A Letter from the EP Board to the EP Community,
After considering the ongoing reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have decided to cancel this summer’s Gathering. The scheduled theme “Discipleship in a Technological Age” and its programming (including location, enlisted plenaries, preachers, worship services, forums, etc.) will be moved back one year to Summer 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought havoc across the world, and certainly in the United States, where the death toll has reached well over 10,000, with estimates surpassing 80,000 by summer’s end. For the foreseeable future, most of the country will remain under shelter-in-place directives aimed at flattening the curve of the disease’s spread and buying time for overwhelmed medical services. Much of America’s infrastructure has shut down, with untold consequences for the global economy and the world’s most vulnerable. As you well know, churches can no longer meet in person, a devastating reality in any context, but especially so during the church’s highest holy season. Resurrection tells us that dividing walls have been brought down and the world now reconciled in Christ can come together. The church must now wrestle with what Resurrection means as we cannot physically be together.
In this context it simply did not make sense to continue with the Gathering as planned, much less begin the process of conference registration as we normally would at this time of year. Even if conditions were to dramatically improve by July, the sheer number of contingencies facing registrants makes it unwise to move ahead. We considered rearranging this summer’s Gathering to COVID-19 conditions (such as hosting a virtual meeting), but decided that the integrity of the planned program and the Gathering’s particular ways of being together were too important to seriously alter.
We do not make this decision lightly. For 20 consecutive years, the EP has gathered to be together, worship and learn together, be challenged and grow together, lament and celebrate together, where simply being together embodied for us the goodness of God’s deep love. COVID-19 has certainly revealed the fragility of the world’s many institutions and systems, including the great inequalities of the pandemic’s effects. But the plague has also illuminated the loveliness of God’s world, a loveliness that for us sinners often only becomes apparent when threatened. In those moments one is forced to decide what is important, and learn better how to hold it. Through this process, the Board has come to even greater appreciation for the Gathering, all that it means and does, and so deeply lament not being together this summer.
In the coming weeks, we will announce a number of EP-sponsored events for churches as they address the pandemic. While no substitute for the Gathering, these events, we hope, will foster some semblance of togetherness as churches wrestle with how to be church in this season. We believe EP’s storied church communities offer much needed resources that can inspire and equip churches during this time. You can expect a variety of on-line offerings, from the contemplative and worshipful to the practical and useful. We will soon be in touch about these offerings.
In all things, we find encouragement from you and all that we have heard and imagine your communities are doing to serve your neighbors. Holy Week tells us that God remains with us even in the deepest darkness, and that we can take heart knowing that Resurrection will in time lift the darkness, this current darkness and many others beside.