Conference focuses on urgency; council answers questions about president's term
By Dixon Cartwright
CINCINNATI, Ohio--"The Urgency of the Times" was the theme of the seventh meeting of the general conference of elders of the United Church of God: urgency to preach the gospel to the world, to carry out Jesus' commission as stated and implied in Matthew 24 and 28.
The unofficial themes, as judged by sermons and other speeches and exhortations during the meetings, included congregational and personal evangelism and "servant leadership."
Elders also, during two question-and-answer sessions with the 12 members of the council of elders, wanted to know why the council had recently decided to confirm Les McCullough's tenure as president for only one more year. The Q&A sessions, which at times grew emotional and even heated, were not mentioned in the church's official printed report to the general membership of the United Church of God.
Also at this year's conference, the elders elected a new member to the 12-man council. Clyde Kilough of Antelope, Calif., replaced Burk McNair of San Antonio, Texas, who had declined to seek another three-year term.
Although the official conference lasted only a few hours on Sunday, May 6, for many people it began the Sabbath of May 5. Elders and their wives and members of nearby congregations met for Sabbath services in the same auditorium in the Holiday Inn Eastgate that would serve for conference meetings Saturday night through Monday evening, May 7.
Two members of the 12-member council of elders, which the 400-member general conference elects to run the day-to-day affairs of the church, delivered sermons during the Sabbath service.
Gary Antion of Cincinnati spoke first, on being "our brother's keeper." Then Don Ward of Hawkins, Texas, delivered a sermon titled "The Prescription for Such a Time as This," about Jesus' Olivet prophecy.
You've got questions?
Meetings conducted specifically for the conference delegates began Saturday night with a question-and-answer session. Elders sat in the audience and queried council members, who sat in chairs on a stage at the front of the hall.
The Q&A differed from those of conferences in recent years in that the questioners were allowed to ask spontaneous oral questions from the floor. Last year questioners had to write up their queries in advance. The council members would read and then answer them.
This year's Q&A split into two parts. The first was Saturday night with half the council participating. The second Q&A was Sunday night, with the other half of the 12-member council fielding questions. One council member sat in on both sessions: Roy Holladay of Hawkins, Texas, chairman of the council.
During the first Q&A, sitting on stage were (in the order of their seating) Mr. Antion; Mario Seiglie of Santiago, Chile; Mr. Holladay; Dr. Ward; Mr. McCullough; and Burk McNair.
David Blue, elder from Boise, Idaho, was the first man to walk to the microphone. Mr. Blue identified himself as an elder who is not on the church's payroll.
"I'm concerned," he said, "about the pay grades for the employed elders." He suggested the church raise pastors' pay.
Mr. McCullough responded: "This is a very volatile subject."
Some elders and other church members are in favor of pay raises for the elders, said Mr. McCullough. But others think they already make too much.
"Reaching a balance is very, very difficult," and "there are no plans at this time for any pay increases this year."
Some church members, he said, "get very upset about it and feel there is far too much money going out for salaries and so on, so we have to keep a right balance."
Process of amending
Roc Corbett, elder from Big Fork, Mont., suggested that the church implement a procedure to ensure that elders' suggestions for amendments to the church's constitution and bylaws would have a better chance of being implemented.
Dan Salcedo of Anaheim, Calif., asked questions about music. He suggested the church publish a hymnal with more songs in it.
"There's a need for much more music in our songbook," he said.
Mr. Holladay replied that the council plans to study "what does the Bible say about music?"
Mr. McCullough mentioned that two weeks before the conference someone in the Worldwide Church of God asked him, as UCG president, if the UCG would be interested in acquiring possession of 20,000 copies of the Worldwide Church of God's 1993 hymnal.
Mr. McCullough said the reaction from United elders when he has brought up the possibility of acquiring the WCG songbooks has been generally negative.
"But I'm hoping that that is an entree where I could go back and see if we could get a carte blanche on the rest of Dwight's songs [hymns whose music was written by Dwight Armstrong, brother of WCG founder Herbert Armstrong].
"Since the offer was made to me personally by an individual that I've known very well for a large number of years, I will contact him again and ask from that point of view and ask if he could speed Mr. Helge up in taking care of those things."
(Ralph Helge is director of the WCG's legal department at church headquarters in Pasadena, Calif.)
