Originally, the three annual conferences that comprise the Greater Northwest Area planned to gather for a shared session in June of 2020 in Puyallup, Washington. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this anticipated gathering was delayed until 2021 with virtual sessions scheduled for each conference in September instead.
Trainings were held on multiple occasions over the week prior to the session to aid members unfamiliar with the online meeting and voting platforms being used. Open captioning, American Sign Language and Spanish language interpretation were also offered directly within the meeting platform to support the goal of full participation.
Shortly after the gathering was called to order, members received an update from Seven Rivers Missional District Superintendent Joanne Coleman Campbell on wildfires that were active across parts of the region and how the area was already engaging in response.
Despite the changes in schedule and location, an area-wide worship team collaborated to produce worship elements for the session based upon a shared theme, “What does the Lord Require?” Standout pieces included an area-wide choir singing “What does the Lord Require of You?” and the traditional Charles Wesley hymn, “And Are We Yet Alive," freshly arranged by PNW Elder Rev. Justin White.
Bishop Stanovsky released her Episcopal Address in three parts (I – II – III) in the weeks prior to the conference session. She called members to do no harm by holding firm to coronavirus safeguards, implored them to resist racism and undertake new measures to dismantle racism and invited them to reimagine United Methodism across the church and more specifically within the Greater Northwest Area.
On that final topic, Bishop Stanovsky acknowledged that people across the area are of different minds when it comes to the topic of merging together as one annual conference. Still, she said that it is time to have more serious conversations. “It's never going to be the time to merge and I'm not going to solve that problem, but I am going to convene that conversation because I'm hearing that question out and about across the church.”
Bishop Stanovsky also offered a progress report on important conversations underway regarding the upcoming General Conference and decisions it might require. She shared that a Greater Northwest Guiding Coalition with 10+ workgroups had convened regularly until COVID-19 demanded a shift in attention. Even so, its Grassroots Connections group has continued to work with a video played displaying one of their projects.
Throughout the day, members focused much of their time upon the “essential business” of the annual conference as determined by Bishop Stanovsky in consultation with conference leadership. This included approving existing Advance Specials, updates to minimum compensation and moving expenses for clergy in addition to annually received petitions relating to pensions, retirements and disability benefits.
The conference also approved the closure of five local churches, with superintendents honoring the history and 565 years of Methodist ministry these faith communities represented. A related motion was passed asking the Conference Board of Trustees to establish a policy around the usage of closed properties in ways consistent with the Social Principles and “conference values of inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people and dismantling white supremacy.”
The final resolution approved by members was the conference budget. Members approved a $4.6 million budget as recommended by the Conference Council of Finance and Administration. Despite relatively stable apportioned giving by local churches through the first half of 2020, the approved recommendation reflects a 10.02% annual decrease anticipating financial challenges posed by coronavirus-related closures and denominational conflict.
Received as an addendum to the finance report was a request for more transparency and accountability for the Innovation Vitality Team budget and work. The request and its questions were received just prior to conference with over 100 member signatures. Finance and Administration Committee Chair Jan Kalshian promised that the questions raised would receive careful consideration with initial steps within 30 days.
During a report to the annual conference, members of the PNW Board of Ordained Ministry shared actions that were approved by the Clergy Session when it gathered in June. Members approved the retirement of seven elders, one associate member, and one local pastor. One person was recommended for commissioning in preparation for the order of elder and one into the order of deacon. Six individuals were recommended for full membership and ordination as elders, three into the order of deacon. Bishop Stanovsky previously announced that these commissionings and ordinations would take place during the annual conference session in June of 2021.
Conference members also received an address from the PNW Conference Lay Leader and Associate Lay Leader. They updated members on efforts of the laity over the previous year and shared a letter calling laity to the important work of anti-racism recently released by the Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders. Members also received a short report from their delegation to the General Conference that has been delayed to 2021.
In a pre-recorded message, PNW Executive Director of Camp and Retreat Ministries, Alan Rogstad, and the directors of the four conference camps, offered an update on how the ministries were adapting to coronavirus restrictions. Staff from the Northwest United Methodist Foundation also offered a recorded update providing assurance that managed funds were in good standing despite a chaotic year.
A visual presentation of the work of Early Response Teams, and a compelling video message from Hispanic Ministries were also received by members.
SeaTac Missional District Superintendent Derek Nakano shared with the body that most conference board and agency members had agreed to serve an additional year beyond the typical quadrennial terms.
Finally, dates were announced for a shared Greater Northwest Area Annual Conference Session to occur June 10-13, 2021, in Puyallup, as it is safe to do so. Crest to Coast Missional District Kathleen Weber offered the invitation to meet there at the Washington State Fairgorunds.
• Membership stands at 36,620, down 1,123 from the previous year.
• Worship attendance stands at 15,465 down 952.
• Church school attendance stands at 4,538, up 88.
• Professions or reaffirmations of faith for 2019 at 621, down from 2018 by 68.
• Adults and young adults in small groups for 2019 at 14,804, down from 2018 by 689.
• Worshippers engaged in mission for 2019 were 10,288, up from 2018 by 309.
— Patrick Scriven, director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries, Pacific Northwest Conference