By Jessica Brodie
As the Advocate went to press on this month’s edition, we received word that Annual Conference leaders had made the decision to hold this year’s Annual Conference session online.
The Advocate applauds this decision and believes this is the right move.
Coronavirus will likely be with us for some time. While cases, as of press time, appear to be on the downswing, they are still high enough to alarm. Many of the people who would be attending Annual Conference are older adults who are at a higher risk for serious complications from the virus, including death.
While many public schools across the state are on the verge of opening, a large number are opening with a hybrid plan, where students will attend school on a staggered basis two days a week and learn virtually the rest of the week, with face masks and other safety precautions required. This is an effort by the school districts to minimize harm to students and teachers and help slow the spread of the virus. Likewise, many churches still are not opening for in-person worship, and some—particularly those with many older adults or that in “hot spot” areas—do not plan to do so until 2021. Others have opened, only to close their doors again and move back to virtual worship because of the virus.
We don’t know where the numbers will be through the end of the year, but we do know Annual Conference needs to be held in some way before the close of 2020.
And we also know, in 2020, South Carolina’s virtual capabilities are vast. Hundreds of churches held, and are still holding, worship, voting, meetings and more entirely online.
Is holding Annual Conference online ideal? No, but it’s better than nothing—and better than endangering the health and wellbeing of United Methodist clergy and laity by potentially exposing them to illness. We do have the technological capability to gather online, view materials and vote securely. Many other annual conferences have already been held successfully online. And, in the words of our conference leaders, both the virtual clergy session and the live-streaming of ordination went smoothly with no significant problems. As Bishop L. Jonathan Holston said in the Page 1 article on the virtual Annual Conference, “We are confident we can accomplish the necessary and important business of the Annual Conference in a virtual space.”
This can be done.
Will there be issues? Sure. Nothing is ever perfect. But 2020 has turned out to be an unorthodox year that has required a great deal of flexibility on the part of everyone.
Holding Annual Conference online will enable us to move forward and do what is necessary. And with God’s blessing, we can gather in person for Annual Conference next year.