There are several important clergy-related announcements pertaining to COVID-19.
1) First, Bishop Graves has stated that all in-person worship services and church meetings should not occur before April 15. He is closely monitoring what state and national officials recommend. In order to honor our social distancing, healthy-living commitments and to protect those at risk, we ask that all Alabama-West Florida churches comply with this request.
2) The weekly clergy Zoom gathering called, "How is it with your soul?" with Bishop Graves has a new time. It will now be on Mondays at 4:00pm CST. This adjusted time will enable families to better coordinate their evenings. Click here for updated Zoom link.
3) The AWF Conference has created an online short-term form for your local church members to utilize if your church does not have online giving established. The money will come to the conference fiscal office and 100% of the gift will be sent to the local church. The conference will absorb all fees related to the transaction. Click here to access form. You may promote this link in your communication pieces to your church members.
4) The AWF Youth Ministry Roundtable, coordinated by Rev. Jeremy Steele, will have an online forum to help process youth ministry in a time of social distancing and trade best practices. The group will spend time processing how we are approaching teaching lessons, offering pastoral support, doing relational ministry and safe sanctuaries in the virtual space. The event will be held April 2 from 12:30-2:30pm. Registration is free but required. Click here for registration (a Zoom link will be sent upon confirmation).
5) A comprehensive online AWF Easter worship service is in production. Many of you will find creative ways to minister to your congregations. However, if social distancing is preventing you from organizing a full service, this will be a wonderful resource to use in place of your regular service or as an additional service. The link will be sent to all clergy on Saturday afternoon, April 11, so that it is not improperly distributed and detract from the efforts of our local churches. The service will have an organized order of worship and will have participants from all eight districts, including a sermon from Bishop David Graves. If your local church will not be live streaming or producing an Easter morning worship service, you are welcome to post this video link on your social media pages or share it with your congregation via email anytime after 9:00am Easter morning. It will be released to the annual conference through email and social media at noon on Easter.
The COVID-19 resource page continues to be updated as needed and offers a host of links related to worship, communications, online giving, and preaching, to name a few.
We encourage you to reach out to the AWF conference staff should you need any assistance with navigating this new normal. Our prayers are with each of you and we acknowledge your outstanding effort to continue ministry in this uncertain time.
Nashville, Tenn.: Subsequent to the announcement by the Executive Committee of the Commission on the General Conference that the 2020 General Conference will be postponed, the full Commission met March 21, 2020 to determine next steps to take in setting a new date.
After hearing recommendations from Sara Hotchkiss, Business Manager of the General Conference, and discussion of possible alternatives, the Commission made a determination that the General Conference will not meet in 2020 as originally planned and elected to work toward setting a date in 2021.
“As we looked at the complex issues that we will need to navigate to reschedule the event and the lack of options available, it does not appear feasible to plan for 2020,” said Kim Simpson, chair of the Commission. “These issues include the undetermined length of the pandemic, uncertainty around travel bans in different areas of the world, delays in processing visas due to government and business closures and other questions.”
In giving direction for next steps, the Commission resolved that holding the event in Minneapolis is a high priority and authorized the business manager to pursue negotiations regarding other dates available at the Minneapolis Convention Center in 2021.
“The Dakotas-Minnesota Area Host Team has done a wonderful job in partnering with us to prepare for this event, and we are grateful for their willingness to continue to work with us as we move toward a new date,” Simpson said.
“As many groups have cancelled and are being rescheduled, they are given priority by venues they have already been working with,” said Hotchkiss. “Continuing to work with the Minneapolis Convention Center and area hotels will help us avoid competing with other groups for space in those facilities if they did not already have a contract.”
Hotchkiss said that steps are being taken by their travel agency regarding flights booked for delegates and others who booked through ADTRAV:
- ADTRAV will cancel all flights booked for primary delegates.
- Travelers will only need to call ADTRAV if they booked a personal ticket for themselves and/or a family member with ADTRAV (855-417-8789).
- Each traveler will receive a copy of the RezConfirm showing that the flights were canceled.
Regarding hotel reservations, Connections Housing will be sending emails regarding individual reservations made through them for the GC2020 hotel block. There is no penalty for this cancellation. No deposit was charged for reservations, therefore no refund is due and no further action is required regarding hotel reservations.
Once new dates for the General Conference are set and adjustments with current vendors are made, additional information will be sent out to delegations regarding a timeline and next steps.
(UMNS) - General Conference organizers are exploring potential new dates for The United Methodist Church’s top legislative assembly after the coronavirus pandemic forced postponement.
“Details are not yet being released because the business manager is negotiating arrangements,” the Rev. Gary George, the secretary of the Commission on the General Conference, said at the conclusion of the group’s meeting.
