The 2021 FGC Gathering “Way Will Open” will be held online, June 27 – July 3, and not in person. Central Committee, FGC’s governing body, has approved the recommendation of FGC’s Long Range Conference Planning Committee for the 2021 FGC Gathering to be held virtually. While we were hoping to be in person for the next Gathering, we do not foresee a way that we can safely be in person in Radford, VA by June of 2021, with the critical number of attenders we would need for a viable Gathering. Making this decision now will support the 2021 Gathering Committee and staff plan for a vibrant Virtual Gathering for 2021, and grow from our learnings from our successful Virtual Gathering this past summer.
At the 2020 Virtual Gathering, we had over 1,000 Friends attend! We heard from many that the Gathering was a highlight of their summer, it exceeded their expectations, and had resonance long after the event. This past summer we had more than double the attendance than we expected. With a clear decision now to hold the Gathering online, we have more time to plan an event that has increased capacity for participants. One example is that we hope to offer more workshops (FYI - we are accepting workshop proposals until November 1!)
We hear a deep desire from many Gathering attenders for more opportunities to connect with each other – particularly via informal social time and the ability to share contact information with one another. The Gathering Committee and staff are already planning ways to expand what is possible at the 2021 Gathering.
Why we are deciding now
Reliable resources indicate that it will not be safe to gather in-person in large groups, with people traveling in from across the continent, next June. We have volunteers who are medical professionals tracking Covid research and vaccine development. Listening to their advice as well as CDC guidelines, we do not believe it will be safe to hold the Gathering in-person until there is widespread vaccination, and that is unlikely by June 2021.
Up until now, both staff and volunteers have been doing double work trying to plan for both an in-person Gathering and a Virtual Gathering so that we’ll be on track with planning when a decision is made. Making the decision now to go virtual means that volunteers and staff can focus on planning for a week-long online event, building on what we learned from this past summer, and developing new offerings. Additionally, we have encountered a number of program leaders who are not able to commit to offering an evening program or workshop until they know for sure how the Gathering will be held. Now we are able to give clarity to these leaders, and we can confirm our major programs by this winter. We are planning to send an Advance Program out about the Virtual Gathering in early spring to let Friends far and wide know about the program we are offering.
For the last month at least, staff as well as many volunteers have felt that it would be impossible to safely hold an in-person Gathering. Being clear about the decision and plan lets us do our work with integrity.
Why we are not attempting a small in-person or hybrid Gathering for 2021
The intention is for the Gathering to have a break-even budget. This means funds raised through Gathering registration fees and Gathering-specific donations cover not only university site costs, workgrant, and scholarships, but also staff time and the program’s share of office space and other fixed organizational costs.
We would need at least 1,000 people to attend an in-person Gathering in 2021 in order to break-even. We do not think that will be a realistic or safe number of participants by June. Additionally, running both an in-person Gathering and Virtual Gathering simultaneously would not be feasible based on our current staff capacity. While we dearly wish to be at the Gathering in person with you, we are putting that on hold for another year.
For the 2020 Virtual Gathering we did not try for a break-even budget, as we could not predict how many Friends would attend a Virtual Gathering. Knowing now that there are many Friends who will attend a Virtual Gathering, and having more time to develop a richer program, means we feel more confident about getting close to closing the budget gap.
How the program will be planned & how to learn more
The 2021 Gathering Committee, in collaboration with staff, will continue with planning the Virtual Gathering – evening programs, workshops, youth programs, worship, and more. We will have more information about the program of the Gathering over the winter on the Gathering website. We expect registration for the Virtual Gathering will open mid-April 2021.