Virtual Annual Conference: 12 ‘how-tos’

Many Brethren are familiar with how Annual Conference is held in person, but how will a virtual Conference work? What do delegates and nondelegates need to know to navigate the first-ever fully online annual meeting of the Church of the Brethren?

  1. How to register

For an in-person Annual Conference…

Registration is online in advance, with an option to register onsite. Registration options include purchase of meal tickets, the Conference booklet, age group activities, and more. A link to hotel registration is sent to registrants. Worship is free and, along with business sessions, is webcast for those who can’t attend in person.

For this year’s virtual Conference…

Delegates and nondelegates who want to attend the full Conference must register online and pay the appropriate fee at www.brethren.org/ac2021. Registration gives full access to the whole Conference schedule including business sessions, concerts, insight sessions, networking groups, and more. A daily fee is available for nondelegates. Registration continues through July 4, the last day of the Conference.

Worship is free and does not require registration. A link will be posted at www.brethren.org/ac2021.

The registration fee for delegates is $305 and includes access to the full Conference, the Conference booklet, delegate packet, and the 2021 minutes for the church or district represented. Each delegate must register individually, including delegates from the same congregation or district.

The fee for nondelegates to attend the full Conference is $99. The daily fee is $33. There are discounts for post-high school to age 21. Children through grade 12 and Brethren Volunteer Service workers may attend for free.

If groups of people decide to attend together, it is requested that each person register and pay the appropriate fee.

  1. How to join in worship

At an in-person Conference…

Worship services are free and open to the public, held in the convention center’s main hall.

At the virtual Conference…

Worship will be online, available in both English and Spanish translation through a public link posted at www.brethren.org/ac2021. The daily services are at 8 p.m. (Eastern) on Wednesday through Saturday, June 30-July 3, and at 10 a.m. (Eastern) on Sunday, July 4. Downloadable bulletins will be available.

  1. How to give an offering during worship

At an in-person Conference…

Offerings in the form of cash and checks are received by the ushers during worship services, and received online from those participating in the webcasts of worship.

At the virtual Conference…

Offerings will be received via credit card payments at a link that will appear on screen during worship. Also, checks may be mailed to Annual Conference, 1451 Dundee Ave., Elgin, IL 60120.

A special offering will be received each day for a variety of needs including church rebuilding in Nigeria; the Church of the Brethren’s core ministries; expenses of volunteers, supplies, and new furniture for the children’s activities at in-person Annual Conferences; and Conference expenses for translation into Spanish.

  1. How to participate in business sessions

At an in-person Conference…

Registered delegates sit in table groups in the convention center’s main hall. Nondelegates may observe from a general seating area. Business is led by the moderator from the raised head table, with the moderator-elect and Conference secretary and a number of volunteer assistants.

At the virtual Conference…

Registered delegates and registered nondelegates will receive a link to log in to the livestreamed business sessions, available in both English and Spanish translation. Business sessions are scheduled each day Thursday through Saturday, July 1-3, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon and 3-5 p.m. (Eastern).

Business will be livestreamed from the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill., where the moderator and the other Conference officers and assistants will be based. Assisting onsite will be denominational staff and volunteers, a video crew, livestreaming techs, and consultants from Covision–the company running the technical side of this online Conference.

  1. How to participate in small groups during business sessions

At an in-person Conference…

Small group discussion or “table talk” happen around the delegate tables, with nondelegates invited to form their own small groups. Table talk usually focuses on “get to know you” activities, personal sharing and prayer, responses to questions posed by leadership, and discussion of business items.

At the virtual Conference…

Small group discussion will be online for registered delegates and registered nondelegates. Each will be assigned to a small online group. When it comes time for group discussion, each attendee’s screen will shift from the livestream of business to their small group. Small groups will be held in Zoom-like “breakout rooms,” able to see and speak with each other using the cameras and microphones in their devices. Small group conversation will be particularly important for discussion of the proposed compelling vision.

  1. How to go to the microphone during business sessions

At an in-person Conference…

Delegates and nondelegates alike may go to the microphones to ask questions or make comments on business items, directed to the moderator. Speakers are on a first-come-first-served basis. Only delegates may make motions or propose action on business items.

