Format better than past but not as good as it could be, organizers say
By Jessica Connor
Clergy and laity across the state headed to pre-conference training sessions in May to learn more about items up for vote at 2011 Annual Conference.
In an effort to vastly improve the sessions from last year, which many said were rife with technological glitches, organizers used a combination of videos and live webcasts to present information and address concerns about this year’s key proposals.
At each session – held May 1, 15 and 22 at four districts each – attendees watched pre-recorded videos by Conference Lay Leader Joe Heyward, Conference Finance and Administration Chair the Rev. Ed McDowell, Conference Pension and Health Benefits Officer the Rev. David Anderson and Connectional Ministries Director the Rev. Willie Teague.
After each video, attendees were allowed 10 minutes to write down any questions, which were then e-mailed by each district to the conference center.
There, via live webcast in Communications Director Matt Brodie’s office, presenters read aloud all of the questions and then answered them.
Overall, the sessions went very well, Brodie said – people got the answers they needed, and with the exception of two districts, technology mostly worked fine.
V.C. Sutton, a member of Bethany UMC, Charleston, attended his district’s meeting May 1 and said it was very productive.
“The way presenters explained and answered questions was great,” Sutton said.
Jim Crews, conference director of information technology, said the Columbia and Walterboro districts experienced Internet connectivity issues that prevented them from doing the question-and-answer segment. The issues were unavoidable, he said – for instance, the Columbia District session was held at Mount Horeb UMC, Lexington, which typically has very strong Internet service, but that day, the church experienced an unanticipated outage that was beyond their control. Those districts could only watch the videos, and they were steered to the website, where their questions and answers were posted online after the session. At the Columbia District training, District Superintendent Tim McClendon and CF&A Chair Herman B. Lightsey Jr. were present in the audience and able to answer live questions, which Crews said also helped.
But Teague said the conference needs to look at other options for next year’s training sessions.
“It was better than what we’ve done in the past, but not as good as where it needs to be,” Teague said.
Michael Cheatham, who attended the Greenville District session May 15, said the training was indeed not as good as it could have been.
“The videos assumed the AC members had prior knowledge of all of the issues,” Cheatham said, pointing out that the Connectional Ministries presentation didn’t present how the old system functioned and how the new system would function, the pension/insurance presentation was too technical for his understanding and the budget session was too broad and general. “I think most of the people present were overwhelmed by the numbers.”
He also thinks some time should have been given to explain the voting process for general and jurisdictional delegates.
“Those of us who have attended annual conference before during an election year know the process, but new lay members have no clue what to expect,” Cheatham said.
Marilyn Boyer, who also attended the Greenville training and who dubs herself an Annual Conference “newbie,” said she appreciated the video conferencing and efficient use of technology. However, she felt the time between segments should have been spent encouraging discussion among the attendees, which hopefully would have initiated more questions. She also wished less time had been spent going over the printed material and more time spent discussing the upcoming items for vote.
Brodie said video conferencing and online video is a far more economic and efficient way to conduct the trainings; requiring physical presentations in 12 districts would be “too complicated and too hard,” he said. He and the rest of the organizers will be working hard to develop a better way to present the trainings in 2012.
Questions and answers from all 12 training sessions are posted online at the conference website, http://www.umcsc.org/2011AC.html. Click on the link for the training video for each segment to read the questions and answers.
Those who have further questions are encouraged to e-mail the presenters directly right up until Annual Conference: Contact McDowell at ehmcdowelljr@ umcsc.org, Anderson at dlanderson@ umcsc.org and Teague at wsteague@ umcsc.org.
Annual Conference will be June 8-12 in Florence.