assemble together as an Annual Conference. No matter the location, we are committed to planning and creating an environment that provides opportunities for worship, the fostering of relationships, the building of community, Holy Conferencing (Plenary Sessions), mutual learning, recreation, accessibility, and so much more,” shared Malone.
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.