To the Members and Friends of the General Church and the Academy of the New Church,
I write to let you know that we have made the difficult decision to cancel the General Church Retreat 2020 and the Council of the Clergy meetings which were set to follow. The reason is the uncertainty and significant disruption caused by the current COVID-19 outbreak. The Retreat and the Clergy meetings were intended to draw New Church people from around the world. We had every expectation that both would be energy-inspiring and memorable. Given the situation we are all adjusting to, we simply do not believe that is now possible.
Permit me to share a few more things related to this decision.
Are we going to reschedule the Retreat? The answer is yes, but we have not yet decided on when. We will need time to process with Bryn Athyn entities and to get counsel more broadly on the best future date. We also believe it prudent to let some time pass to see what awaits us financially and otherwise on the other side of this crisis. Please know that the goodness of the event and the value of gathering are very much on the minds of those most involved in the planning. I myself look favorably on rescheduling the Retreat in the not-too-distant future.
What about those who have already registered? Many of you are aware that registration has been open for the Retreat since mid-February. In less than one month over 350 of you indicated you were planning to come. Sadly, in the space of the last week, registrations almost completely stopped—again because of the travel and health uncertainty we are all dealing with. For those of you who did register, please know that your fees will be returned in full.
Well-deserved gratitude. I would like to extend warm thanks to the many people who had stepped up to make this event possible. These include: main session organizers, over ninety workshop presenters, camp leaders for the different ages of the children’s program, musicians, vendors, and a highly capable planning team. Gratitude also goes to the Bryn Athyn congregation for their willingness to host and to Bryn Athyn College and the Academy Secondary Schools for their willingness to share their venues for this event. In addition, I thank the General Church Board for underwriting significant parts of the cost, to the schools who were willing to sponsor their employees to attend, and to the people who donated money so that others could attend. One thing we could say about the planning to date is that it has demonstrated in great ways that we can do an event like this. The energy from many people is there, and the capability is there. That bodes well for the future when we wind up the planning once again.
The underlying reason that it matters. I would like to close with a reflection on two things that inspired me most about the Retreat. On June 19, 1770 the Lord sent out the disciples. That signaled an official beginning of the New Church faith. Our aim was to commemorate that anniversary and underscore the reason we exist. While we will need to seek other ways to honor that anniversary, it is clear to me from the planning that happened that people are inspired by the goodness of the New Church faith. Equally inspiring to me is the possibility that we can serve as a General Church in ways that honor what the Lord set in motion back in the 1700s. The main sessions were gathered around the central reasons the church exists: opportunities to worship and connect with one another, ongoing means of learning from the Word, and consistent inspiration to put our faith into practice in authentically New Church ways. The Retreat planning has helped us focus attention on these core functions, and they will continue to drive our planning moving forward.The unpredictability of life always reminds us of our need to trust in the Lord’s providence. While sad to have to make this decision to cancel the Retreat and the Clergy Meetings this June, I look forward to seeing how that energy and trust manifests for good in the future.
Rt. Rev. Peter Buss Jr.
Executive Bishop, General Church
Chancellor, Academy of the New Church
Questions? Please email [email protected]