Church's donations down, but elders say they're optimistic about CGI's prospects
By Dixon Cartwright
DOGWOOD CITY, Texas--Leaders of the Church of God International exuded optimism June 13 and 14 during the first churchwide elders' conference since the split of January 1998. The division resulted when the CGI's ministerial council and board of directors relieved church founder Garner Ted Armstrong of his duties, prompting him to begin the Intercontinental Church of God.
CGI officials are quick to point out that Mr. Armstrong wasn't the only founder of the CGI. Benny Sharp and Guy Carnes, both of the Tyler, Texas, area, were also founders and are still members of the church.
Early during the kickoff session Sabbath morning, June 13, longtime elder Ben Chapman of Provo, Utah, said he believes the CGI is "doing a work that God is pleased with." The more Mr. Chapman works with the CGI, he said, the more he feels "a spirit of elation and happiness."
Charles Groce of Tyler, a member of the board of directors, ministerial council and executive committee, says the fact that the CGI is doing as well as it is after its troubles of recent years testifies to the "divine intervention of Jesus Christ."
"We don't look doomed to me," he told the 30-some elders and 60 other people present for the conference.
The CGI, since its founding in 1978, has undergone three major splits. The first was in 1995, when elder Ron Dart resigned and formed Christian Educational Ministries. The second was in early 1996, when about 40 elders left and formed independent congregations, most of which are loosely associated as the Churches of God Outreach Ministries. The third occurred in January 1998 at the time of Mr. Armstrong's departure.
The CGI has about 1,200 members in at least six countries: America, Australia, Canada, Jamaica, the Philippines and the United Kingdom.
Mr. Groce announced the publication of a new booklet and a new correspondence course. The booklet is Is Jesus Really God?, by CGI elder Ian Boyne of Kingston, Jamaica, and is based on an essay Mr. Boyne wrote for the Dec. 31, 1998, issue of The Journal as part of this newspaper's recent series on the nature of Jesus.
The CGI's correspondence course is the brainchild of elder Loren Chamberlain of Seaside, Calif., who on his own initiative began writing installments of the course, then sending them to the church's home office here on the north shore of Lake Palestine (pronounced Palesteen), 15 miles south of Tyler.
Mr. Chamberlain was sitting at home "just pecking away at his computer," Mr. Groce explained. "The next thing you know he had all these lessons to send to us here in Tyler. And, voila, here's the Church of God International Home Bible Study Course. Do you know how much work that took?"
The course deals with repentance, baptism, conversion, the Holy Spirit, the festivals and other Bible subjects.
Mr. Groce noted that Bill Watson, an elder from Cleveland, Ohio, has compiled and edited a new CGI hymnal. The songbook includes several pieces by Dwight Armstrong, brother of the founder of the Worldwide Church of God, but other hymns as well.
Mr. Groce was making the point that much of "the work" can be accomplished out in the field and doesn't have to take place at church headquarters.
"With the Spirit of Christ, you can be empowered to do a work," he said. "You don't have to wait on us . . . Our ministry, as well as our congregations, is more active and involved in teaching and preaching to the public, as far as I know, than ever before."
Mr. Groce also noted that elders Richard Williams of Lexington, Ky., and Ken Register of Springfield, Mo., recently conducted baptizing tours. Mr. Register's was a 6,000-mile trek through western parts of Canada and the United States, ending in Southern California.
"You [the elders] have been equipped to do a good work," said Mr. Groce. "We need to find ways not to suppress you or limit you."
Mr. Groce introduced board member and home-office employee Benny Sharp of Tyler.
The board, said Mr. Groce, recently rewrote the constitution and bylaws of the Church of God International. The new governing documents, he said, address issues such as partiality and nepotism.
"Everyone will be treated alike," he said. "There will be parity. I don't know if you like that or not, but I think it's pretty exciting."
Changes in the documents include removal of language pertaining to the "divine appointment" of church leaders, church spokesman Eric Morris told The Journal after the conference.
Another change in the CGI involves its principal publications. Armor of God newsletter has been discontinued, and the church's newspaper, The International News, has expanded. Besides news, now it includes doctrinal and inspirational essays by elders and other members. Six new booklets also recently appeared.
