To the Laity and Clergy of the Iowa Annual Conference:
Grace and peace in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It was announced yesterday that the Commission on the General Conference has made the difficult decision to further postpone the 2020 General Conference because of safety issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic and challenges in traveling from different areas of the world. Our Book of Discipline is clear that the Commission is obligated to “take necessary measures to assure full participation of all General Conference delegates.” The Commission has now rescheduled the 2021 General Conference from August 29–September 7, 2021 to August 29–September 6, 2022 in Minneapolis, MN.
This decision was not made lightly. COVID-19 cases continue to rise in different parts of the world and over 500,000 people have died in the United States alone. Vaccines will not be widely available across the entire globe for some time, and many of our delegates worldwide do not have access to adequate technology and accessible voting security to be able to equitably meet digitally.
We had hoped that after the postponement of the 2020 General Conference we might be able to meet this September. There are many important matters in which we need to engage in holy conferencing together. However, there are also circumstances over which we have no control, and our first priority is the safety of all participants.
As an interim measure, the Council of Bishops has called a special session of General Conference that will take place virtually on May 8, 2021 to act on several items needed to authorize administrative functions for the continuation of the mission and ministry of the Church during the COVID-19 pandemic. A Technology Study Team is currently considering the use of paper and mail ballots in order for delegates to be able to vote on these administration functions. “Emergency Interim Actions” would enable General Conference delegates to vote “yes” or “no” on each item.
As your Episcopal leader, in early 2021, I called together a core group of leaders called The Ezekiel Team, convened by Rev. Ron Carlson, District Superintendent of the Northwest District. This team is made up of diverse laity and clergy representing urban, suburban, and rural faith communities. The group, which meets every Thursday morning, is gifted with diverse theological perspectives and is connected by a deep love for Christ and a commitment to the mission and ministry of the Iowa Annual Conference.
A portion of their work includes assessing what we can likely hold in a shared connection (UMCOR, Camping Ministries, Disaster Response Ministries, Women at the Well, and other ministries specific to Iowa as well as other national and global ministries) as we navigate the uncertainties of another delayed General Conference, knowing that our connectional relationships may change. Another portion of their work is how to faithfully, and without bias, communicate and resource churches in ways that will help them to discern their local way forward. A last critical piece that they are discerning is in what ways, could we, as an Annual Conference, already begin moving forward in a model of mission and ministry similar to the proposed legislation of “The Protocol” that is set to be presented and voted on at the next General Conference. While this group is young in their work, I do believe they will help us to navigate the uncertainty, anxiety, and possibility of this time as we look toward our next General Conference.
I believe that God is inviting us to continue in the work of our Conference to align our resources toward local, circuit, and district ministries so that we may keep our focus on making disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world wherever we might be. I ask you to be in prayer for those who are leading us and for those whose ministries depend on actions of the General Conference. You can read the official postponement notice here.
Thank you for your commitment to our beloved United Methodist Church in these difficult times. I pray this Lenten journey reminds each of us of our need for Christ and his mission and our need for one another. May we continue to make a difference in our local churches, communities, states, and the world, as we share Christ’s love for each one of God’s precious children.