The United Church announced last weekend that the 44th General Council will be held entirely online.
On March 20, General Council 43 commissioners voted to hold the 2022 conference virtually. It will be the first online General Council since the denomination was founded in 1925.
The church had planned to hold General Council 44 in July 2021 in Calgary, but commissioners decided to push the event to 2022 over concerns about COVID-19 last summer.
Allan Buckingham, chair of the business and agenda committee for General Council 44, said that a desire to prioritize people’s safety and comfort fuelled the recent decision, as well as uncertainty about the kind of pandemic restrictions that might be in place next year.
“There are so many variables that it felt really hard to plan something concrete,” he said. “Whereas if it’s a pure virtual thing, we know what we’re getting.”
The resolution that commissioners passed on Saturday also allows organizers to pivot to a modified in-person event later on if doing so would be safe.
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Every three years, commissioners, who are representatives from across the country, attend General Council to discuss and vote on business that affects the denomination. Commissioners are elected in advance of the meeting.
When the possibility of a virtual event was discussed at last year’s meeting to postpone General Council, one of the main concerns was about Wi-Fi accessibility in small communities. Buckingham said organizers don’t have a solution to that problem yet, but are working on it.
Proposals for General Council 44 will be due in October 2021. The “listening” portion of the event, which is when commissioners prepare for decision-making by reading proposals and asking questions, will begin in February 2022, and the decision-making process will last from July 22-26, with final dates to be decided by the General Council Executive. Buckingham said organizers want to allow commissioners more time to digest information before making decisions.
They also said the virtual format may allow more flexibility during the more formal meeting than forcing people to sit at computers for nearly a week.
“Doing six days of eight or 12-hour days… that’s just a lot of time, and we’re not constrained to that in the same way.”
Buckingham said they will miss the spontaneous interactions that would normally come from an in-person event, but are trying to look on the bright side.
“So how can we use this opportunity to learn something and figure out even better ways to make some decisions?”
Emma Prestwich is Broadview’s digital editor.
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