WMU hosts event online; groups gather to watch
By David Dawson
FRANKLIN — This year’s WMU Get-Together & Connection featured a significant change in venue.
Instead of gathering in Gatlinburg, as attendees have traditionally done since the 1990s, this year’s event was held in homes, churches and various other meeting places across the state.
For safety reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Get-Together & Connection — which is normally a three-day conference — was presented as an online event that was streamed to registered participants on March 20.
Groups and individuals can still register to watch the event at www.accelevents.com/e/GetTogetherConnection. Registration is open through the end of April, and all program content videos are available through the end of June. The registration fee is $35.
The event, which had to be canceled last year because of the pandemic, has been an anticipated gathering for women and girls around the state for decades.
The digital version of the conference featured many of the event’s traditional components, including the annual Missions Fair and Silent Auction, along with a series of worship sessions and breakout sessions.
“Since we had to cancel the event last year — and knowing we couldn’t have an in-person gathering in Gatlinburg this year — it was very important for us to find a way to offer some type of virtual experience,” said Vickie Anderson, executive director and treasurer for Tennessee WMU.
Streaming of the event started at 8 a.m. on March 20, and the opening worship session began at 8:30 a.m. Additional worship sessions were held at 11 a.m., and at 12:30 p.m.
Courtney Veasey and Ashley Anderton were the featured speakers during the worship sessions, and Jonathan and Emily Martin, a Nashville-based praise duo, were the worship leaders.
The conference’s annual business meeting, which includes the election of officers, will be held at a later date.
Anderson said this year’s conference was informative and inspirational.
And although the overall number of viewers for the conference is difficult to calculate — with some homes and churches having multiple “watchers” at one site or at different times — the initial numbers indicate that the event was well received.
Anderson noted nearly 500 people, representing over 175 churches, registered for the conference.
There were an additional 60-plus individuals who were directly involved with the event as program personnel and exhibitors.
Get-Together & Connection drew more than 375 viewers on the day it was originally streamed, and those numbers will continue to climb in the days ahead (since the conference remains available for watching). Many of those who have watched the video provided comments to the WMU staff.
Anderson noted that having the event online enabled many to watch who would not have been able to attend in person: “We heard from many women this year who were able to attend Get-Together for the first time because they have never been able to make it to Gatlinburg for the event,” Anderson said.
Anderson said she and her team have been encouraged by the positive feedback they have received, and said she was especially excited to hear about the churches who hosted “gatherings” — some that had 20 or more — to watch the conference.
“While we all longed to be able to be together in Gatlinburg, it was very encouraging and exciting for us to have so many embrace this new and very different way to have the event,” she said.
Anderson said the change in formats, from an in-person gathering to a digital event, was at times challenging for the Get-Together & Connection planning team, which included Denise Bronaugh, Kim Cruse, Jacki Holleman, Gracyn Kestner, Tiffany Roy, Scott Shepherd, Veasey and Anderton.
But Anderson said she was pleased with the online production, and said that she and her staff learned some new elements that will add to the effectiveness and impact of Get-Together & Connection in the coming years.
Next year, Get-Together & Connection will be held as two separate events. Get-Together is scheduled for April 1-3 at the Gatlinburg Convention Center. The dates and location for Connection have not yet been announced.
Anderson said the future events will include digital streaming in some capacity.
“We are excited about being able to gather together for these events next year, but we will also look at how we can offer a virtual option to them as well,” she said.
Anderson said she and her staff learned a variety of new skills, including the process of recording and editing videos, along with learning “how to use the online platform and to help others use and navigate it.”
There were also key decisions to be made from the administrative side, including deciding what the registration fee would be, and how to collect items for an online event ministry project, she said.
But through it all, the focus of the conference remained true to its tradition.
“Almost every aspect of the event was different for us this year … but the key elements that remained the same and guided us were hearing from missionaries, Bible study, worship and breakout sessions that inspire, equip, and challenge,” Anderson said.
NOTE: Each year, Get-Together & Connection provides support for a specific ministry project, with this year’s emphasis being on the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes. Offerings given during the conference were used to help the TBCH purchase items from an Amazon Wish List to help provide for the basic daily needs for the children. B&R