Toledo congregation leaves United; Detroit affected
By Linda Moll Smith
After a May 15 letter to the United Church of God council of elders asking council members to request the resignations of employees of the Arcadia home office who have "refused to uphold the constitution and bylaws of the church," UCG pastor Ron Weinland resigned, with the support of many members from his church areas in Toledo, Ohio, and Detroit, Mich.
Mr. Weinland sent a resignation letter via E-mail to the council, with copies to Richard Pinelli (director of the UCG ministry) and Lyle Welty (pastor at Cleveland, Ohio) and announced his resignation to the Toledo congregation after delivering a sermon about peace during Sabbath services there May 24.
In the letter he addressed what he saw as problems of stewardship, accounting and accountability on the part of the UCG home-office leadership and the ministry, reprising a Dec. 27 letter he had sent to the UCG general conference of elders.
"In that letter," Mr. Weinland said, "I only hoped to draw attention to some very serious problems that were being smoothed over, justified, minimized or simply ignored. The most serious issue was that of the disappearance of reserves, through mismanagement, careless stewardship, and/or presumptuous assumption of authority above that allowed by the [UCG] constitution and bylaws."
He said he was "horrified" by accounting figures that projected the UCG would have only about $1 million in reserves, when there was supposed to be more than $5 million in reserves by March 31. He said he learned his projections were off, because the church did not have even $1 million in reserves by that time.
Mr. Weinland said that, "to many, this kind of stewardship and accounting was unconscionable. But where was the outcry? Where was the decisive leadership that should have taken swift action with those who put the church in such a precarious position?"
He said his hopes for United were rekindled by a January meeting of the council of elders when the council took some measures to place more controls over the handling of finances. He was again encouraged by the Louisville, Ky., conference in March.
"That hope has been shattered several times since Louisville," he said.
He said that, in a E-mail message to the council of elders May 15 he gave reasons that the treasurer and president should resign or be asked by the council to step down.
"I explained at the end of my sermon that, in order for the church to grow we needed an environment of peace, not dysfunction," Mr. Weinland said in a phone interview with THE JOURNAL May 26. "I told the brethren that I didn't want to see them have to go through any more upheaval, and I felt I would be replaced as pastor by the UCG soon, so I went ahead and resigned."
Mr. Weinland said he had nearly full support from the membership in Toledo, with 70 out of the 75 members there saying they want to continue as a separately incorporated congregation with him as pastor.
"We will just continue with services as we have locally," Mr. Weinland said. "We have been incorporated from before the time that United was formed, so this won't really present much of a change, except now that we are now longer associated with the UCG-AIA we will be banking our tithes for the time being. We hope that if another organization develops we could give them to them as a shot in the arm."
Mr. Weinland said he met with brethren from the Detroit church he pastored May 27 in an informal forum to discuss members' ideas and proposals for the future of that congregation.
"I'll know better how to serve them once I've heard their thoughts," said Mr. Weinland.
After that meeting, Mr. Weinland said, "it looks like about 80 percent will remain with UCG."
He said the Detroit church had remained separately incorporated from its beginning several months before the formation of the UCG in Indianapolis, Ind., in May 1995.
"We have a desire to wait and see if others will follow suit. It's obvious from the posts on the elders' [E-mail] forum that there are two different mind-sets in the ministry, with maybe a few in between.
"Maybe there will be another split and another Indy. It's a sobering thing because we don't know exactly what God has in mind for us. He is still teaching us, and apparently we are still learning some lessons.
"I'm feeling more peaceful than I have in a long time, but I'm apprehensive about the church as a whole and my churches in particular. That's why I went ahead and resigned early; I wanted to save them more grief."
In his May 15 letter to the council, Mr. Weinland cited three incidents since the general conference of elders in Louisville that he says would warrant a change in UCG main-office leadership.
"I will mention three matters," he wrote: "The March 28 letter [to the membership asking for financial support for a television pilot program] from [council chairman] Bob Dick and [church president] David Hulme was a slap in the face to both the general conference of elders and the council of elders.
"Edwin Stepp's recent sermon of April 26 sent out to the churches and David Hulme's silence over such a divisive sermon.
"And the latest news of the presentation of legal documents to the council of elders which seek to overturn the balloting process at Louisville."
Mr. Weinland said of the third matter: "The very fact that this has been presented to the council is enough to make many in God's church simply leave United."
He said he is "requesting the resignation or removal of our president and treasurer and anyone else who has actively supported their divisive efforts. Please don't misinterpret this letter. There is not the slightest bitterness or anger in what I am saying. I am totally at peace in what I am requesting and only desire to see United find peace."
Mr. Hulme did not return repeated phone calls from THE JOURNAL.
Doug Horchak, a member of the council of elders who works with ministerial services, said that Mr. Weinland's letter "did not say anything new. His perspective was that he could not continue to support UCG in good conscience.
"I feel bad about the fact that it's come to this. I didn't know Ron was going to resign. I don't want to comment on anything that may reflect negatively on Ron."