Mr. Groce spoke of the church's television and radio broadcasts, both called Armor of God. The response from viewers and listeners over the past year had been down, he said. But the trend, he believes, has bottomed out, and listener statistics are on the rise.
The responses to the TV program are more than 480 per weekend, he said. "That's 35 percent on a given weekend of people who call in who have never called before. They have no attachment to Garner Ted Armstrong. They have an attachment to you, the Church of God International, because--and let me tell you something, folks--this building belongs to who? You. It belongs to our members out there. The focus here is not on any individual; it's on a collective work."
When new people write to the church nowadays, Mr. Groce said, they don't know who to write to. They say "Dear CGI" or sometimes "Dear brothers and sisters in Christ." They do not focus on one church leader and think of him as the CGI.
"It's been a pretty tough couple of years," he said. "You have all hung in there for us, and I want to express my deepest gratitude to you."
Presentations after a brief recess included business manager Benny Sharp talking about finances.
"We really appreciate everybody hanging in and supporting us financially," he said. "We finished up last year at [an income of] $1,995,000, which I would say was really good when you consider we were predicted to come to nothing. Our income has continued to decline, but we have made adjustments. We have let numerous employees go, but we've kept our expenses below what our income is. We've come down to where the income is averaging about $34,000 per week. It's slid from about $60,000 Jan. 1, but for the last six weeks it's been pretty stable."
The Church of God International employs 15 people at its home office. That's also the total number of employees worldwide. CGI pastors are not employees of the church.
"That's down from somewhere around 35 back in 1995," Mr. Morris later told The Journal.
During the conference Mr. Sharp mentioned that the discontinuing of the newsletter and the reinstitution of sending out coworker letters that offer new literature have contributed to stabilizing the church's income.
"Last month," he said, "our mail flow had dropped to about 2,200 pieces per week. As of this last week it has risen to about 2,600. The ship's still floating. We have to bail a bucket out every once in a while, but it's still going."
Mr. Sharp announced that Gayle Freeman, who assisted him for years in the business office, has terminal cancer and will not return to work.
"I would appreciate your prayers for her . . . This has really been a setback for us: . . . somebody of her character who has served so faithfully."
Questions and answers
Next Mr. Chapman invited questions from the audience. Mr. Watson asked how much money a week does the CGI need to break even.
Mr. Sharp replied that $37,000 breaks even, and "we're averaging about $34,000 now." But, with $300,000 in reserves and by implementing cost-cutting measures, he is optimistic about the CGI's long-term prospects.
Vance Stinson, who works out of the Tyler office, reported on the church's editorial activities.
"It was already mentioned that we canceled the newsletter," he said, "but it was also mentioned that we're endeavoring to publish The International News much more often than we have in the past . . . Our plan is to publish it at least quarterly."
The newsletter was for "new people," whereas the newspaper is geared to church-member readers.
"At the same time, there's no need to hide these things from the rest of the world," he said. "This old school of thought that it might be too meaty for people has proved to be a false concept."
Mr. Stinson mentioned the names of several elders who write for CGI publications. He cited Ian Boyne of Kingston, Jamaica, who wasn't in attendance at the conference because he doesn't like to fly.
Mr. James mentioned a "ministerial manual" the ministerial council is writing. It will standardize procedures for weddings, funerals and the Passover service.
An audience member asked about radio broadcasting. Mr. James said that radio, to be effective, needs to broadcast five times a week. Television, in his opinion, is more effective. The CGI still broadcasts over a few radio stations, but its major broadcasting commitment centers on television.
Recently the CGI began making use of its own in-house television studios, said Mr. James. The church months ago had switched to videotaping its broadcast in a commercial studio in Tyler to save money. But now production is back home on the church's property, which makes for more flexibility and opportunities to edit the program when necessary.
After presentations and discussions led by elders, Noni McVey of Carmel, Calif., reported on her efforts to design a Sabbath-school program for church youths and a Bible correspondence course for teenagers. The Journal plans to publish an interview with Mrs. McVey and her husband, Dana, in a future issue.
The Journal asked Mr. Morris about the church's governing bodies.
