Church of the Brethren Annual Conference will not be held this summer

The Standing Committee of the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference met by video conference call for a specially called meeting on Thursday, May 7. The Standing Committee, which is made up of district delegates to Annual Conference, discussed a recommendation from the denomination’s Leadership Team, in consultation with the Annual Conference Program and Arrangements Committee, to cancel the Annual Conference scheduled for July 1-5 in Grand Rapids, Mich. 

Standing Committee affirmed that recommendation and is announcing that an in-person Annual Conference will not be held this summer. It is with great sadness that this decision had to be made.

As previous news releases regarding Annual Conference have indicated, the safety and health of Conference participants have been the highest priority. It became apparent within the past few weeks that because of the unsettling character and demands of the COVID-19 crisis, the denomination could not safely have a large gathering in July. This special meeting of Standing Committee was called because, by Church of the Brethren polity, Standing Committee is given the authority to make decisions for the Annual Conference between Conferences. 

The decision included a deferring of the Annual Conference theme, program, and featured leadership to the 2021 Annual Conference scheduled to take place in Greensboro, N.C., on June 30-July 4. The business of the 2020 Annual Conference, such as affirming the Compelling Vision, is deferred to the 2021 Annual Conference. 

The Nominating Committee of Standing Committee also brought a recommendation to the full Standing Committee that the ballot that would have been presented for election in 2020 will be presented to the 2021 Conference instead. The Nominating Committee will be contacting each person on the ballot to ask if they are willing for their name to be considered in the 2021 vote. People holding positions elected by Annual Conference whose terms expire in 2020 will be asked if they are willing to extend their terms one additional year until the election in 2021 can determine who will replace them. 

The Annual Conference Office is preparing to offer full refunds of registration and all other fees paid by those who already had registered for Annual Conference this year. Refund information, and an option to donate, will be sent by email.

We are blessed that our host facilities in Grand Rapids have agreed to waive over a half million dollars in cancellation penalties if Annual Conference will return to Grand Rapids in our next open year. The Program and Arrangements Committee is glad to announce that Annual Conference will be back in Grand Rapids on July 3-7, 2024.

The Program and Arrangements Committee is working on plans for one or two online gatherings as a denomination during the week of July 1-5 when Annual Conference would have been held, although no business will be conducted. More information will be available in the coming weeks.

This will be the first time in the 233 years of recorded Church of the Brethren annual meetings that the Brethren will not be able to meet together in person. Even throughout the Civil War years, World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, and more, Brethren have gathered each summer to discern God’s will, worship, and fellowship together. We mourn that this year the pandemic makes such a gathering impossible.

Full text of recommendations and background information presented to Standing Committee:

Recommendation from the Leadership Team:

The Leadership Team, in consultation with the Program and Arrangements Committee, recommends to the 2019 Standing Committee that the 2020 Annual Conference in Grand Rapids, MI July 1-5 be cancelled. We further recommend that the theme, program, and featured resource leaders for the 2020 Conference be deferred to the June 30-July 4, 2021 Annual Conference in Greensboro, NC. And we recommend that the Compelling Vision and other items of business (other than the ballot, which will be addressed in a separate motion) become the business of the 2021 Annual Conference.

Recommendation from the Nominating Committee of Standing Committee:

The Nominating Committee of Standing Committee met on April 30 and recommends to Standing Committee that the ballot for 2020 be deferred to 2021 with the understanding that:

(1) Annual Conference-elected officers, committee members, and board members whose terms would be ending this year will be asked to serve an additional year in their position

(2) committee members and board members who will be elected by the current ballot when the vote is taken in 2021 will serve one year less to complete their terms in the year they had expected to finish when they were nominated (the moderator-elect, however, will serve the full three years of the moderator role, as usual)

(3) another ballot will be prepared during the coming year to replace committee members and board members whose AC-elected terms conclude in 2021.

This recommendation applies only to Annual Conference-elected positions.

Districts will continue to determine the elections and terms of service for their Standing Committee members and other district-elected positions.

Annual Conference agencies will continue to determine the elections and terms of service for their board-elected board members. Any board-elected board members that were scheduled to be confirmed by the 2020 Conference will be confirmed by the 2021 Conference instead.

Background information:

As we have reported via news releases, the health and safety of attendees, volunteers, and partners is our first priority. We have carefully monitored guidelines issued in response to the COVID-19 challenge from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as authorities in the state of Michigan. The uncertainty of governmental decisions regarding stay-at-home restrictions and how many people may gather at an event, as well as the expectation that social distancing will continue to be required through the summer, according to federal guidelines stated thus far, makes it difficult to know how many Brethren would attend and whether the convention center would be allowed to host our Conference.

Our second primary concern has been the financial circumstances we would face if we would decide to cancel. We have now been able to negotiate with the convention center and three hotels in Grand Rapids that they will waive the $665,000 cancellation penalties. In return, we have agreed to return to Grand Rapids our next available year, 2024.

There are, nevertheless, financial consequences in the decision to cancel Annual Conference. The Annual Conference budget has certain fixed costs apart from the costs of the on-site event itself. The year-round costs for the work of the Annual Conference Office, such as salaries and benefits, office related expenses, travel for the moderator and committees, etc., are normally covered by Annual Conference registration fees. By cancelling the 2020 Conference, we will need to refund registration fees and then pay for the year-round costs out of Annual Conference reserve funds.

If we were to move ahead with holding the 2020 Annual Conference, we would have income from registration fees, yet that income would undoubtedly be much less than normal because of the number of persons who are indicating that they will not be attending Annual Conference due to concerns related to COVID-19. In addition to the costs noted earlier, the registration fees we received would also need to cover audiovisual costs, exhibit set up, union fees in the convention center, travel costs for the many volunteers who serve Annual Conference, etc., in addition to our year-round expenses. We would likely lose even more money by holding the Conference with a smaller number of people.

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