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Regional Conferences Plan Virtual Alternatives to Annual Meetings

CHICAGO, IL (March 20, 2020) – All Evangelical Covenant Church regional conferences have canceled their in-person Annual Meetings and are considering how to meet virtually amid the COVID-19 crisis.

At the meetings, which were scheduled to be held between March and May, delegates from churches consider conference business, including approving budgets, electing officers, and recommending candidates for ordination.

Regional conferences already have encouraged churches to hold services and meetings online rather than meet in person.

“It is my perspective that we will need to do this for the next few months, until we can ‘flatten the curve’ as a society,” wrote East Coast Conference superintendent Howard Burgoyne in an email to clergy. “For your church, at the present, I advise you to begin to think about creating a new normal platform that can serve your mission and congregation for at least the next 100 days—through June 30. If this is too long, we can easily back out of it—but over-planning will not have the same penalty as under-planning may.”

Tammy Swanson-Draheim, superintendent of the Midwest Conference and chair of the Council of Superintendents, posted in a Facebook update on Monday, “While each church and ministry will respond a little differently, I want to encourage you to always remember—we want to be prudent and cautious but not led by fear and chaos. Our churches have many older congregants; considering their needs should be paramount. Federal guidelines released today recommend canceling or postponing all events with more than 10 people in the coming weeks.”

Legal as well as technological issues are among the topics leaders are researching as they discern how to proceed with conference meetings. Conferences operate under state laws regarding whether nonprofits are required to hold annual meetings and which actions executive boards are empowered to make, said Paul Lessard, executive minister of Start & Strengthen Churches.

For example, Lessard said, some state or conference bylaws may allow executive boards to approve budgets, but new officers must be elected by delegates.

In an email to churches, Pacific Southwest Conference superintendent Paul Wilson noted that only delegates can vote to recommend that congregations be welcomed into the denomination at the Covenant’s Annual Meeting in June.

He said their meeting may be rescheduled for the fall, but that is “not presently anticipated.”

Conferences also need to consider which online platforms are best suited to host virtual meetings. Platforms, such as Zoom, need to allow for conversation, voting, and distribution of documents.

The following conferences already have rescheduled their Annual Meetings to be held online:

  • The Midsouth Conference will hold its pastors’ gathering on Friday, May 1, and Annual Meeting on Saturday, May 2.
  • The Central Conference has tentatively scheduled its meeting for Saturday, April 25. If restrictions have been reduced by then, they may hold it at a local church.
  • The Northwest Conference will livestream its Ministerial Association Annual Meeting on the morning of Friday, April 24. The conference Annual Meeting will be livestreamed in the afternoon.
  • The Pacific Northwest Conference will hold their Annual Meeting online on Saturday, April 25, from 10:30 am to 11:30 a.m.
  • The East Coast, Midwest, Great Lakes, and Alaska conferences have not yet set dates for their meetings.
  • The Southeast Conference has canceled its meeting.

At this point, denominational leaders are discerning what to do regarding the denominational Annual Meeting scheduled to be held June 25-27 in Phoenix, Arizona. They plan to announce their decision as soon as possible.

About the Author

  • Stan Friedman is an ordained minister in the Covenant Church. He formerly served on the Marketing and Communications team and is now in a chaplain residency in Naples, Florida.

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