The CGI is governed by a board of directors, ministerial council and executive committee, he said. The bodies operate in tandem. The board's responsibility includes business and corporate decisions. The council handles ecclesiastical matters including ministerial credentialing and decisions affecting the elders and church doctrine.
The board consists of Guy Carnes, Tyler; Carl Fritts, Bella Vista, Ark.; Charles Groce (chairman), Tyler; Bronson James, Tyler; Skip Martin, Pocahontas, Ark.; Benny Sharp, Tyler; and James Throgmorton, Pocahontas.
The council includes Loren Chamberlain, Monterey, Calif.; Ben Chapman (chairman), Provo, Utah; Mr. Groce; Mr. James; Ken Register, Springfield, Mo.; Vance Stinson, Tyler; Bob Tackett, Salt Lick, Ky.; and Mr. Throgmorton.
Running day-to-day operations of the CGI is its executive committee, which consists of board and council members Mr. Carnes, Mr. Groce, Mr. Sharp and Mr. Stinson.
Mr. Morris explained to The Journal that the executive committee operates in lieu of a president or chairman so that no one person is perceived by anybody as the leader of the church. The office of president, said Mr. Morris, was permanently vacated in 1995.
The CGI plans Feast of Tabernacles observances this fall at Panama City Beach, Fla.; Land Between the Lakes, Ky.; Wagoner, Okla.; Bass Lake, Calif. (a new site for 1999 near Yosemite National Park); Ballina, New South Wales, Australia; Buckhorn, Ont., Canada; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; Manila, Philippines; Naga City, Philippines; and Stranraer, Scotland. The CGI, along with most other Churches of God, will observe the Feast of Tabernacles this year Sept. 24 through Oct. 2.
Among those attending the conference (most, but not all, elders and wives) were the following:
Robert and Pansy Alcorn, Waterloo, Iowa; Hal and Vicky Bryant, Nashville, Tenn.; Orville and Kitty Bumgardner, Prestonsburg, Ky.; Darren Cary, Tyler; Lloyd Cary, Toledo, Ohio; Dwight and Freda Cavis, Houston, Texas; Loren and Paddy Chamberlain, Carmel, Calif.; Ben Chapman, Salt Lake City, Utah; John Coish, Kitchener, Ont., Canada; Daniel DeJarnette, Springfield, Mo.
Also, Nancy DeJarnette, Springfield; Frank and Dorothy Denman, Indianapolis, Ind.; Jim French, Ottawa, Ont., Canada; Carl Fritts, Fayetteville, Ark.; Charles and Betsy Groce, Tyler; Wayne Hendrix, Columbus, Ohio; Bronson and Myra James, Tyler; Mike James, Gaithersburg, Md.; Leland and Loretta Jasper, London, Ont., Canada; Gene Josephsen, Chicago, Ill.; Tom and Barbara Kauffung, Middletown, Ohio; Roger King, High Point. N.C.; Clint Mahoney, Montgomery Ala.
Also, Larry and Jayne Mccoy, Shreveport, La.; Elbert and Leona Mclaughlin, Shreveport; Dana and Noni McVey, Carmel, Calif.; Eric Morris, Tyler; Marilyn Myers, Springfield, Mo.; Robert Pereira, London, Ont., Canada; James and Carol Pollitte, Fort Thomas, Ky.; Fred and Vivian Redd, Houston; Ken and Betty Register, Springfield, Mo.; Billy Richardson, Memphis, Tenn.; Sharon Richardson, Memphis; Benny and Nora Sharp, Tyler.
Also, Larry Sharp, Lakeland, Fla.; Vance and Theresa Stinson, Tyler; Bob Swimm, Fort Thomas, Ky.; Bob and Geneva Tackett, Louisville, Ky.; James and Cindy Throgmorton, Pocahontas, Ark.; Ferrell and Barbara Vincent, Louisville; Bill Watson, Akron, Ohio; Richard and Ruth Williams, Louisville; Paul Teeters, Middletown, Ohio; Bobby and Anne Whitt, Indianapolis; Johnny Woodard, Shreveport; Marvin Wyke, Memphis.
Write the CGI at P.O. Box 2525, Tyler, Texas 75710, U.S.A., or email@example.com. Visit the CGI on the Web at www.cgi.org.
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