2020 Annual Conference Wrap-up



A one-day 2020 session of the Western PA Annual Conference was held virtually on Saturday, October 3. It was not possible to hold any part of the Annual Conference in person with the measures necessary to safeguard against spread of the coronavirus. Ordination and Commissioning services will take place in 2021.

The Oct. 3 session, held via Zoom ,included worship with music by several local church groups, the Bishop's State of the Conference address, a financial update, and a question and answer time. Videos of the State of the Conference address and other sessions, as well as video reports from the Five Areas of Focus are posted online, with links available at wpaumc.org/AC. 

The Conference Sessions Prayer Team offered a virtual Prayer Room on both Friday Oct. 2 and Saturday, with appointments or drop-in prayer opportunities. 
A Conference rule dating to 1970 requires in-person voting to allow full discussion of issues before the annual conference, so no official business requiring a vote was conducted during the virtual session. 

The Conference Leadership Table, which is empowered to act on any necessary business between Conference sessions, approved the 2021 connectional apportionment budget of $8,417,790 and it will go into effect on January 1. The 2021 budget is $429,557 less than the approved 2020 connectional apportionment budget.

Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi’s 2020 State of the Conference address, which was recorded at Camp Allegheny and Healthy Village Learning Institute opened with words from the prophet Jeremiah, Chapter 17:7-8.

 Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord.  They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending down its roots by the stream.  It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green’ in a year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. 

“We are an annual conference that trusts and hopes in the Lord. We are WPA Chic: Clothed in Trust!” she said. “ Because of this, many of us have not been paralyzed by fear; but have worked through our anxiety and continued to do ministry. 

The Bishop pointed to many examples of places where ministry has been fruitful and changing lives, including Healthy Village and our United Methodist Camps. She presented brief videos with these examples: “We have been bearing fruit in all corners of our annual conference, and across all aspects of our diversity,” the Bishop said. “In that I hope we can all find some unique joy.”

In the closing segment of the video address, Bishop Moore-Koikoi said anyone putting their hope for an end to conflict in a political candidate or party for even in the General Conference will be disappointed.  “We cannot put our trust or our hope into people or systems,” she said.  “The only remedy for fear and anxiety is to put our trust and hope in the Lord.”

During the Zoom plenary session, Bishop Moore-Koikoi and Rev. Alan Morrison, chair of the Conference Sessions Team, presented a report on moving the 2021 Annual Conference session to the Erie Bayfront Convention Center. Since before 1970, the Conference session has been held at Grove City College. The Sessions Team, in consultation with the Bishop, has the power to set the location of the annual conference. 

Bishop Moore-Koikoi noted that when she was first assigned to Western PA and traveled through the area to meet and listen to clergy and laity, she heard a lot about the annual conference session.

“I heard a nostalgic attachment to Grove City College, but also some concerns,” she said. Many told her about what has been referred to as the “stampede” to claim seats on the first morning “because you can’t see the stage and screens very well from some areas...and you can’t hear well in other  areas.” 

Others told her about how tightly packed the rows of seats and tables were and that everyone wanted to be near an aisle. The Bishop said she wanted to experience an annual conference at Grove City before seeking any changes. When she had that chance she saw among other things, the long lines for the ladies room during breaks and the difficulty many had moving about the campus and their seats in the plenary room. So she, like at least  three Bishops before her, asked the Sessions Team to investigate other venues.

 “Most are not large enough for the plenary session or don’t have space for the breakout rooms we need,” Morrison said. “Many don’t have the capacity for meals or housing.” This time, the search was narrowed to three locations that fit the criteria, he said. One opted out and another could only accommodate breakout sessions in a large room divided by pipe and drapes. That facility, like Grove City, has columns that limited sight.
The Erie Bayfront is completely accessible with everything on a single floor connected to two adjacent hotels. Many other hotels, bed and breakfasts, and three or four sites for recreational vehicles are in the area, Morrison said. 

“The reality is we were spending a lot of extra money for work-arounds,” the Bishop said. The cost of air conditioning alone was $24,000 at Grove City; the rental for the entire Erie Bayfront Convention Center is $25,000.

An additional consideration was that the strenuous work of setting-up and taking down the stage, lighting and seating in the plenary and display area for many years has been done by volunteers, many of whom are no longer able to help. It has been difficult to recruit new volunteers. 

The Bishop said attendee evaluations over the last few years showed that that an increasing number of Conference members were “voting by their actions,” opting to stay off-campus in hotels with private bathrooms and not eating meals that were included in the costs the Conference must pay. Although Grove City discounted it, the fee that was charged for uneaten meals in 2019 was over $13,000.

Meals provided at the Convention Center will include lunch on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and dinner on Thursday and Friday. Breakfast is offered to guests at some hotels and there are  low-cost alternatives near the Convention Center. 

Annual Conference registration fees for active clergy and laity will be cut in half, from $100 to $50. While the reduced registration fee will somewhat off-set the cost of accommodations, churches have always been encouraged to pay the costs of voting members of the charge conference. Conference leaders are exploring possibilities of providing financial assistance for those who will need it, as well as seeking other creative lower-cost housing options.

Afternoon sessions of the 2020 virtual annual conference offered time for participants to gather online with others who shared interest in various ministries to hear updates and connect. The groups included Leadership, Missions, Evangelism, Dismantling Racism, COSROW and United Methodist Women. Find other Annual Conference reports and videos at wpaumc.org/AC