Gather 2020, which was scheduled to take place June 25-27 in Phoenix, Arizona, has been canceled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The elected members of the Covenant Executive Board made the unanimous decision to cancel Gather 2020, which includes the 135th Annual Meeting, the annual meeting of the Ministerium, the ordination service, as well as all accompanying meetings and celebrations.
As states and provinces throughout the U.S. and Canada extended shelter-in-place guidelines, the work necessary to prepare for this event became severely impeded. In addition, the ongoing disruption to life, ministry, and the economy from COVID-19 made it unrealistic for churches and delegates to budget the time and expense required to participate in this event.
Specifically, the following action steps were taken:
- A gathering, which included representatives from the Board of the Ordered Ministry, the Covenant Ministerium, the Council of Superintendents, the Annual Meeting officers, the Covenant Executive Board, and the ECC President and Corporate Secretary was convened to consider options for Gather 2020.
- The group explored multiple possibilities, creating an online platform to host a virtual gathering, postponing Gather until August and/or cancel Gather 2020.
- As the impact of COVID-19 grew, however, the Annual Meeting officers empowered moderator Jonathan Wilson to report their consensus to Executive Board chair Jenell Pluim that cancellation was the only feasible course for Gather 2020.
- As deliberations continued, the Executive Board sought input from additional Covenant constituencies, including the Mosaic Commission, Covenant Ministerium, Board of the Ordered Ministry, Annual Meeting officers, Council of Administrators, Council of Superintendents, Covenant Ministries of Benevolence, North Park University, Covenant Trust Company, National Covenant Properties, and Covenant Living Communities.
- The consensus on the feedback received was due to the COVID-19 pandemic the only viable option was to cancel Gather 2020.
- The Executive Board voted on Saturday, March 28, on the recommendation to cancel Gather 2020. It was approved unanimously.
The business conducted during the Covenant’s Annual Meeting is multifaceted, much of which is dependent on receiving actionable business items and reports from constituent and subsidiary bodies. To prepare for Gather, many of these bodies meet in the spring; however, due to the COVID-19 guidelines, many of these meetings, including several conference annual meetings, were canceled. For a postponement of Gather to be feasible, constituent bodies would have to reschedule their meetings, perhaps as early as June to prepare for an August meeting. It was determined that this timeline was unrealistic.
In making this decision, the Executive Board considered the following:
- Once the COVID-19 crisis subsides, pastors and churches will need to focus on retooling their ministry. These efforts will be a priority over preparing for a rescheduled Annual Meeting.
- Gather depends on the participation of elected delegates. Along with their services and programs, churches have canceled quarterly business meetings and do not have mechanisms in place to conduct business through online platforms. Across the Covenant, many delegates are elected in church meetings in March or April. To ask that at some indeterminate date, a church working to return to “normal” hold a meeting and certify delegates in time to prepare for an August meeting would make unrealistic demands on churches and potential delegates.
When it became clear that an in-person meeting in June was not feasible, leaders proposed a half-day virtual meeting. Yet even this alternative would require intensive in-person engagements to ensure that hundreds of people could plug in, verify their credentials, and vote on various matters.
We soon recognized that to rush implementing a new virtual platform could risk the quality and legitimacy of any offering we put together, as well as potentially bar access for credentialed delegates who did not have the bandwidth or network to gain online access. In short, the time needed to construct a reliable platform to meet the requirements of Gather 2020 makes a virtual or electronic meeting infeasible.
FAQ on Credentialing
The Board of the Ordered Ministry has made the following decisions regarding credentialing of all candidates:
- The finalization of ordination, commissioning, consecration, and transfer of credentials that would have taken place in June 2020 will be postponed until June 2021.
- Those who were scheduled to finalize credentials in June 2020 will have their licenses extended automatically for the 2020-2021 licensing year. No additional paperwork is needed.
Below, the Board responds to frequently asked questions related to these decisions and other implications for credentialing as a result of the cancellation of Gather 2020:
The first reason is related to governance:
Constitutionally, the Rules for the Ordered Ministry govern the credentialing of ministers in the ECC. The Rules for the Ordered Ministry establish specific procedures for ordination, commissioning, consecration, and transfer. These procedures include approvals by the conference ministerial associations, the Covenant Ministerium, the ECC Annual Meeting, and finally, participation in the Rite of Ordination/Commissioning/Consecration/Transfer. There is value in the process of finalization, across all its stages. It does not seem appropriate to truncate the process, removing the ability of all of the voting bodies to speak into the process in the usual manner. Until the process can be carried out in the proper way, the Board discerns it is wisest to postpone.
The second reason is theological:
The ECC has long said that it does not ordain in absentia. Although ordination, commissioning, and consecration are not sacraments in our tradition, they are regarded sacramentally. The Covenant Book of Worship teaches that the rites of ordination and commissioning “do not convey an indelible character. Yet there is a pervading mystery of the Spirit’s presence in ordination and commissioning that defies analysis. For in these rites Almighty God is at work.” Finalization is fundamentally different from a graduation ceremony, in which it is common to be granted a degree in absentia. The finalization candidate makes a public commitment, speaking vows while facing the laity, which confers on them the responsibility and authority to preach, teach, and administer the sacraments to the whole church. The importance of the rite itself, and the public commitment it requires, disallows any provisional granting of the credential prior to participation in the rite. Much as a marriage cannot take place if both parties are not physically present for the service, it is impossible to bestow holy orders apart from the rite.
The Board did consider options such as a delay into the fall or Midwinter, or possibly regional services. However, those were not deemed viable for the following reasons:
- Neither option (a fall or Midwinter service) would allow for the governance requirements described above to be met.
- Candidates would be deprived of the full experience and the full weight of receiving the affirmation of the whole church in person and speaking their vows in front of the church at an annual meeting.
- As the COVID-19 situation is developing, the guidelines for large gatherings remain fluid and changeable. There is no guarantee that by the fall, large gatherings will be advisable. Even if they are permitted by local governments, people may still not wish to take the risk of gathering in large groups at that time.
The governance issues described above apply to transfers as well. Until the process can be carried out in the proper way, with the approvals of all the necessary bodies, the Board discerns it is wisest to postpone.
Any minister may resign his or her credential at any time. Resignations do not require the vote of the Annual Meeting; they are simply reported.
Removals of permanent credentials do require votes by the Covenant Ministerium Annual Meeting and the Covenant Annual Meeting. Therefore, any recommendations for removal of permanent credentials will not take place until June 2021.