Yearly Cincinnati weekend attracts many from COG groups

By Dixon Cartwright

The organizer of an annual family weekend in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area said it was an ideal way for Church of God people to congregate.

"The Cincinnati Family Tournament was very successful," stated Jim O'Brien, pastor of the Cincinnati North congregation of the United Church of God, an International Association.

This the fourth year the local UCG has played host to a family tournament during the winter break. The event, which this winter ran Dec. 23-25, included a church service, Bible studies, seminars, basketball and volleyball games, ice-skating, roller-skating and swimming.

"This is a terrific event for people to congregate," Mr. O'Brien said.

He noted the high participation of young people and their families.

"When you look at about 1,500 people, that's 10 percent of the population of the United Church of God. But what's significant about this is that this is a high concentration of young adults and families with children."

He contrasted the makeup of the event with typical groups at the yearly Feast of Tabernacles.

"I've been at Feast sites where it was, shall we say, the Q-tip Feast site," he said. "You look out over the audience and see a bunch of white heads sticking up.

"That certainly has its advantages; it can be a very good thing. But there has been a missing dimension for young people, and I'm just amazed at people who will drive from so far to attend an event like this, not because we cook better food and not just to play basketball and volleyball.

He mentioned some remote areas.

"This year we were surprised by the far-flung areas from which people came. There was a member from Italy, one from South Africa and two young people from Guatemala, in addition to several who were here from Canada and a variety of states within the U.S."

Year-to-date increase

Attendance has increased each of the four years of the Cincinnati weekend.

"The first year we used 61 hotel rooms, the second we used 150, and last year we used 237 rooms. This year, for the first time, Kings Island Resort sold out of rooms and had to make arrangements with Holiday Inn Express to take the overflow. We filled the 260 rooms and arranged for another 20 to 25."

The Cincinnati pastor also noted that many families not associated with the United Church of God apparently felt comfortable attending the event.

"Last year I estimate that 20 percent of the attendees were non-UCG," he said. "This year I estimate the number of non-UCG attendees to be at 25 percent. We are pleased that they participated with us."

Friday-night activities

The activities began Friday, Dec. 22, with two Bible studies and activities for teenagers. Here are some of the activities and organizers:

  • Arnold Mendez Sr. of Corpus Christie, Texas, gave a Bible study titled "The Biblical Flood and Noah's Ark." Mr. Mendez holds a bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry and is working on his master's degree at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi, where he is an instructor.
  • Mark Winner gave a Bible study for young adults, "Choose Your Words Carefully." Mr. Winner pastors United congregations in Louisville and Henderson, Ky.
  • Teens participated in a "warm-up," said Mr. O'Brien, before heading for seminars.

"The teen warm-up was 35 to 40 minutes of upbeat Sabbath-type music coordinated by the Myers brothers [Dave of Akron, Ohio, Steve of Rochester, Minn., and Skip of Wisconsin]," said Mr. O'Brien.

Seminars for teenagers included:

  • Gary Antion of Cincinnati, Ohio, presenting "Is Dating a Lost Art?" Mr. Antion is a marriage and family therapist who works as coordinator for United's Ambassador Bible Center.
  • Todd Carey of Mechanicsville, Va., conducting "Am I the Only One Doing This?" Mr. Carey pastors United congregations in Greenwood, Del., and Williamsburg, Va.
  • Matt Fenchel of Cincinnati presenting "Is Marriage Dead?" Mr. Fenchel is assistant to United's president and council of elders.
  • Dave Myers giving "Preparing for Baptism." Mr. Myers pastors congregations in Akron and Youngstown, Ohio.

At 9 p.m. participants dined on pizza. "We gave 185 pizzas to the people following the studies and seminars on Friday night," said Mr. O'Brien. "People talked and socialized for hours."

A key to a successful family weekend, according to Mr. O'Brien, is to give those who attend choices of educational opportunities to sample.

"There have been many tournaments and lots of sermons through the years," he said, "but we offered an unusual opportunity by scheduling seminars simultaneously so members could choose a preference. A person is mentally invested when he chooses the topic he will hear. If we pick the topic for them and they have no options, there is much less interest."