George said the group would share more information March 23. That information will include the process for canceling travel and housing arrangements for the General Conference previously scheduled this May.
The multinational commission held an emergency meeting by teleconference March 21 after the venue that was to hold General Conference canceled events into May to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Most of the commission’s two-and-a-half-hour meeting took place in closed session to allow members to discuss contract negotiations. Negotiations, “when general knowledge could be harmful to the negotiation process,” are an activity listed as an exception to the denomination’s open-meetings rules.
For meeting participants, the teleconference started as early as 6:30 a.m. on the U.S. west coast and as late as 9:30 p.m. in the Philippines.
George said that the group heard recommendations from Sara Hotchkiss, the General Conference business manager, and the Rev. Gary Graves, General Conference’s top executive.
“As soon as negotiations are complete specific dates will be announced,” George said.
In opening the meeting, commission members acknowledged they were dealing with an unprecedented challenge.
“Almighty and loving God, we have made plans and they have been upended,” prayed the Rev. Beth Ann Cook, a commission member. “We are at a loss and feel disoriented, but we know that you are God.”
The spread of the deadly virus that causes COVID-19 has threatened and disrupted lives around the globe and has required people to keep their distance from public spaces.
Cook prayed for the church around the world to respond to people in crisis and especially for health care workers on the front lines of combatting the disease.
As of March 21, Johns Hopkins University — which is tracking cases — reported that the coronavirus had infected more than 286,000 people and killed more than 11,900 worldwide. In the U.S., more than 250 people have died from COVID-19.
Kim Simpson, General Conference commission chair, reminded fellow commission members that they are dealing with only one part of the public health crisis.
However, she also acknowledged that planning the 10-day international assembly comes with multiple moving parts that must align. These include securing visas, hotel space, transportation, interpreters and a large-enough venue for a gathering set to draw 862 delegates from four continents and potentially thousands of others.
General Conference typically has met every four years since 1792. But in the past three years, the volunteers who serve on the commission have needed to plan two such large gatherings, including a special General Conference in 2019.
“I do commend you as a commission,” Simpson said. “You have done more in our three years than most commissions do in eight.
Under The United Methodist Church's constitution, General Conference is to meet every four years “at such time and in such place” as determined by General Conference itself or “by its duly authorized committees.”
The gathering — the only body that officially speaks for the entire United Methodist Church — is responsible for many crucial decisions. These include electing members of the Judicial Council, the denomination’s equivalent of the Supreme Court, and voting on the four-year budget that funds denomination-wide ministries.
Bishop Thomas Bickerton, the Council of Bishops representative on the General Conference commission, said the bishops are discussing with their chancellor the ramifications of the constitution’s four-year requirement.
“We are cognizant of those issues and are exploring those at this point,” he said.
He and other bishops urged the postponement because of the coronavirus and related travel restrictions.
In this time of pandemic, it remains unclear how many other United Methodist gatherings can go on as planned.
United Methodists in the Philippines, Cote d’Ivoire and Germany already have postponed 19 annual conferences indefinitely. The Judicial Council, which like General Conference was set to meet in Minneapolis, also postponed its spring meeting because of the ongoing threat.
Whatever happens, Simpson spoke with confidence that General Conference organizers are up to the challenge.
“We are strong people, and we are fit for what comes ahead,” she said at the meeting’s end. “And I hope we’ll all come together, as we’ve done in the past, to try to find the best way to bring the vehicle for General Conference.”
Several weeks ago, I outlined the appointment process and asked for your prayers. On behalf of the cabinet, we have felt and appreciated your prayers around this vital work. We were scheduled to begin contacting pastors this coming Monday, March 23rd. However, the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus and other factors have caused some of this work to be placed on hold. This year’s timeline was earlier than most years due to General Conference in May. With the pandemic and the recent postponement of General Conference, it allows us to give more intentional time to this process.
I know there is a lot of anxiety around the health crisis and the appointment process. The cabinet’s desire is that we perform our work well while keeping it centered in prayer. Therefore, in the spirit of transparency, I want to update you on our progress.
-We will begin calling some pastors next week. Most pastors and SPRC chairs receiving calls will be those who are being appointed as associate pastors in our large membership churches.
-Next, the district superintendents will contact those serving part-time pastoral appointments.
-All others receiving new appointments will be contacted at a later date. My desire is for this to take place in the next two weeks.
These are uncertain times, and a new normal is yet to be determined. Again, thank you for your prayers and patience as we do this work.
Bishop David Graves
Alabama-West Florida Conference
We invite you to watch an important video message update from Bishop David Graves. Click here to view. Click here to read transcript.
You may also listen to this message as an audio-only podcast by clicking here, by searching for “AWFUMC Podcasts” on iTunes or in your preferred podcast player. We invite you to subscribe to these podcasts.