By Wallace Dasher, III
Coronavirus. Social distancing. Lockdown. That’s mostly what 2020 will be remembered for. Big change for the world. With these changes came adjustments in how we as African Methodists conduct our worship services, programs, meetings and conferences. Thankfully, the AME Church placed the health and safety of its members as top priority with a mandate that our churches find alternative means of worshipping to adhere to social distancing guidelines from the CDC.
As the time drew near, many people were wondering about Annual Conference and if it would take place. Under the leadership of Bishop A.J. Richardson, Jr., the 80th Session of the West Coast Conference Annual Conference would indeed take place. People were wondering and asking, “How can this be?” Bishop Richardson decided to incorporate technology and the use of social media into the Annual Conference as a way to keep members of the 11th Episcopal District engaged and participating in the Annual Conference.
Once announced there would be a virtual Conference, people started asking, “How will people participate when they are located in different cities throughout the Conference?” Bishop devised a plan to make sure that Annual Conferences would take place. First, there would be a team of tech-savvy people to record, produce and broadcast our Annual Conference. Next, churches in the Conference were designated where program participants would go to record their parts of the worship services and programs. In the West Coast Conference, those churches were New St. Paul in Tampa District, New Bethel in Lakeland District and Greater Mt. Zion in St. Petersburg District. Once all parts were recorded, Rev. R.J. Stevenson of New St. Paul would edit and compile them into a video for the viewing general public.
Finally, the completed services and business session, including opening and closing worship services, Lay Witness Night and the Board of Examiners’ report, were broadcast and livestreamed on the 11th Episcopal District social media platforms such as Facebook and its website. The virtual platform was well-received and afforded those who normally wouldn’t attend in person to participate in the Conference.
A virtual Annual Conference proved to be a success, and with the use of technology during this pandemic, we can continue to say, “The doors of the church are still open.”