Mr. Havir talks about meeting with two United Church of God - AIA reps;
BIG SANDY, Texas--Members of the United Church of God Big Sandy on May 14 began receiving a letter dated May 13 from Bob Dick, chairman of the council of elders of the United Church of God, an International Association.
The letter, postmarked May 13 in Tyler, Texas (although with the Arcadia return address), is an attempt to tell the United Church of God -AIA's side of the possible Big Sandy split to the Big Sandy brethren and encourage them to stick with the United Church of God -AIA.
The letter does not specifically mention pastor Dave Havir or the United Church of God -AIA's attempt to transfer him out of the area. It does, however, talk about the concept of churches with local boards and their association with a central church authority. The letter equates the Big Sandy situation with the circumstances in Birmingham, Ala., in 1995, before United Church of God -Birmingham broke away from the United Church of God -AIA.
On the previous evening, May 13, was the regularly scheduled weekly Bible study of the United Church of God Big Sandy. Mr. Havir's subject was prayer.
During the study Mr. Havir fielded a few questions, not as many as he had answered a week ago. But people were still wondering what might be the outcome of the United Church of God -AIA's efforts to transfer Mr. Havir to another area and of the United Church of God -AIA's policy on local boards and incorporation.
He announced that he was to meet in his home May 14 with two United Church of God -AIA representatives: Leon Walker of Big Sandy, a member of the council of elders; and Jim Franks of Houston, also a member of the council and a member of the ministerial-services department.
"I'm not sure what the meeting is going to entail," Mr. Havir said. "I'm certainly willing to listen and would like maybes someday to have the opportunity to talk to the entire council. If they [the two men] start asking questions of me, I think I'm going to say I would rather talk to the entire council so it's not filtered through just those two individuals."
Mr. Havir said he would like to hear the reasons for his suddenly scheduled transfer and have the opportunity to "defend myself."
Eleanor Roberts, sitting in the audience of about 50 people, asked what the next Sabbath would be like, in Mr. Havir's opinion. "Do you think there will be tension?"
"Until we get a little further down the road," he said, "we'll have some tensions, but I expect it mainly to be peaceful. From my point of view, I'm going to try to contribute to make it a positive service."
Mrs. Roberts commented that she had heard several people indulge in "bashing" the council of elders, but "we really need to feel love for everyone and pray for each other and keep it together, because we're all in the same boat."
Mr. Havir agreed that bashing is not in anyone's best interest. "It's easy to do when you're fired up," he said, "but hopefully everyone will just stay calm. To talk against each other is not the best thing to do."
David Fisher commented that "we can all still pray for a win-win situation, that they'll give us autonomy, yet let us associate with them."
Mr. Havir said that, in view of all the discussions about rules of association associated with the recent flap in Big Sandy, he decided to compose some informal rules of association for the Big Sandy church that he might later propose to the local board.
"Rule No. 1 is that we recognize that anyone who has the Spirit of God is of the Church of God, a spiritual organism."
Another of the rules on Mr. Havir's wish list is that "all guests would be welcome to fellowship and socialize with us. All Christians and all guests are welcome to participate together in service projects for the community."
Another rule concerns tithing. "We believe in the biblical principle of tithing. However, we also believe that each individual has the stewardship of where he sends his tithe, meaning that we would not say to anyone that you have to pay your tithes to us. People have to choose for themselves where they're going to send their tithes."
The last rule of Mr. Havir's proposed rules is that the congregation would "sponsor projects with others, we would share projects with others, and we should support projects with others."
"Maybe our rules and United Church of God -AIA's rules could somehow mesh," he said.
Letter to Big Sandy
The morning after Mr. Havir's Bible study, the Big Sandy brethren began receiving their copies of Mr. Dick's letter. Begining at 1 p.m. Mr. Havir met in his home with the two United Church of God -AIA representatives for four and one-half hours. The Journal plans soon to interview Mr. Havir and post information about the meeting on this Web site.
Here is the complete text of Mr. Dick's letter (all subheads are in the original letter):
* * *
United Church of God
an International Association
P.O. Box 661780
Arcadia, California 91066-1780
Les McCullough, President
Bob Dick, Chairman of the Council of Elders
* * *
May 13, 1998
* * *
The purpose of this letter is to apprise you of the situation that has developed regarding the governance of the congregation of the United Church of God in Big Sandy. It covers the historical perspective leading to the current situation along with a discussion of the Rules of Association.
The status of the congregation with regard to its relationship to the United Church of God, an International Association, (United Church of God IA) has not been clearly understood by many, perhaps even by most, in the congregation. It is important that all members understand as fully as possible the situation facing them, and the implications of the decisions they must make regarding the future of the Big Sandy congregation.
In brief, the local church is incorporated as a Texas corporation with its own governing board. The corporation and board consist of seven members with the pastor serving as the chairman. They view themselves as an independent church that has merely chosen to affiliate with United Church of God IA. The local board states that it is under the Constitution of United Church of God IA, since the Constitution deals principally with ecclesiastical matters. However, the local corporation has its own Bylaws and does not recognize the authority of United Church of God IA Bylaws.