Joel Meeker, elder from O'Fallon, Mo., directed a question to President McCullough.
"I wanted to ask Mr. McCullough if during the recent reconfirmation hearings, or a meeting that took place, if it was your desire to only serve one year or if you would have preferred to serve the full three-year term."
Mr. Meeker's question related to the fact that the council met recently in "executive" (closed) session to determine whether to reconfirm Mr. McCullough as president after his term expired. (See "UCG President, Council Agree to One More Year," The Journal, March 30.)
Mr. Meeker also asked about the meaning of the wording of the bylaw that governs the terms of the president and the other two officers of the corporation (secretary and treasurer).
The relevant wording in Section 9.1 of the bylaws reads: "At the regularly scheduled Council meeting just prior to the anniversary of each third year of service for each officer, the Council must reaffirm, with at least a simple majority, the continuance of each officer on an individual basis. If an officer is not so affirmed, he must step down effective on the date specified by the Council majority, and a replacement approved as soon as possible."
Mr. Meeker said his reading of the bylaw meant to him that the president must be reconfirmed for a three-year term, not just for one year.
Mr. McCullough answered Mr. Meeker's first question: "I have to honestly say, no, my preference would have been to serve another two or three years. The council made a decision. I will say that I certainly support the council. I support the decision. It may not be what I would like, or it may not be what I would want, but it is their decision to make."
Mr. McCullough said he prefers not to see "a whole lot of fuss" about the council's decision to reconfirm him for only another year. But, "since you asked the question, no, I would have preferred to serve longer."
He also said the council has "the prerogative to ask me to serve longer if they choose in the future."
Mr. Meeker then stated he would still like to hear the answer to his second question: about whether the bylaw allows for reconfirmation for only one year.
Mr. Holladay explained that the council "has responsibility, as I think we know, for appointing all of the officers of the corporation . . . We felt that we wanted a smooth transition, continuity, and Les has agreed to that. This was a joint decision that came from the council and Les. To say too much more than that would be getting into executive sessions and things that you can't really get into."
'We cannot divulge'
John Bald, elder from Corpus Christi, Texas, apologized for belaboring the point and inquiring about matters with which the council had dealt in executive session, "but we are the individuals who will have to take this information home and explain it."
Mr. Bald said he would find it helpful to know more about why the council chose not to reconfirm Mr. McCullough as president for three more years.
"We have no information on why this came about," said Mr. Bald, "and we're now faced with the task of explaining it and dealing with it, and it is not going to be an easy task."
Mr. Holladay replied: "Well, John, I don't know too much more to say than the fact that I think it has been explained."
Mr. Holladay acknowledged a "misunderstanding" about the bylaw's wording.
"The amendment does not say that there is a three-year term. The amendment just states that after three years of service" the council must reaffirm an officer's standing. "In fact, we were very careful how we crafted that statement, because if you imply a term then you can imply a contract . . . It was just simply a matter that after three years of service they could be renewed or reconfirmed."
Mr. Antion commented, as chairman of the council's ethics committee, that "for us to say too much more to you would mean we would be saying more than we should be saying to you . . . For us to tell you everything that goes on in executive session would be wrong and would violate confidentiality."
Mr. Antion said it is the general conference's responsibility to elect the 12 council members, but it is the 12 council members' responsibility to "oversee the church."
"We then select a president and officers to help us in the council." The president then selects and nominates his staff on the operations level. Then the council decides whether to approve the president's nominations.
Mr. Antion said the council members based their recent decision on an "evaluation" they discussed in executive session.
"Now, if your churches have a problem with you saying there's going to be a smooth transition from one president to another, then what organization have we been a part of, because those are the rules by which the church is set up? So what you're asking is what we cannot divulge."
If elders of the general conference are "trying to read more into it or do more with it," said Mr. Antion, "then you have to answer for that . . . Either you say you trust the council . . . or, the next time they come around, then vote us off."
Next at the microphone was Larry Roybal, elder from Mexico City, who commented that "respect demands respect also. We're also ministers, and we also deserve respect."
Mr. Roybal said that, the way council members were explaining the decision to reconfirm Mr. McCullough for one year, one would think the decision was unanimous.
But "I feel that it was not unanimous . . . I hear that he [Mr. McCullough] is too old. But I hear by the mouth of Mr. Holladay and [in] the international meetings . . . that he was doing, not a good job, but an excellent job."
