Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:58.
I greet you with the love and joy that has been gifted to me by the grace of God, the promise of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
I deeply regret that we will not all be able to gather in person for Annual Conference again this year. Based on the mandates of the Pennsylvania Health Department and Governor Wolf, we are not yet able to gather in the numbers needed for our meeting. And it does not appear as if the restrictions will be lifted sufficiently by June. Further, based on the pace of the administration of the vaccine, it is unlikely that all of the persons who need to attend Annual Conference - including our young people who are at the bottom of the vaccine phase list - will be vaccinated by June.
I know this news of another virtual Annual Conference is frustrating to all. However, I have found solace in the fact that having a virtual annual conference last year did not prevent us from engaging in transformational, kin-dom building mission and ministry. I am confident that God will continue to work through the people called United Methodists in Western Pennsylvania so that we will have fruitful ministry even though we will have a virtual Annual Conference again this year.
Our Annual Conference session will be a little different this year, however, because I have made the decision that, in spite of our Conference by-laws, we will in fact vote on a limited number of items. The pandemic has created an emergency situation that necessitates the one-time suspension of our by-laws so that we can conduct votes without meeting in person. Pennsylvania law allows for our by-laws to be overridden in emergency situations.
Therefore, we will follow the model of the Commission on General Conference and conduct a paper ballot on a limited number of items, such as the budget and nominations report, so we can continue the ministries of the annual conference.
Our Sessions Committee and Conference Secretary are continuing to work diligently and with great flexibility to ensure that we will be able to care for all of the matters that will need care this year. They will communicate what will be needed for you to fully participate in our annual conference meeting, including the process for voting if you are a member of the annual conference.
I am very pleased that as a part of our Annual Conference we will have one in-person ordination service for those who were approved for commissioning and ordination last year and this year. We will also have an in-person Memorial Service for those who transitioned in that time. Unfortunately, because of safety issues, we will have to limit the number of people who will be able to physically attend these services, but the services will be available to view online. Those to be commissioned or ordained may invite a limited number of persons to attend in person. We will also extend in-person invitations to the families of our beloved deceased.
To prepare for the ordination service, we need to have a virtual clergy session. We will utilize the same provision in state law to, because of the emergency of the pandemic, conduct votes without meeting in person. The Sessions Committee, Board of Ministry and Conference Secretary are all working together to implement this process.
I am so grateful that we are able to gather all of the resources needed to pivot and make these virtual and hybrid events possible. In the midst of this pandemic, God continues to break through with great blessings. Because of this grace, we have been able to continue to give ourselves fully to the ministry and mission of the United Methodist Church here in Western Pennsylvania. And I am convinced that our work, our persistence, and our resilience will not be in vain. I am convinced that God will be glorified through our ministry together.
To God be the Glory!
Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi