By Rick Wolcott*
Out of an abundance of care for all members of Annual Conference, Bishop Tracy S. Malone, after prayerful discernment and in consultation with the Extended Cabinet, leadership of the Board of Ministry, and the Annual Conference secretary, has made the decision that Annual Conference 2020, and the Clergy Executive Session that precedes it, will be conducted virtually on the previously announced dates of September 25-27.
The prayerful decision was made now to provide as much time as possible for the Annual Conference planning team to do the work of reviewing all options and selecting the best online platform for providing powerful worship and conducting the essential business of Annual Conference 2020 Bearing Fruit that Lasts: Connected.
In working to host Annual Conference in the safest way possible for the 1,500 conference members, Bishop Malone discussed with the Conference Executive Directors information that the AC planning team had gathered from the Ohio Department of Health, from local medical professionals, from Lakeside Chautauqua, and from other UMC annual conferences before making the decision to switch to virtual sessions.
“After experiencing months of physical distancing, we had high hopes of gathering together in-person for Annual Conference and for the Clergy Executive Session. This was a difficult but necessary decision to make now due to the challenges we would face putting precautionary health and safety measures in place, and to be good stewards of EOC staff time and Lakeside Chautauqua staff time in preparing for a conference that might not be able to take place in-person. At this point, it doesn’t appear as if the scaling back of restrictions is moving at a pace that would enable six-foot social distancing to be rescinded by time we meet in September,” said Bishop Tracy S. Malone.
The Bishop and East Ohio Conference leadership thanked Lakeside Chautauqua Interim Director Dan Dudley for the time that he and Lakeside’s leadership have invested in working with the Conference to host a postponed Annual Conference. They also expressed their disappointment that we will not be able to gather in-person on the shores of Lake Erie as planned this year for a time of Christian fellowship and to conduct the essential business of Annual Conference 2020.
There is much work to be done in the coming weeks and months. Once decisions have been made and details can be announced for the virtual Clergy Executive Session on September 25 and the virtual session of Annual Conference 2020 on September 26-27, they will be posted on the Conference website and Facebook page, published in the Conference bi-weekly electronic newsletter E-News, and e-mailed to the clergy and laity of the East Ohio Conference.
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.