When Mr. McCullough assumed the presidency, said Mr. Roybal, "we were in debt $300,000 or more. He brought the church around, and now we have a surplus. He's respected and loved, and [in] a lot of international areas it's important to see someone standing up for the truth."
Mr. McCullough, said Mr. Roybal, has expertise working with the international areas of the church's operations.
Since the council has said Mr. McCullough has done an "excellent" job, said Mr. Roybal, "we ask what are the reasons that he was not reinstated or not reconfirmed." But, instead of the council revealing its reasons, "all I hear is that you cannot break confidentiality."
Mr. Roybal continued: "We have to trust the council. That's what we heard in Worldwide: We have to trust the man that God put there . . . But what is [Mr. McCullough] doing that is so wrong? I think we deserve that, as ministers and members. I think we deserve a reason . . . We judge a man by the fruits. Are the fruits not there?"
Mr. Antion responded: "I will tell you I cannot tell you that, because to tell you that we cannot--"
Mr. Roybal interrupted Mr. Antion: "Mr. Antion, [please state] your own opinion, because at least five members of the council voted no. I'd like to know the reasons."
Mr. Antion: "I cannot tell you because--again--"
Mr. Roybal: "Mr. Antion, that creates suspicion. If you cannot give me a reason that's strong enough and heavy enough, that creates suspicion. Are you as a council to allow me--? My imagination is worse than you could ever imagine."
Mr. Antion: "Let me ask you a question, Larry. Have you not said anything to this point [to the brethren back in Mexico]? . . . Did you read Mr. McCullough's letter to everybody? What spin did you put on it?"
Mr. Roybal: "I said let's wait until we go to the general conference of elders. I said let me go back and represent you and ask what you're asking me . . . I said I do not know . . . Now, are you going to permit people to have their imaginations go wild? . . .
"You're taking a president that's doing a good job in the eyes of the whole church around the world, and you take him off and you don't give a reason. The people are going to shoot us down and say, 'You see, we told you' . . . I go back and say: 'I don't know. I can't tell you because it was in executive session.' "
Mr. Antion: "Now you're being sarcastic."
Mr. Roybal: "I don't mean to be sarcastic."
Mr. Antion: "I asked you the question: Did you read the letter [sent out by Mr. McCullough] two months ago?"
Mr. Roybal: "Mr. Walker [Leon Walker, council member and the UCG's director of Spanish-speaking operations] said bring it up to the meeting and ask for some answers. I don't mean to be sarcastic, but give me some reasons."
Mr. Antion: "I told you I cannot do that because I told you that that was part of the process of executive session. If I tell you a little bit, I give you only a partial picture."
Mr. Roybal drew an analogy between the situation with Mr. McCullough and the situation with United's former president, David Hulme, in 1998, when the council fired him but would divulge no reasons for doing so. (See "Why Would Council of Elders of United Remove David Hulme From Presidency?," The Journal, Jan. 30, 1998.)
Removal is understandable "if someone is doing a bad job, like Mr. Hulme," said Mr. Roybal, "but when a man is doing a good job and they take him off, then that opens the door of speculation for people to think there's something else--and maybe there's a valid reason, maybe there's a legitimate reason. Why cannot we hear a legitimate reason?"
Mr. Antion replied: "I would say this: I don't tell you what time to have your services in Mexico City. I don't tell you which deacon to appoint or what to do in that area. I don't. You have to say [to the members back home in Mexico] that the council is responsible for appointing the officers. The council is responsible for reconfirming the officers. [You can say that] I don't know the reason why because I haven't been told; that is not my responsibility; it is their responsibility, and if they've done wrong they will all suffer for it."
Mr. Antion said it was not the responsibility of the elders of the general conference to "make the decisions of the council. You select us to make the decision, right? And there are times when we cannot say why. That's why we go into an executive session."
Mr. Antion said the decision to reconfirm Mr. McCullough for one year came after a 10-1-1 vote; that is, 10 to confirm him for one year, one abstention and one who did not vote.
"Mr. McCullough was the one who abstained," said Mr. Antion. "Then one other didn't ballot at all."
(Mr. Antion did not explain the difference between abstaining and not voting.)
The vote in executive session, said Mr. Antion, "was not something that was done in a corner."
Mr. Roybal replied that he accepts Mr. Antion's explanation. "And we back up the council. I'm not fighting with you. I just wanted to know reasons."
But "if I can't know reasons I'll have to deal with the congregations. If it becomes a problem, it becomes a problem. I have to face [the members], and for me it's a little stressful to be told we can't be told. We're open people, and we speak of the truth. If the truth can't be spoken, it causes problems. That's fine. It's okay. I'll accept it for now."
GCE executive session
Dr. Ward commented: "One thing [to consider] is we have a newspaper reporter here tonight reporting on this meeting." Dr. Ward was referring to this writer for The Journal. "If we were to really go into something like this as maybe you're suggesting . . . the general conference of elders would have to go into executive session . . ."
Dr. Ward said that to say or imply that the whole United Church of God is "up in arms" about the council's decision concerning Mr. McCullough is not "an accurate reflection, especially in the United States," although "it might be in Mexico."
Dr. Ward said that, if the church transferred him from his pastorate in Ruston, La., to another church area, no one would suggest that he had done something wrong, and he would not expect the Ruston congregation to rise up and say, "We don't want him transferred, and we want to know why."
Even if the Ruston members did ask why the church wanted to transfer Dr. Ward, he would hesitate to tell them.
"I probably wouldn't want them to know why," he said. "Nearly all of us have been transferred unceremoniously from time to time . . .
"Now, I don't want my faults and mistakes and evaluations aired before the whole church. I don't think Mr. McCullough wants his evaluations aired before the whole church. And so it goes. And what else can you say?"
Mr. Holladay said he understands the cultural background involved in Mr. Roybal's situation of pastoring churches in Mexico.
But, explained Mr. Holladay, United members should not assume, because in the Worldwide Church of God a top church official might be removed or reassigned under traumatic circumstances, that such is the case in the United Church of God.
"In other words, the implication that the only reason that sometimes a man might change a job is because somehow he's blown it . . . is simply not true. I was a regional pastor until about three years ago. I don't think I blew the job of regional pastor. If I did, Richard [Pinelli, director of ministerial services] hasn't mentioned it to me."
Mr. Holladay said the term "president" in the UCG is perhaps not the best name for the job.
"The job is the chief operational officer for the U.S. corporation," he said. "The only reason the term president is used is simply for a legal means for certain documents that had to be signed, as opposed to describing a duty. The duty is the chief operational officer."
An officer may be doing a good job, he said, but, if the council of elders concludes someone else could be more effective, "this amendment [of the bylaws] facilitates such a change without a stigma being placed on any officer."
Mr. Holladay referred to another change of duties last year, when Bob Dick, council member from Portland, Ore., stepped down as chairman and Mr. Holladay replaced him. (Mr. Dick is still a member of the council.)
Mr. Holladay, as chairman of the council, outranks Mr. McCullough as president, since the president serves at the pleasure of the council, although both men serve on the council.
Wording of a bylaw
Mr. Meeker again addressed the council members about Mr. McCullough's situation. He was not asking for details of an executive session, he said. His question again concerned the interpretation of the wording of Section 9.1 of the bylaws.
"My reading of the amendment was that the officers were to be confirmed, and I believe the term is . . . every third year, which seems to indicate that reconfirmation comes up every three years, not in between those times.
"My question is on what part of our documents did the council base its decision to be able to allow itself to set another arbitrary term of service outside of what the document allows, which is every third year?"
The council apparently "arbitrarily chose a figure," continued Mr. Meeker, "and decided it was going to be one year . . . I just want to understand the reasoning."
Dr. Ward responded that he did not have a copy of the bylaw in front of him, but he found it interesting that some were interpreting the bylaw in a way different from the council's understanding of it.
Someone handed Dr. Ward a copy of the bylaw, and he read it.
"To me it's surely implied," he said, that the council can decide on any term of office for an officer but that the council must evaluate an officer after three years.
"There is nothing [in the wording] that specifies the term," said Dr. Ward. "I can see that it's implied that every third year, that one could read it that way, but it doesn't specify [every third year] . . . The council came to the conclusion that the term was not specified."
A member of the general conference or the council could "bring forth" an amendment that would clarify the wording, Dr. Ward said.
Next at the microphone was Saul Langarica of Guatemala City, Guatemala. He said he had been inspired by Dr. Ward's sermon during Sabbath services several hours earlier, about "being merciful and being loving to everybody."
Mr. Langarica said he agreed that the council was within its rights in its interpretation of the bylaws, and it was within its rights in reconfirming Mr. McCullough as president for only one more year.
"You are right, legally speaking, according to the constitution, no problem," he said. "But what about what you said this morning about loving service?"
When the elders travel back to their home congregations and must explain to the brethren about the "removal" of the president, "what are we going to say to the little ones?" asked Mr. Langarica. "Where is the loving service? Should we be so practical and forget about the little ones? That's very worrying to us."
The brethren back home understood, Mr. Langarica said, when they heard about Mr. Hulme's removal in 1998, "because he wasn't doing a good job."
"But now what are we going to say? . . . If the president can be removed, what about us as ministers? Do we have any value to the church? I would like to have a comment. I understand that according to the constitution you did the right thing. But what about the loving service?"
Mr. Antion replied: "So what you're asking is if a person says, 'I want to stay,' do we have to let them stay because that's loving service?"
Mr. Antion explained to Mr. Langarica the importance of the way Mr. Langarica and other elders would explain the council's decision back in their home areas. If the pastors explain the situation in a positive way, they will help expedite the peaceful transition from one president to another. Mr. Antion recommended pointing out to the brethren that United does not employ "one-man rule."
Mr. Langarica commented that removing one president and installing another does not contribute to "stability in the church."
"It is not the same to remove a president as to remove a minister," he said.
"I have explained to the members that I am being transferred to Chile because there is a need in Chile. The members understand that. But to remove a president just because you decided to do so, that's not right. It's just not right because we need more stability. He's the chief officer of the corporation."
Mr. Antion: "You keep saying that we removed. There's a huge difference between removing and not reconfirming. Removal you do because you feel the person has not done a job. To not reconfirm would mean something else. There is a difference, and again we've said Les McCullough has done a good job . . . You're implying we're moving him for some bad reason."
Mr. Antion asked Mr. Langarica if he thought the church had been destabilized when the council changed chairmen last year.
"Did I hear a fuss from anybody?" Mr. Antion asked.
Dr. Ward commented that the bylaws mandate that the officers, including the president, must be reaffirmed if they are to continue in office.
He said that the implication that the council is acting capriciously in the Les McCullough matter could be taken to mean the council does not have the best interests of the church at heart.
But, said Dr. Ward, "he was reaffirmed for another year, as he wrote in [a recent] letter. To make the judgment apart from knowing all the facts that they did it without love, care, concern and thorough discussion would also be a mistake."
Mario Seiglie, council member from Santiago, Chile, said from his chair on stage that all United elders accept that at times they will be "evaluated."
"I think as pastors many times we've had to tell the brethren, 'Brethren, I can't tell you why it was done, but you're going to have to wait and see the fruits' . . . That's part of leadership. You have to be concerned. You've counted the cost, and the council did count the cost. They did not do this in a frivolous way; it was not for flimsy reasons."
If the council made a bad decision, said Mr. Seiglie, "we will see the fruits."
Mr. Seiglie told his fellow Latin Americans that he supports "every one of these men [on the council] in saying that they are serving and they did not do this because of any special hidden reason."
Sometimes serving God means having to make difficult and unpopular decisions, said Mr. Seiglie.
"We're willing to be responsible and accountable for what has happened. We want your backing, and we want your patience in seeing how God develops this."
The half-full glass
Roc Corbett approached the microphone and said he would like to comment on the situation from a slightly different perspective.
"I do appreciate the sensibilities of some, especially our Latin American brethren, because there's a cultural difference in the way things are perceived."
But look at it this way, advised Mr. Corbett: "Les has done such a good job and is held in such high esteem that he has been asked, in this case, or allowed, to continue on as president for another year, to see through some major projects. We look at that ... as an honor to him, and it comes across in that way--very, very positive. So it was surprising to me to learn that it was viewed otherwise."
Mr. Corbett also said Mr. McCullough is like a father to many of the elders.
Change the subject
Wayne Dunlap of McKinleyville, Calif., stepped up to the mike and thanked the council for entertaining a "vigorous and open discussion" about the presidency. Not to change the subject, he said, but somebody needs to discuss the church's music.
