At our online Council of Bishop’s meeting this past week, we discussed how so many elements of our current Book of Discipline do not address the current state of affairs that the worldwide pandemic has affected. One case in point is electronic voting, as the Book of Discipline has nothing to say about the legality of online voting.
This raises the question of holding our annual conference session on an online platform, and we have explored almost every angle of doing so, including the legality issues. We will propose a change in our annual conference rules that allows for this under the extreme circumstances that we are facing with social isolation. However, it does not take away the disappointment many feel about not holding a physical annual conference session. Again, we have looked at this question from almost every angle also. It is very doubtful that large gatherings of our size (1500 people) would be permitted by this summer, and finding a venue that would be able to accommodate that many people with proper social distancing is almost impossible. For me, safety has to be the number one value here. Safety was never in our top annual conference values, but since COVID-19, it is now. Like Disneyland, who has safety as one of its top core values, and the reason it stays closed today despite losing millions of dollars each day, we have to consider this as our main priority. If even one person was infected at annual conference, I couldn’t live with myself for allowing that to happen. Personally, I will not risk the health and safety of our members by holding a physical annual conference session.
We also thought about postponing annual conference sessions completely, but that has its own problems, so this is why we are proposing an electronic session. We will be doing only what is mandatory for the annual conference session by the Book of Discipline, but we will miss the personal contacts and relationships that make up the substance of annual conference. Once again, this is an example of COVID-19 affecting the very foundations of who we are and how we do church.
However, this is the time to be nimble and innovate – something we have asked all of you to do with online worship and meetings. We continue to think of new ways to do ministry in this time of social isolation and safer-at-home. Your thoughts and suggestions of creative new ways to do ministry are valued and welcome. Please let us know what those might be!
One way we as the Cabinet can help has been floating around the connection, and my colleague Bishop Laurie Haller is doing this in the Iowa Annual Conference: We are proposing all clergy, worship teams and staff take a 1-2 day Sabbath from worship preparation on or around May 17. The Cabinet will be preparing a full worship service that you can use for your congregation, available on May 16. We realize that many of you like to connect with your own local church and you may use parts or the whole service as you see fit. The point is that we are incredibly grateful for each of you in working to bring the Gospel each week to your people and we want to allow you the grace of some much-needed time off. For more information, contact your own District Superintendent for details.
For inspiration this week:
“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” — Psalm 30: 5b
Be the Hope,
Bishop Grant J. Hagiya
Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop