Charge Conference Considerations in COVID-19 Times
By Ken Sloane
We are entering that time of year when (in the old normal) we would be getting into charge conference season: pulling together reports, planning potluck suppers, and considering how we would arrange the tables in the fellowship hall. Odds are, this fall’s charge conference won’t look the way it has in previous years. In whatever form it arrives, charge conference is as important as it has been in the past, but now it has new concerns due to the present pandemic.
Many districts will be coordinating their charge conferences on Zoom or other videoconferencing platforms.
- Remember that Zoom has “phone in, audio only” capability for people who don’t have computers. FreeConferenceCall.com is another option to consider.
- Be aware of the need for participants to be able to examine reports and documents that will be discussed. Give people the option to receive documents digitally, and mail copies to those who prefer paper copies.
- Provide a reliable method for voting. The poll feature in Zoom gives an excellent way to get an accurate vote on questions that are before the conference. If you are having a charge conference as opposed to a church conference, a registration page may help you track who is eligible to vote. Consider how you will collect the votes of those who connect by phone instead of computer.
- If the district superintendent is acting as host for the call, consider asking a local person to co-host to help manage polls, questions, technical questions, and so on.
- If submitting a budget to charge conference, you may want to consider submitting a partial-year budget – to be able to adjust for the impact of the ongoing pandemic.
- Any budget planning for the new year should include quarterly review and assessment provisions.
- Benevolent funding should be reviewed in light of the hardship brought on your congregation and community by the pandemic. If recovery ministries or job transition networking are not already in motion, these are wise considerations to keep your church relevant and in touch with your community.
- Also consider the added expense of virtual worship, remembering that when churches reopen, many people will not feel comfortable coming back right away. Improving internet connection and speed may be a consideration.
- Consider increasing participation in electronic (and especially automatic recurring) giving in the congregation. Highlighting the positive impact of digital gifts during the charge conference will help grow support.
Staff Parish Relations Committee
- You may want to review housing/parsonage allowances, as working from home often presents new expenses, remembering that increasing the allowance does not increase the cost to the local church. Again, broadband access and speed are critical considerations in this time of pandemic.
- Clergy should also remember that amounts of a parsonage/housing allowance that cannot be supported as a qualifying expense should be reported as income when they file personal income taxes.
- The staff parish relations committee may want to discuss with clergy the continuing education line items (and how those might be used) and accountable reimbursement lines.
- In light of the stress the pandemic has placed on many pastors (as well as others), it would be wise and considerate for staff parish relations committee to discuss and consider with clergy proposals for renewal time provision for the pastors.
Finally, the 2020 charge conference is an excellent time to view and celebrate how your congregation has continued to “be the church” while the doors of the church have been closed. Celebrate the efforts of people to keep ministry going. Set goals to be a force for healing and recovery in the year ahead.
Ken Sloane is the Director of Stewardship & Generosity for Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.