At the virtual Conference…

Questions and comments ordinarily taken to the microphones may be written to the moderator in a box that will display on participants’ screens during business sessions. This function is not to be used for chat, as people may be accustomed to in programs like Zoom. Questions and comments to the moderator must be of the quality that would require stepping up to the microphone at an in-person Conference.

  1. How to vote during business sessions

At an in-person Conference…

Only registered delegates representing congregations and districts may vote. Voting takes place for a variety of business items and the ballot. At the moderator’s discretion, delegates vote on business items in a variety of ways, such as spoken “ayes” and “nays” and shows of hands. The ballot is voted on paper.

At the virtual Conference…

Only registered delegates representing congregations and districts may vote. When it comes time for a vote, options will appear on each delegate’s screen and delegates will click on a button for the option they choose. The ballot also will appear on screens and delegates will click to vote for candidates. The tellers will receive vote tallies via this computerized program.

  1. How to attend insight sessions, equipping sessions, and networking groups

At an in-person Conference…

Numerous insight sessions, equipping sessions, networking groups, and meal events sponsored by agencies and districts are offered. These sessions represent a wide variety of interests and topics related to church life. Attendees may go to as many or as few as they like, in various rooms in the convention center and nearby hotels.

At the virtual Conference…

Registered participants may log in to their choice of online insight sessions, equipping sessions, and networking groups. A wide variety are planned Thursday through Saturday, July 1-3, in three time slots: 12:30-1:30 p.m., 5:30-6:30 p.m., and 9:15-10:15 p.m. (Eastern). These will be offered through a Zoom platform allowing a featured speaker to present, followed by a question and answer time.

  1. How to ask questions of the Mission and Ministry Board and Conference agencies

At an in-person Conference…

Time for questions from the microphones is offered following the reports of the Mission and Ministry Board and the three Annual Conference agencies–Bethany Theological Seminary, Brethren Benefit Trust, and On Earth Peace.

At the virtual Conference…

After each report, at 5:30 p.m. (Eastern) on the same day, an online Q&A session will be available. During these sessions, registered participants may ask questions of agency leaders and engage in conversation.

  1. How children can participate

At an in-person Conference…

Families register children for age-group activities, including childcare for the youngest as well as junior high and senior high groups for the older set. Activities are based at the convention center but often include outings or field trips to nearby parks, zoos, and museums. The Conference Office and host district recruit volunteers to lead and staff the activities.

At the virtual Conference…

An online “Children’s Corner” will welcome children and help them learn about this year’s theme through songs, stories, and activities. Three sessions will be available, with three short videos for each, as well as a downloadable song lyrics page and downloadable activity pages. Families supply their own arts supplies. These sessions are most likely to appeal to children ages 4-7, but all who are young at heart are welcome to enjoy them.

Topics include: Session 1, “God Made Our Beautiful World!”; Session 2, “God Made Us Each Special!”; and Session 3, “God Made Special Helpers, and I Can Be One, Too!”

  1. How to be on time and not miss anything

At an in-person Conference…

Many purchase and use the Conference booklet to keep track of the busy schedule, marking the events they don’t want to miss.

At the virtual Conference…

The Conference Office suggests that registered participants purchase the Conference booklet–which will list events in Pacific time and Eastern time–and mark their book for their own time zone. A Conference booklet may be purchased during registration for $13 as a pdf or $18 in print (including mailing cost). The business schedule is not in the booklet but will be sent to delegates by email.

  1. How to plan a Conference across four time zones

At an in-person Conference…

Events take place onsite in the local time zone.

At the virtual Conference…

The schedule is intentionally planned to accommodate people living in all four time zones across the United States–Pacific, Mountain, Central, and Eastern. Facing a new situation in this fully online Conference, the Program and Arrangements Committee quickly realized that those living in the Pacific time zone often are left out when online events are planned to fit an Eastern schedule. For the 2021 Conference, the committee tried hard to ensure that most events do not begin excessively early in the morning for those living on the Pacific coast, and do not run really late into the night for those living on the Atlantic coast.

The Conference booklet lists each event in two time zones, Pacific and Eastern, to help participants across the country keep track of when to log in.

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