"Has anyone ever given a thought to having a nondenominational hymnal?" he asked.
If United published a hymnal with "Church of God" on the cover rather than "United Church of God," perhaps other Churches of God could use it as well, thus promoting unity among the scattered brethren.
Mr. Dunlap also asked about the progress of negotiations between the UCG and the Church of God a Christian Fellowship (CGCF) of Fort Worth, Texas. The UCG and CGCF have had several meetings and in some cases have even exchanged pulpits for sermons in a move that is seen by some as leading to an eventual merger of the two church organizations.
Mr. Holladay responded to Mr. Dunlap that, no, the thought of a nondenominational Church of God hymnal had never occurred to him, and that United and the CGCF have hit it off in their meetings and reconciliation efforts.
"We realize that we have the common background," said Mr. Holladay. "We recognize that they had God's Spirit. We understood that they were seeking the same thing we were."
The next item on the agenda in the UCG-CGCF negotiations is to work through some concerns on the CGCF's part about some UCG doctrines.
"We're going to try to work through those as quickly as possible," said Mr. Holladay, "to eliminate any possible hindrance. If there is anything that we disagree on, can we work it out, and if we can't does it really matter?"
Braden Veller, elder from Tampa, Fla., suggested to council members that they become better known to the brethren in general by featuring themselves on videotapes that go out to Feast of Tabernacles sites each year.
"Maybe feature bits and pieces of council-of-elders meetings," he said, "reaffirming to people worldwide who the leadership is."
Mr. Veller also suggested the church increase its "mileage reimbursement," the sum it pays to elders for the miles they drive while serving the church.
Mr. Holladay replied that the church already pays the maximum allowed by the Internal Revenue Service.
The meeting adjourned Saturday night, and the delegates reassembled again the morning of Sunday, May 6, for a report from Richard Pinelli, director of ministerial services.
Mr. Pinelli talked about Zerubbabel and Zerubbabel's temple, drawing an analogy between the ancient temple of God and the United Church of God.
He expressed gratitude for the efforts of the pastors and other elders and their wives. They have "done a marvelous job over the past six years," he said.
He noted that functions that in the old WCG that were invariably handled by headquarters personnel are carried out by field personnel in the UCG: elders, wives and others in the church areas.
"All kinds of talents and abilities come out among individuals," he said. "Many have taken up the slack made by our salaried ministers being spread so thin that more of your time and energy has had to go into serving God's people than ever before."
Mr. Pinelli announced that 335 UCG elders serve 332 congregations in the United States.
He also noted an "85 percent decrease in complaints and problems" since the founding of United. "I think that shows us that the primary credit should go to the ministry for the job they have done: their hard work and their dedication to God's people."
Although in the past few years the church reduced some paid elders to half-salary status, now everybody is back on full salary, said Mr. Pinelli, except for one man on three-quarters pay who prefers that arrangement.
He addressed the question of whether elders can serve effectively as pastors while drawing only a partial salary and working at an outside job.
"We believe that in most cases the answer is no," he said.
He noted that ministerial services transferred nine elders in 2000 and implemented 18 "circuit changes," and the church hopes to hire three new pastors in the coming year.
He talked of evaluations of pastors, even by their congregations, although "we don't want the congregation being put in the place of a critic or judge."
United has 98 elders in the field ministry, down from a high of 125 sometime within the last six years.
"Health, etc., has contributed to a steady attrition in the field ministry."
He announced an effort on behalf of the church to "encourage" the wives of elders.
"We're excited about exploring the Scriptures regarding the role of women in history and in the early church. We realize there is a remarkable contribution that wives have made to the ministry."
The church is taking a survey, Mr. Pinelli said, of ministerial wives. The ladies are asked to log in to a special section of the church's Web site and key in their responses to several questions.
Mr. Pinelli announced growth in attendance figures for the United Church of God. On a recent annual feast day 12,258 people attended, a figure that represents an increase of 855 people compared with the same day last year.
"We don't know where they all came from," he said. "We've had 159 baptisms since last year at this time, and we recognize that some people have moved away from keeping the holy days but came to Passover with us."
A "tremendous number" of new people are Sabbatarians making contact with the UCG who had never been a part of any of the Churches of God.
"Almost 200 every month from Sabbatarian groups and new groups are beginning to contact the Church of God," said Mr. Pinelli. He said "Church of God," but he apparently meant the United Church of God.
