Annual Conference 2021 will be virtual again
By Lindsay Peyton
Annual Conference is a time to come together in worship and fellowship, as well as to move forward on important business matters. Each day of the conference will focus on vital concepts from this year’s theme, “Faith, Hope, Love.” Technology will again bring everyone together – from the comfort and safety of their own homes — through the Zoom webinar platform.
The virtual 2021 Annual Conference is scheduled for May 30 to June 1. Already, plans are in place to ensure the health and safety of participants for Texas Annual Conference 2021 so that it is a meaningful event.
“An indoor, in-person, multi-day conference with all of our delegates gathered in one place would not be responsible at this time,” said Bishop Scott J. Jones. “Instead, we are considering some limited in-person worship opportunities, including our memorial service and ordination.”
The three-day Annual Conference kicks off on Sunday, May 30 with an opening worship, Episcopal address by Bishop Scott J. Jones, and a Lay Leader presentation by John Esquivel. The event will be live streamed via Zoom from the Harvest venue at The Woodlands UMC.
Guest preacher Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr.
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. of the Great Plains Annual Conference will be our guest preacher, bringing us an inspirational message to carry us throughout the week. Rev. Kip Gilts, TAC Assistant to the Bishop explained that prior to being Bishop, Saenz served as the Director of Connectional Ministries and Executive Director of the Mission Vitality Center in the Rio Texas Conference.
Bishop Jones and Lay Leader John Esquivel will also lead inspirational sermons and vision casting during Annual Conference.
A number of business elements will be addressed including the budget, a presentation by the Property Task Force and a revision of the Rules and Structures. “We’re taking this opportunity to take a thorough look and pursue important changes,” Gilts said.
This year will also be a time for quadrennium nominations of officers in the TAC, he added. Conference leaders were asked to retain their positions for an additional year while the organization was restructuring. Now, nominees will prepare to serve three years to even out the time limit.
Resolutions under consideration
Resolutions are also being prepared for presentation during the event. Currently, the submissions, which were received before Jan. 15, are under consideration by various TAC Centers. Some may be revised or even removed before the Annual Conference. Those that continue to the Conference will be accompanied by a written reflection provided by a member of the Conference Leadership Team (CLT).
Annual Conference delegates will be able to vote again on Zoom. Church members are welcome to watch Annual Conference 2021 online at www.txcumc.org on the day(s) of the Conference.
In 2022 and 2023, Gilts said that he expects Annual Conference to resume at its usual location at the Hilton in Houston.
“Last year, we talked about how we had never done anything like this before,” Gilts said. “Now we know that it’s possible and that it works. It’s no longer inconceivable. We know it can be done.”
Because of the 2020 experience, best practices for the virtual event will be employed, and more interactive sessions are in the works. “We are even exploring how we can possibly have opportunities for a few family members to attend the Ordination Service with social distancing,” Gilts said.
In addition, for those small number of people in attendance, social distancing and safety measures have been developed over the past year that will guide this Annual Conference. “We’ll observe all of the guidelines and err on the side of caution,” Gilts said.
Currently, a team is at work creating instructional videos to guide attendees in the registration and Zoom process. Last year, Gilts explained, Zoom was new for many of the participants.
“There are things that we have learned about Zoom since last year’s session,” he said. “We’ve also learned how to do more Q&A sessions and use the raise the hand feature. We’ll be able to interact more and answer questions during the event.”
Pre-conference meetings remain a prime time to learn more and delve into the upcoming issues of Annual Conference. These sessions will be online and are scheduled for April 25 through 27. Delegates, please watch your email for the times and dates for which session to attend. After Pre-Conference, delegates have about a month to ruminate, research and prepare to vote.
Annual Conference is a time to experience fellowship and community, and an opportunity to work together on future direction, Gilts said. One aspect he looks forward to each year is commemorating the changing leadership and ministry of the Conference.
Gilts explained that a memorial service honors the clergy and spouses that have been lost in the past year, and a retirement ceremony celebrates years of dedicated service made faithfully by Conference leaders.
The ordination and licensing of new ministers is a highlight. “And that’s a whole new generation that takes the baton for the key work of the Church,” he said.
“Annual Conference gives us a chance to do a bit of course correction,” Gilts said. “We come together every year, and the Bishop is called to inspire and guide us. He takes that role seriously.”
Bishop Scott J. Jones also reflects on the positive impact made in the Conference in the past year. “We always have a moment dedicated to what the good news is for God’s people at the event,” Gilts said. “It’s a recognition that helps us move forward in the right direction.”
In a way, Gilts added, Annual Conference functions as a spiritual revival, bringing everyone together for the transformation of the world. Instead of seeing online as a challenge to that spirit, he believes that much can still be accomplished virtually – especially with new online features.
“We’ve had a year to learn how to be more effective,” Gilts said. “We can now experience worship in a very moving and spiritual way online.”