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DYK? Pondering the Pivot

Posted: July 1 2020 at 12:00 AM
Author: Rev. Arlene Christopherson

It’s been eight weeks since we published our last print version of the Northern Illinois Conference Reporter. Even before the April edition went to press, a pandemic was declared and residents in Illinois were asked to “Stay at Home.” It quickly became clear that a monthly print communication would be eclipsed by rapidly developing events and more spontaneous communication was needed. With that reality, the NIC staff did a sharp pivot.

“Pivot” is a term that can mean many things – a dance move, mechanical action, political maneuver. Now churches, clergy and the conference have all learned to pivot, to adjust quickly to our changing circumstances, while accomplishing the task at hand.

For the NIC staff, this has meant utilizing all our skills while also learning new skills on the fly. It has challenged us to rethink how we support the local church, continue ministry, and administer the business of the annual conference. Overnight, we developed a new communication strategy. Launching the Facebook resource group for clergy and church leaders, developing fact sheets and infographics to aid in tracking complicated, ever-changing information. Offering Thursday learning sessions via Zoom video conferencing on topics ranging from best practices for online worship to filing for the Payroll Protection Program loans. Producing weekly videos from the bishop and releasing statements to address rapidly changing circumstances. Holding all our conference meetings large and small on a Zoom platform. Rethinking how we hold an annual conference in the midst of a pandemic when gathering 1,000 people is a clear danger.

Working with conference committees to continue their ministry as we also received word from the Conference Council on Finance and Administration (CCFA) that a new spending plan was needed in light of the financial strain we are all experiencing. Support staff quickly adjusted to a work-from-home model and everyone has grown in their Zoom-ing skills. Very much like the local church, few of our days are business as usual.

Sadly, the pandemic came at a critical moment for our conference camps. Summer camping undergirds the budget for this ministry, and with camps cancelled, we have furloughed our full-time camp staff. Our camps will still be utilized, but in ways that are safe and comply with state policies.

All through these pivots, we have experienced the power of the United Methodist connection. The general church providing resources, the conference resourcing local churches, and all supporting missions beyond our boundaries.

A few weeks ago, we were invited to apply for a United Methodist Committee on Relief “Shelter in Love” grant. This initiative supports those suffering disproportionally through the COVID-19 pandemic. Within a few days of the invitation, I was able to identify a number of local church- and community-related ministries in our conference that would qualify for support.

At the end of May, we were awarded $15,000 of UMCOR funds for NIC ministries. We will share more stories as funds are distributed. Additionally, through the vision of CCFA, the Conference Board of Global Ministries (CBGM) began a partnership with missions addressing the COVID-19 crisis in the Central Conferences. While we have trimmed back our budgets, we have designated up to $75,000 to this mission work. Our CBGM and Mission Secretary, Rev. Shirley Pulgar-Hughes, will have more to report in the coming months as this project unfolds.

Pivot: “to adjust quickly to our changing circumstances, while accomplishing the task at hand.” As we pivot, let us continue to witness to our faith in ways that provide comfort, courage and community for such a time as this

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