A similar situation to the one in Big Sandy developed in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1995. The Transitional Board of Directors of United Church of God IA was forced to make a decision regarding the status of the Birmingham congregation, thereby setting a precedent with respect to the status of local congregations within each nation in United Church of God IA.
The situation that developed in Birmingham stemmed from discussions that began in Indianapolis concerning how United Church of God IA would be structured. One member of the Transitional Board, Ray Wooten, who also served as the pastor of the Birmingham congregation, consistently argued for a structure that allowed for an association of independent and locally governed churches. This structure would have reduced the role of the central office and administration to service functions only.
This type of structure would have had far reaching implications. Under this formation, the Board (later the Council of Elders) would have had no authority to govern any local congregations. Moreover, under such a plan, it would be difficult to coordinate a unified effort for preaching the gospel and feeding the flock. Also, it would be difficult to provide resources for the development of the ministry, and the education of the youth and membership of the Church.
To understand the approach of United Church of God IA toward governance, we must return to Indianapolis in the spring of 1995. Upon arriving in Indianapolis, it became clear that there was much agreement on the major issues, even though only limited discussions had taken place to that point in time. The following thoughts reflect the consensus of those present:
Our discussions in Indianapolis centered around how we could work together, and not how we could be independent or separate, which was foreign to us.
It is a matter of record that, after a presentation by Ray Wooten which encouraged a more autonomous role, Dennis Luker stood up and publicly denounced the idea. The presentation given by Mr. Wooten during the Indianapolis meetings has given rise to a number of ideas which were not a part of the planning in April 1995. Unfortunately, some in Indianapolis left with a more independent view and equated local boards, local collection of tithes, and local corporations as the encouragement for locally autonomous congregations. This was never the view of the vast majority of the group which attended the Indianapolis meetings.
The Transitional Board, which was established in Indianapolis, consistently maintained the position of a central authority when controversy arose during the months following the conference. As a result of questions which were addressed to the board in the summer of 1995, a statement was issued in August from Denver, Colorado. This statement was adopted unanimously by the entire nine member Transitional Board:
"We affirm that Jesus Christ is the living head of the Church, and that He sets apart some for the service of the ministry. The ministry, organized as a conference of elders to serve the needs of the local membership, being led by the Holy Spirit, chooses from amongst its numbers a governing board of directors whom God has demonstrated have the fruits consistent with senior leadership positions.
"The general conference of elders recognizes the board of directors under the leadership of Jesus Christ to provide direction and oversight in the affairs of the Church according to its established bylaws, including but not limited to the areas of doctrine, ministerial duties and responsibilities, the preaching of the gospel, and financial management.
"The governing board in turn elects a chairman and appoints a president. Each is accountable to the board. The chairman nominates officers of the board, subject to the approval of the board. The president nominates operations managers, subject to the approval of the board, for the functioning of a home office. The home office is responsible for the administration of the policies and procedures established by the board for the day-to-day management and care of the Church.
"We recognize that each local congregation is guided and shepherded by a pastor, assisted by elders, deacons, and others constituting advisory committees and/or boards governed by published rules of association. The local congregations work in conjunction with the board of directors and the home office in carrying out the policies and procedures that have been established by the board. Local congregations work together with the ministry in serving and caring for the needs of the Church and its membership and being an example in the community."
The situation in Birmingham became acute with some members requesting full relationship with United Church of God IA, and not some loose confederation. Finally, on September 16, 1995, a "Formal Statement Regarding Fellowship And Affiliation" was published in the local congregation by the Birmingham pastor and the local board. Here are some quotes from this document:
"It is important to note that the United Church of God-Birmingham is a separate corporate entity established to serve a spiritual ministry. It is not now under the governance of any other corporate entity, nor does it plan to be so governed in the future.
"It is our desire at this time to remain affiliated with the United Church of God, an International Association[,] after the December conference. But the ministry supported by the United Church of God-Birmingham supports the concept of an International Association which serves locally administered congregations but does not govern them.
"We have recently come to sees that a few are under the impression that we are now or soon will be under the governance of the United Church of God, an International Association. This is not so.
"Those who don't wish to worship in this way or oppose this kind of worship should be reminded that everyone is here voluntarily. No one is coerced into this fellowship. If one does not agree with this form of worship then the best thing for that person would simply be to leave.
"If anyone continues to display open disagreement and hostility or if one continues to secretly try to convince others against this form of worship, then that person will be asked to leave."
It was after the distribution of this document in September 1995 that a local congregation for the United Church of God, an International Association, was established in Birmingham to serve the needs of those who desired a full relationship with United Church of God IA. The Transitional Board did not agree with the concept of loose affiliation among congregations in the US, nor has it ever agreed with this concept.
Rules of Association
Some in Big Sandy have stated that they have been waiting on the Rules of Association, which would determine how the local congregation should "associate" with United Church of God IA.
A proposed set of Rules of Association was recently sent to the ministry for their review and input. However, it should be understood that any Rules of Association that are adopted cannot be in conflict with the Constitution and Bylaws. Therefore, all congregations are required to abide by the Constitution and Bylaws. The Council also must govern according to the Constitution and Bylaws that were ratified by the General Conference of Elders.
