After His resurrection, Jesus met with his disciples and, just before being lifted up to heaven, gave them the instructions found in Acts 1:8 “…8 you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” These instructions call Christians to action still today. In the United Methodist Church, being disciples who witness to the risen Christ is part of what our Annual Conference meeting is about. However, the global COVID-19 pandemic has affected our ability to come together as an Annual Conference in 2020, causing the conference planning team to postpone and reschedule our annual meeting twice in hopes that the situation would improve enough for us to be able to meet in person.
Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to surge in many areas in our conference and the likelihood that we will be able to gather for an in-person meeting in one place before the end of the year gets smaller every day. As such, in consultation with our conference Chancellor, Parliamentarian, Cabinet and the legal counsel to the Council of Bishops, I have announced that we will convene our 2020 Annual Conference meeting virtually (online) via Zoom on Saturday, Sept. 19 starting at 10 a.m.
The following is an abridged version of my official statement on convening a virtual or online meeting of the Central Texas Annual Conference. The complete version of my statement, along with a companion statement from Central Texas Conference Chancellor Wilson Woods, will be available in the 2020 Preliminary Report to the Annual Conference (available on the conference website by Aug. 19). The statements will also be featured in the official 2020 Conference Journal, which will be available later this year.
We find ourselves in a circumstance not anticipated by The Book of Discipline due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After careful review of The Book of Discipline, all relevant and appropriate civil statutes, Roberts Rules of Order and the “Guiding Principles and Best Practices” of the conference, we find ourselves in something of a quandary. While current circumstances make a large, in-person gathering impractical if not impossible, our “Guiding Principles” and Roberts Rules of Order do not specifically authorize a virtual meeting of the Central Texas Conference. However, The Discipline of the United Methodist Church presumes that there will be an “annual” meeting of the conference and the adoption of a budget that authorizes the collection of apportionments and expenditure of finances is necessary for the continuance of the Central Texas Annual Conference and its ministries. In lay terms for us non-lawyers, we do not have the full authority to hold a virtual Annual Conference, but we have a Disciplinary and practical obligation to hold a minimal Annual Conference meeting to approve retirements, the Conference budget for 2021 and the continuation of vital ministry in and through local churches.
I have consulted with Chancellor Wilson Woods, the Parliamentarian for the Central Texas Conference David Morgan, William Waddell, legal counsel to the UMC Council of Bishops and the Assistant to the Bishop Dr. Clifton Howard, and I believe that proceeding with a limited virtual meeting of the Central Texas Annual Conference is consistent with the principle of exigent circumstances and is critically necessary for our continuation.
The decision to proceed is mine, and mine alone, as resident Bishop. I am grateful to all those mentioned above and to the Cabinet of the Central Texas Conference who has endorsed this decision according to the procedures outlined in ¶603.3 of the Book of Discipline, which allows a change of place for the Annual Conference meeting. A letter from the District Superintendents giving ascent is on file with the Conference Secretary.
In my decision, I note the following stipulations:
The clergy session may legally be held as a virtual meeting (according to The Discipline and our “Guiding Principles and Best Practices”) and we have done so on June 15, 2020. Ordination must involve the physical laying on of hands, and the service of ordination will take place on Sept. 20 at White’s Chapel United Methodist Church with limited in-person attendance.
The Council of Bishops has stipulated that the current quadrennium, which was scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, 2020 cannot be formally ended until “January 1 following the adjournment of the next regular session of the General Conference.” (BoD ¶721.2) As such, we are going to operate with respect to officers and other nominated positions under the Book of Discipline ¶605.3 and allow current members to hold their current office until their successors are properly elected.
It is currently projected that the 2021 meeting of the Central Texas Annual Conference will take place after the meeting of the Postponed 2020 General Conference (currently scheduled for Aug. 29 – Sept. 7, 2021) but before the Postponed meeting of the 2020 Jurisdictional Conference (currently scheduled for Nov. 10-12, 2021).
The Central Texas Conference Council of Finance and Administration shall present a proposed 2021 budget consistent with the Book of Discipline and the conferences “Guiding Principles and Best Practices” for consideration by the Central Texas Annual Conference. The General Conference has been postponed, and no change in general church apportionments is occurring. Based on the circumstances in which we find ourselves and the reserved authority given to the annual conference, the adoption of a budget is both necessary for the continuation of the Central Texas Annual Conference and consistent with the appropriate Disciplinary paragraphs. Therefore, the Annual Conference has the authority to continue expenses and to adopt a 2021 budget.
All actions taken by the 2020 Central Texas Annual Conference virtual meeting shall be subject to ratification by the next in-person meeting of the Central Texas Annual Conference.
Even though it’ll be virtually presented through the marvels of modern technology, I look forward to our time together as an Annual Conference on Sept. 19. As we continue to work together to make disciples of Jesus Christ, may we live in the sure and certain knowledge that the Lord God Almighty – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is guiding us in this new world. Together, let us respond faithfully to the challenge of Jesus to be his witness to the ends of the earth.
Click on the below to view a brief video message from Bishop Lowry on the decision to move AC20 to an online only event.