Mr. Pinelli announced the results of a job-satisfaction survey of the United ministry. Here is a summary of the results:
North of the border
In the next part of the meetings, Mr. Holladay announced that some of the visitors from non-U.S. areas would make oral reports in front of the assembled elders. This year the delegates heard from six international areas. Last year a similar number, from different areas, reported.
Rainer Salomaa of Prince George, B.C., Canada, chairman of the Canadian national council, reported first.
Gary Antion, he said, started United's fledgling office in Toronto, Ont., in 1995, the year of the founding of United. Mr. Antion had one part-time employee and worked out of a 500-square-foot office. The Canadian office at that time employed three elders for all of Canada.
At a meeting in Calgary, Alta., in January 1996, the Canadian ministry and a few others--28 people in all--met and chose Tony Wasilkoff of Calgary as the first chairman of the council.
Now Canada has 17 credentialed elders, including Paul Luecke, whose address is Bismarck, N.D., but who helps out in the Canadian city of Winnipeg, Man.
Canada has 23 congregations and video groups. The Canadian subscription list for The Good News, United's magazine, stands at 11,642.
The Canadian budget is about $1.1 million, including a subsidy from the U.S. operation.
The Canadian church uses the UCG's constitution but has written its own set of bylaws, said Mr. Salomaa.
"We have on our council five full-time ministers, two nonsalaried elders and two laypeople."
As evidence that the council members know how to cooperate, a medical doctor and a chiropractor peacefully coexist on the council, Mr. Salomaa said.
One of the laypeople on the council is a female, the wife of an elder. Mr. Wasilkoff is operations manager.
Average Sabbath-service attendance in Canada is about 500. On the first day of Unleavened Bread this year, the congregations conducted services for 636 people.
"We have personal evangelism" including a "waiting-room program" and mailings in packets of coupons sent out by third-party mailers, said Mr. Salomaa.
Reporting from the Bahamas was Kingsley Mather of Nassau, Bahamas.
"It's quite a blessing to see the growth that God has given us over the past six years," said Mr. Mather. "Jesus Christ gave a commission to the church: Preach the gospel to the world, and prepare the bride. The council of elders reconfirmed that mandate for the coming years."
United in the Caribbean serves 12 countries. "They may be small, yet they're independent entities and separate nations," he said.
The United members in the Caribbean have used newspaper advertising, in Trinidad and the Bahamas, to build the subscription list of The Good News.
Before the Worldwide Church of God fell apart, said Mr. Mather, the WCG in Trinidad was one of the largest COG congregations in the world, with about 1,000 members.
"We don't have a congregation today," he reported, "but we do have two members in Trinidad."
Good News circulation in Trinidad stands at 253.
"This may seem small," he said, "but consider that five years ago we had zilch; we had no circulation."
Congregations in the Caribbean also distribute the magazine on newsstands. Members distribute copies of The Good News in businesses and on street corners.
"Currently we have a newsstand program of 3,365 magazines each issue."
Along with subscribers who receive the magazine through the mail, Good News circulation totals about 5,775 in the region.
On the island of Barbados a church member who is also a radio announcer is recording spot advertisements to promote The Good News and church booklets.
"We plan to test those ads in Barbados, St. Lucia and possibly other islands in the region," said Mr. Mather.
Mr. Mather also serves the South American country of Guyana, where he hopes to operate three small Feast of Tabernacles sites this October.
"In January we took possession of a very small office in Nassau," he said. The facility in the Bahamian capital is employed for Sabbath services, because "meeting in a hotel was becoming much of a problem."
"We also have an outreach program. Last year I made contact with the CGCF [Church of God a Christian Fellowship] pastor in Jamaica. I had him to lunch and to dinner. Every time I have gone to Jamaica, we have made contact."
Bias against nonecumenical groups
Carmelo Anastasi of Milan, Italy, reported on the Italian operation of the United Church of God.
Traveling with Mr. Anastasi from Italy to America was another elder, Angelo Di Vita of Catania, Italy. Mr. Di Vita doesn't speak English, so during most of the presentations in the conference Mr. Anastasi and Mr. Di Vita sat in the back of the meeting room while Mr. Anastasi translated the presentations into Italian for his fellow elder.
