This year has proved a challenge for scheduling face-to-face events across the world. The events of 2020 are estimated to have propelled the world ten years forward into the digital age, of which we have taken an active part. Many Branches are now hosting on-line services and meetings, and Saints of all ages have learned how to tune-in using computers, tablets and smart phones where possible.
When we first discussed options for the 2020 General Conference, it looked as if postponing until later in the year would work best. Our intention then was to meet face-to-face in October or November. At worst we anticipated spreading out across an auditorium to allow space between delegates and proceeding as best we could. What has resulted, however, was not as expected. Buildings we hoped to use are now closed. National governments around the world are requiring mandatory quarantines for travelers, and local government directives to social distance persist. All of these invite the question, can we host a General Conference on-line?
On-line meeting environments have in many instances worked well but using that format to hold a representative conference creates additional challenges. The question is not so much a matter of “can we hold an on-line conference” as “are we prepared to hold one”. While our General Conference resolutions dictate that we are to host an annual conference, the realities of Covid-19 have left us unable to do so at this time. While denial of travel visas have always presented inequality of opportunity, current travel bans and restrictions, lack of Internet access, food shortages, and lack of face-to-face meetings from which to choose Branch delegates further limit the level of delegate participation we would like to see from around the world. Some of the necessary challenges we face in holding a virtual conference mean we need to:
- schedule meeting times that work well across international time zones;
- establish branch delegates physically in places where they have Internet in addition to food and housing;
- have in place a workable process for capturing verifiable feedback from voting delegates and attending members; and
- collect offerings from virtual attendees that will fund the conference.
With no pressing business to attend to, the 2020 General Conference officers felt (and the logistics committee mostly agreed) that postponing the General Conference for the foreseeable future is the best course of action. Rest assured we are examining ways to overcome known obstacles, collect information from branches around the world, and to develop protocols for hosting a voting conference should current circumstances continue into the next year.
In the meantime, please join us in continuing to pray over conditions throughout the world. Our hope is that you stand firm in your daily testimony of Jesus Christ and that His joy be known among you. May your homes and gardens resound with praises to God’s holy name, and may you bear His name and knowledge of His covenants wherever your voices and feet may go.
General Conference President