There’s no doubt about it: 2020 will be remembered as a very strange year, indeed – in just about every way possible, including BFC Conference. In a normal calendar year, pastors and delegates from all the Bible Fellowship Churches and ministries gather at Pinebrook Bible Conference in late April for three days of worship, business, discussion, and fellowship. But then COVID turned the calendar upside-down.
As you’ll recall, by mid-March the coronavirus threat had closed the doors on churches everywhere, and the decision was made to postpone the 137th BFC Conference to a later date. The decision to hold a one-day “hybrid” conference in October was made at a mid-August meeting of the Agenda & Arrangements Committee, which then worked through the logistical challenges necessary to doing things differently than we have ever done them before.
BFC Conference was held up at Pinebrook on Tuesday, Oct. 6 – for some of our people. The tables marking the Conference bar were set up in roughly the same format as usual. Conference Moderator Timothy J. Schmoyer of Whitehall BFC banged his gavel calling the proceedings to order at 9:30 a.m. Several tables were set aside for the work of the Conference’s secretarial staff – again, as usual. But instead of roughly 170 or so pastors and delegates joining together, perhaps only 60 or so occupied seats at Pinebrook. For the first time, many of our pastors and delegates participated from their homes or offices. They watched the events of this single-day BFC Conference via livestream and submitted votes via their computers through a Zoom Webinar format. No, it wasn’t “business as usual,” but it was the best means available to us given current COVID restrictions. Each church was allowed to have one pastor or delegate attend in person. Others registered to attend online. At the start of Conference, the Conference Moderator ran attendees through their paces, instructing those who were attending from home or office how to vote and to participate in discussion by contributing online questions or comments.
Many subjects that are normal material for BFC Conference – reports from study committees, for instance – did not take place as scheduled. This was, for the most part, a business meeting. We approved a budget. We held elections. Conference voted to receive two new particular churches: Orchard Hills BFC of Fogelsville, PA and Redeemer BFC of West Norriton, PA. Eight men (Jarrod J. Cruise, Larry W. Davies, Sean A. Fox, John J. Hanner, Paul S. Harvey, Jules J. Hull III, Daniel Z. Krall, Roger L. Siegrist) were approved for later ordination to gospel ministry while four others (Jesse A. Benack, Jeffrey A. Kauffman, Daniel W. King, David M. Poland) had previous ordinations from other denominations accepted to be recognized by the BFC.
But even then, the usual celebrations that accompany recognizing new particular churches or celebrating newly-ordained pastors were set aside and will be rescheduled at a time when everyone can safely gather in the same location.
By 5:30 p.m., most of those who attended in person were on their way home while those who participated online were able to join their families for supper. The abbreviated schedule was completed with no real glitches. Those who were at Pinebrook were even treated to an ample bag lunch, supplied by Pinebrook’s staff under the supervision of site director Chad Strausbaugh.
Would we want to do this again? Probably not. Certainly the hybrid format didn’t allow for lengthy discussion, and precious times of worship and prayer, a highlight of “normal” BFC Conferences, were definitely missed. While government-approved COVID vaccines are beginning to be distributed, the 138th BFC Conference, originally slated for April 26-28, 2021, has been rescheduled for October. Exact dates are yet to be announced. So we are again waiting until fall, when we can all – hopefully – reconvene at Pinebrook. But at the very least, advances in technology and flexibility on the part of pastors and delegates made it possible for necessary business to take place without everyone being at the same place at the same time … something William Gehman and our BFC forebears could probably never have imagined.