Here is what happened at the seven Sabbath-morning seminars:

  • Rick Beam gave a seminar titled "Gifts, Grants, Gains, Loans and Losses." His session discussed serving in congregations. Mr. Beam pastors United churches in Huntsville, Ala., and Chattanooga, Tenn.
  • Bill Bradford presented "Christ's Life and Ministry" by discussing rulership in the Kingdom of God and examining how Jesus taught. Mr. Bradford pastors congregations in Oakland and San Jose, Calif.
  • John Elliott presented "The Roman World of Jesus and the Apostles." He discussed the birth of Jesus and the New Testament church in the context of archaeology, politics and religion. Mr. Elliott pastors Cincinnati East.
  • Fred Kellers delivered "For Husbands: How Jesus Would Take the Reins." He talked about Christian leadership in the home. Mr. Kellers pastors congregations in Nashville and Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Bowling Green, Ky.
  • LeeAnn Luker gave "A Helper by Design." Her seminar discussed the role of women. Mrs. Luker has conducted seminars for women in the U.S. Northwest, where she lives.
  • Gary Smith presented "Crime and Punishment," a biblical view of crime. Mr. Smith pastors congregations in Portsmouth, Ohio, and Prestonburg, Ky.
  • Julie Zutz delivered "Dealing with the Net Generation." She focused on the people ages 2-20. Miss Zutz holds a degree in business administration and software development and design from the University of St. Thomas (Minn.).

Special special music

Saturday afternoon the audience assembled for a church service.

"Instead of a sermonette, we had what we call a sermonette in song," said Mr. O'Brien.

"This included four pieces of special music."

The presenters were a young adults' ensemble, a children's choir, a vocal solo by Brian Damour of Mahomet, Ill., and a vocal solo by Heidi Hanisko of Cincinnati.

Dennis Luker of Bothell, Wash., delivered the sermon, "The Matter of the Heart."

Volleyball and basketball began in earnest Saturday night from 10 to midnight.

Good sports

"The sports complex had five courts," said Mr. O'Brien. "We used two courts for volleyball, two courts for basketball and one for children ages 3-6."

Mr. O'Brien said many people had the opportunity to participate, and they did.

"There were 30 mixed-adult volleyball teams, four boys' teams and 15 girls' teams," he said.

"There were 25 men's basketball teams, 15 boys' teams, eight girls' teams and some preteen basketball teams."

Volleyball and basketball squads played Sunday from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. and on Monday from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Mr. O'Brien reported organizing two dances for the weekend.

"A family dance occurred in the gym on Saturday evening from 7 to 10 p.m.," he said. "A live band performed."

Another took place Sunday evening.

"While some of the adults were participating in the sporting events, this dance was geared a little more for teenagers. The music was provided by CDs."

Mr. O'Brien mentioned some of the other opportunities available to the guests.

"There were 50 people who ice-skated and 20 people who roller-skated," he said. "Other people did skate-boarding and roller-blading. Of course, one of the favorite spots was the large indoor swimming pool."

At 2 p.m. Monday was an open house at the home office of the United Church of God in nearby Milford, Ohio.

Need to regulate

Mr. O'Brien related to The Journal a "funny thing that happened on the way to the family tournament."

"A group of kids came down here from another state," he said.

"One of the kids had started a Christmas-weekend ski-out several years ago with just his family and the minister, so the next year several other people joined with them, about 10 families in all.

"These people are all members of a Church of God with a headquarters and many congregations in several parts of the world."

Over the next couple of years several other people joined with the family in the "ski-out."

"Then about 100 people from all over the United States participated, and the next year they got a new minister.

"The new minister decided that this had become such a big thing that they needed to regulate everybody, and the participants all had to be members of this particular Church of God."

But "guess what happened," said Mr. O'Brien.

"The whole thing died.

"So, instead, this year all those kids came down here to a United Church of God function.

"What does that tell you?

"When we start trying to control people like that, we'd better not worry about whether we're Laodicea or Philadelphia. We'd better worry about whether we're Sardis. Are we dead?"

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