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In-Person Conferences: They’re BACK!!!

In-person Conferences Again!

By Mary P. Walker, Petrus Blog Contributor & Local Charity Board Member

In-Person Conferences: They’re BACK!!!

For over a year, we’ve zoomed our way through classes, conferences and special events. I have two fundraising lunches and a state convention on my calendar in the next month. In-person events are BACK! And, masking for the vaccinated is no longer recommended!

Yet, we’ve been conditioned over the last year to keep our distance and cover our faces. Do you automatically add some distance when you walk past somebody? I do. We’ve all changed our behaviors, AND made judgments about: (1) how people are over or under reacting to the risk of disease; (2) the response of our civil authorities to the disease; (3) the response of our Church and ministry programs; and (4) our personal levels of risk tolerance.

With the Petrus Conference just around the corner, and the three in-person events on my calendar in the next month, how are these dynamics going to play out?


The 50% Rule

My experience at conferences is that 50% of the value comes from the content and presentations. When knowledgeable, passionate people share their education, insight and experiences, you WILL learn. Your creative brain muscle engages, fueled by energy and ideas. This works better and is more fun “in person,” but the pandemic has taught us that we can adapt.

The other 50% of the value comes from the informal interactions, lunch conversations, time in the pub, reconnecting with old friends, and making some new ones. In other words, 50% of the value comes from your fellow attendees through informal, and often unstructured settings. And, although we have adapted and done the best we could in a virtual world, EVERYBODY I talk to has missed this in-person interaction over the last year—even introverts like me!

So, how do we get this experience back? I’ve thought about this over the last week. I live in Texas, a state that has been relatively open during the pandemic. Shelter-in-place and mandated business closings were minimized. In-person school has been in session, at least as an option, for most of this school year. Vaccination rollout was pretty quick. In-person meetings and gatherings have taken place in a socially distant way, with folks moving closer together and unmasking as the vaccination rolls out. Where I live, many who are vaccinated consider themselves to be free of restrictions. Many, but certainly not all, mask up to make others feel comfortable.

Last week, I traveled to Pennsylvania and New York, and it was like stepping back in time. Mandated restrictions were in force. There was much more caution and tentativeness in the air. People on the streets were masking, even if they were walking by themselves—something I rarely see in Texas. Schools were either virtual or “somewhat” open in-person, on certain days. Restaurants were trying to hire; some still offered takeout only.


So, with upcoming in-person events, with people gathering from all over the country, and with different vaccination situations, experiences of mandated restrictions, and levels of risk tolerance, how do we achieve the 50% of the benefit at our in-person events? Here are a few things to consider.


  • Before you go—decide what level of personal interaction (and proximity) you are comfortable with. Will you hug and shake hands? Will you sit at a table with others, vaccinated or not, masked or not? Are you willing to tell others your vaccination status or ask them theirs’? And, whatever you decide, what does this mean for personal interaction?

Back in my high school days, a teacher, trying to help us make good moral decisions, said, “Decide before you go on a date what your behavior will be. In the throes of passion—that’s not the time to decide.”

When you haven’t been in the same room with a beloved colleague for over a year and she runs to hug you in her excitement, your stress level will be lower if you have decided ahead of time how to respond. You will also be more comfortable gently and politely asserting your boundaries if you’ve thought about them ahead of time.


  • Be polite, courteous and open. Suspend judgment about the risk tolerance of others. If you don’t want to receive a hug, that’s okay. If your hug is declined, that’s okay too—it’s probably not personal! We can practice Christian charity, which teaches us to accept the differences and comfort levels of each other.


  • Offer grace to those who are helping to make the event possible. The hospitality industry, that is, restaurants, hotels, airlines, venues, etc., has taken the brunt of the economic impact. Respect the boundaries the civil authorities place on them. They have been closed for extended periods, lost experienced staff, and are out of practice. I was at a diner in Pittsburgh last week. The cook, server and manager (only employees) were working valiantly to take care of the customers. They did not get everything right, and who could under those circumstances? This is a time to show our Christian charity to those who are trying so hard to bring us together! There WILL be glitches.


  • Finally, be patient. Know that EVERYBODY is excited to be back together, even with limitations on our personal interactions. Let’s focus on what we CAN do. Just over a year ago, a large scale in-person event was too risky for even the most risk tolerant. While we aren’t back to “normal,” we’ve come a long way.


Remember the children’s song, “The More We Get Together, the Happier We’ll Be!” This happiness can be found through planning, openness, patience, courtesy and charity.


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