Brethren decide to ordain 'pastor' rather than 'minister' or 'elder'

By John Warren

TULSA, Okla.--The Church of God Tulsa Fellowship has a new pastor. On the Sabbath of April 21 the congregation ordained Ray Kurr of Mounds, Okla., to oversee the congregation.

Mike Smith of Tulsa, a member of the congregation for a year and a half, told The Journal that deciding to ordain Mr. Kurr, a 45-year-old native of The Bronx, N.Y., "just sort of happened."

No one planned it, he said, "but we were all talking about it."

He said members of the group of about 25 strong "all seemed to be thinking the same thing."

"It was not that we needed a pastor. It was more that Ray was already doing the job. It was more like God works in mysterious ways."

Once members of the group decided they wanted to ordain Mr. Kurr, Mr. Smith called Dave Havir, pastor of the Church of God Big Sandy (Texas), to "see what we would have to do," said Mr. Smith.

The Journal asked Mr. Smith why would the Tulsa brethren call the pastor of a Big Sandy congregation to seek advice on ordaining someone.

Mr. Smith replied that the Tulsa fellowship has a good working relationship with the Church of God Big Sandy.

"We tie in to Big Sandy church services by phone, so we feel a connection to Dave and Big Sandy," said Mr. Smith.

The Journal asked who ordained Mr. Kurr: Mr. Havir or the Tulsa congregation.

"Both," answered Mr. Smith. "We felt it is important to have the congregation involved in the laying on of hands. We felt it is the right way to do it, although I realize in a large congregation it may not be possible."

In the neighboring Tulsa Church of God, an independent congregation pastored by Lawrence Gregory, where Mr. Smith sometimes attends, the church board "did the ordaining," said Mr. Smith. "Here we are small enough that we all are the board."

Mr. Smith said the Tulsa members don't expect any major changes in congregational policy now that they have a pastor. "All that happened was that we recognized Ray for what he was already doing," Mr. Smith said.

Pastor to pastor

Mr. Havir talked about his involvement with the Tulsa ordination.

"They wanted me to come up and to participate in their recognition of Ray as their pastor," he said. "They wanted me to ask a blessing on Ray."

The Tulsa and Big Sandy groups have been "sister congregations" for a few years, Mr. Havir said, "and that relationship will continue. I think that is one reason they wanted me to be involved."

Mr. Havir described the ordination ceremony as 20 people, including himself, laying hands on Mr. Kurr while Mr. Havir "said the prayer."

The Journal noticed that Mr. Kurr was ordained as a "pastor" rather than "elder" or "minister" and asked Mr. Havir about that.

Mr. Havir said that, since members of the Tulsa group believe they are all "ministers," a word in Scripture they interpret as "servants," they should not single out one person as a "servant," since doing so might imply that no one else in the congregation is a servant.

They had the same problem with the word "elder." An elder, some of the Tulsa brethren point out, can be taken to be an older, mature person in the church. Ordaining someone as an "elder" could be taken to imply that no one else in the church is an elder.

"The difference between Ray and the rest of the congregation," said Mr. Havir, "is that he is the pastor, or overseer. So we asked God to bless him as pastor of the Church of God Tulsa Fellowship. It is more natural to call him a pastor because that is the function that he is fulfilling."

30-minute special music

The Sabbath of April 21 included Mr. Havir giving a sermon on the "unpardonable sin," followed by a special-music presentation that lasted about 30 minutes.

Just before the ordination ceremony, Mr. Havir led a discussion that included scriptures to show what a pastor does and does not do.

"I showed that a pastor does not get between members and Jesus Christ."

Included in the discussion was a reading from the autobiography of the founder of the Worldwide Church of God, Herbert Armstrong, to document Mr. Armstrong's ordination by a congregation.

"This was to show that this [Mr. Kurr's] ordination by the congregation was not such an odd thing," said Mr. Havir.

Helper of joy

Mr. Kurr and his wife, Pam (the former Pam Clement), have lived in the Tulsa area since 1977. They have four children, Brandi, 20, Bridget, 18, Brittney, 14, and Raymond, 13.

Mr. Kurr was baptized at the age of 18 while attending Ambassador College in Pasadena, Calif.

Mr. Kurr told how he learned that the congregation wanted him to be ordained. It all started with a need for someone to help conduct the Passover service this year.

This led the group to undertake a study to see if someone needed to have been "ordained" before he could properly conduct the service.

The congregation read scriptures about "diakonos, servant elders and so on," said Mr. Kurr.

Someone mentioned that Mr. Kurr was already performing those functions.

"That was quite humbling," Mr. Kurr said. "I put off the idea because I thought we had the perfect church: lots of food and no minister. Having been under the wrong type of leadership for many years callused me to the idea of becoming that which I did not respect."

On the other hand, said Mr. Kurr, for two years he had noticed that elders in some congregations are "good influences" on their brethren.

"It has been encouraging to see the real ministers helping the joy of others."

The Church of God Tulsa Fellowship follows three formats for church services. Some are traditional, formal meetings; some are interactive Bible studies; and others are telephone hookups with other congregations.

"One thing I always wanted for my family and myself was to be in a learning environment," said Mr. Kurr. "With our three formats we can tailor the service to an environment of learning."

Another priority for Mr. Kurr is the "use of the Holy Spirit," he said.

In other church groups Mr. Kurr has attended, a pastor had to grant permission for the general membership to do many things.

"As a pastor I have no intentions to behave in such an oppressive manner. If the Holy Spirit is moving you to benefit other churches with special music or take a group of friends of the congregation to help at the local shelter, just do it."

Interpersonally relating

The Journal asked Pastor Kurr how he planned to work with other COG groups in Tulsa.

He explained that the Tulsa fellowship already connects by Internet and phone to other congregations.

Because Mr. Kurr is the organizer of a choral group that travels to visit many church groups in five states, he already has an relationship with many other congregations, in Tulsa and elsewhere.

"We are just getting started," he said. "The sky's the limit."

When The Journal asked Mr. Kurr if he would allow the congregation to pay him a salary, he said he has "no desire to be a paid pastor."

"Our congregation is limited in funds, and I believe we can put them to better use helping those who need them and doing things that can benefit others," he said. "I thank God I have been blessed for many years with a successful business and a great family. Let's spread the wealth."

(The Kurrs have operated a window-cleaning business in the Tulsa area for 25 years.)

To contact the Tulsa Fellowship, which usually meets at 1 p.m. on the Sabbath, call (918) 827-4599.

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