Although Rules of Association were discussed in Denver, in August 1995, as having a place in local congregations, by October 1995, when drafts of the Constitution and Bylaws were being organized, the idea of Rules of Association was almost exclusively applied to international areas. It was understood that the Constitution and Bylaws would provide the framework for the organization. Any Rules of Association would be subservient to the Constitution and Bylaws. A draft of proposed Rules of Association was actually circulated among the ministry in December of 1995, immediately after the Cincinnati conference. This document was incomplete and was circulated for the purpose of getting input. The current draft, which has been sent to the ministry, reflects that input.
It was also during the Cincinnati conference that a delegation of international ministers requested a change in the Constitution to clarify the role of a national council. The original document contained no reference to national councils. To address these concerns, an emergency meeting of the Transitional Board was convened the evening before the official ballot in Cincinnati. The result of this meeting was the inclusion of Article 18.104.22.168 in the Constitution under the title "National Councils":
"A council or board that is established to meet the requirements for legal recognition of the United Church of God, an International Association, or serve the administrative needs of the Church in nations other than the United States of America, are national councils. The national councils shall conduct themselves in accordance with the scripture, this Constitution, their local bylaws, the rules of association and applicable law."
The name selected for the organization in Indianapolis was United Church of God, an International Association. There was no intent to have a "national association" but an international one. Congregations within each nation are expected to respond to their national council. Of course, in the US there is no national council. The management team from the Home Office is entrusted with the day-to-day responsibility of the US ministry and the congregations within the US. This is consistent with the structure as outlined in the Constitution and Bylaws. Any Rules of Association will have to correspond to these existing documents.
Since the conference in Cincinnati and the adoption of the Constitution and Bylaws, questions and concerns have come up from time to time regarding governance and local congregations. It has always been made clear, by the Council and the Home Office management team, that the idea of independent, loosely affiliated congregations was not the consensus of those gathered in Indianapolis, nor is it consistent with the Constitution and Bylaws of the United Church of God, an International Association. In our short history we have consistently confirmed our belief in a central authority within the Church. The Rules of Association will reflect this understanding and will hopefully bring closure to the questions that have arisen on this topic.
The Current Situation
It is our belief that most of us assumed that the Big Sandy congregation was fully a part of United Church of God IA, not just affiliated with it. It is obvious, from the question and answer session last Sabbath, that several in the congregation do not wish to be fully a part of United Church of God IA, but rather wish to be either a totally independent congregation, or an independent congregation only associated or affiliated with United Church of God IA. At the same time, others clearly do not wish to be a part of a congregation independent of United Church of God IA.
The decision regarding which way you decide to go will have far-reaching consequences for all concerned. We do not wish to make spiritual judgments concerning the decision you make. We believe that there are spirit-led Christians in other organizations. This is not the time for vocal minorities (or majorities) to be making accusations and judgments concerning who is responsible for these decisions. There are always two sides to every equation. No matter what happens, no matter what decisions are made, let us act peacefully and not apportion blame. Let us make our decisions and determine to live as Christians one with another.
Perhaps one could say that United Church of God IA should make an exception to its governing documents and permit the Big Sandy corporation to associate with United Church of God IA without being under its governing documents. We believe that such an exception would set a far reaching precedent that would seriously jeopardize the integrity of United Church of God IA. And, as we have previously explained, a precedent has already been established. As deeply as the Council desires to see unity in the Big Sandy congregation, it must consider the unity and well-being of all the congregations of United Church of God IA.
Some feel that there are three alternatives for local congregations:
It is important that all realize that the third alternative is not an option under the Constitution and Bylaws of United Church of God IA. The Constitution has no provision for independent local congregations merely affiliated with, or associated with United Church of God IA. Therefore, if congregations do not wish to be fully a part of United Church of God IA and wish to have any kind of independent status, they must realize that an associated or affiliated status will not be recognized by United Church of God IA.
It is clear that the membership of the Big Sandy congregation will choose between the two alternatives available. It is important that everyone consider carefully and prayerfully the choice they will make and the implications of their choice. These are some of the implications for each alternative:
To be fully a part of United Church of God IA means:
To be totally independent means:
It is the earnest hope of the Council of Elders that the membership in Big Sandy will choose to remain fully a part of United Church of God IA. At the same time we understand that some may not choose to do so. This is sad and we regret very much that some do not wish to be fully a part of United Church of God IA. However, we respect the wishes of all concerned. While we regret the possible departure of some from United Church of God IA, as stated earlier, we in no way condemn them nor do we consider them to be anything but our brothers in the faith. We hope that whatever the outcome of this situation is, it will be done peacefully and that we remain friends and brethren.
At the same time we want to assure you that United Church of God IA is fully committed to serving the needs of the brethren in the Big Sandy area who choose to be fully associated with us. May God be with all of us as we hope and pray for a peaceful resolution to this situation.
The Journal has posted the complete text of the proposed rules of association on this Web site.
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God