Mr. Anastasi described a country in which all politicians must gain the approval of the Vatican, a nation in which religious ministries are constantly spied upon and where immorality, including homosexual practices, are on the increase.
A sign of the times is "homosexual singers singing for the pope," he said.
"Italy is a country where many religious leaders, including non-Christian leaders, meet in the famous Citadel of Assisi for world peace and the unification of all religions."
It is a country in which the Italian parliament will grant official standing only to "ecumenical churches"; where more than 40 political parties vie for power; and where "the principles of democracy and freedom are very much abused and defended at the same time."
"We must continue to do God's work and do it with urgency," said Mr. Anastasi, "because the time left at our disposal may be much less than what we think."
United's flock in Italy is "60 souls," he reported. The Italian edition of The Good News goes out to about 4,000 subscribers.
Mr. Anastasi praised the young people in the United Church of God in his country. They are "our hope," he said. "They're being taught that the Bride of Christ must keep herself pure and virginal." They are learning "that we must not replace Christ with a minister. That's very important because the brethren do not belong to us; they belong to Christ and the Father."
Representing the Philippines was Edmond Macaraeg of Davao City, Philippines, who spoke of "the smoke and chaos and confusion of our previous church association" (the Worldwide Church of God). "In the Philippines we're still rising from the dust."
Serving the United members in a land of 70 million inhabitants are a part-time elder in Manila and another in Baguio City. The combined membership in those two locations stands at about 50.
Another part-time elder in another location serves about 50 members.
Mr. Macaraeg himself oversees eight congregations on the island of Mindanao, assisted by a retired part-time elder and several other church members in their congregations.
Attendance in Mindanao is about 250, bringing the national attendance to about 350.
"We have gained about 50 in two years," he said.
The main tool for United's preaching of the gospel in the Philippines is The Good News, complemented by the church's correspondence course, booklets and brochures.
Good News circulation stands at about 4,000, built in part by word of mouth, much of it via cell phones.
"Modern technology has helped build our circulation," said the Philippine elder. "The proliferation of cell phones in the Philippines" has enabled "text messages" to go by the cell-phone network to all areas of the country. Messages about "free Good News magazines" are forwarded by cell-phone users in E-mail messages.
United in the Philippines plans Feast of Tabernacles services in two locations and sponsors a summer youth camp.
Reporting from South Africa was Peter Hawkins of Cape Town. His presentation was "United Church of God: Looking for a Future."
Mr. Hawkins told of race tensions, AIDS, farm murders, bombings, corruption and other crimes in his country. Those aspects of the news make the headlines.
But the everyday reality is not as newsworthy, he said. "The reality is price surges, job losses, hijackings, burglaries, immigrations, and so on."
Mr. Hawkins thanked United's U.S. operation for an annual subsidy. "You are the wind beneath our wings," he said.
Membership in his area of the world stands at 158: 110 in South Africa, nine in Zimbabwe, 29 in Zambia, six in Malawi and four in Mauritius.
Circulation of The Good News is 5,600.
Feast of Tabernacles attendance last year was 183.
Four congregations meet weekly, in Durban, Johannesburg, Eastland and Cape Town.
John Jewell of Eccleston, England, who also sits on United's Cincinnati-based council of elders, represented the United Kingdom in the international reports.
"I can report miraculous growth and development in the U.K. over the past two and a half years," he said.
Circulation of The Good News has increased from 500 two years ago to 7,700. United staffers in the U.K. mail the magazine into 34 nations.
"We have tried many methods of advertising," Mr. Jewell reported. "Most have not worked very well."
However, "the Eternal has opened doors, and one project in the United Kingdom brought us around 1,500 responses."
The project was advertising on the front page of a popular newspaper in Britain, The Daily Telegraph.
"The advert offered the Ten Commandments booklet," said Mr. Jewell.
The British UCG also sponsors a radio program, called The World Tomorrow, named after the old WCG broadcast.
"The name isn't being used in the United Kingdom at this time, so we're using it," said Mr. Jewell.
One hundred twenty people attend church each week in the U.K., including 79 baptized people.
"We really are a small group," he said.
Sabbath services take place at six locations, including one on the grounds of the former Ambassador College at Bricket Wood.
Since 1998 the UCG U.K. has received no subsidy from the United States.
"At this time we have an unpaid ministry," said Mr. Jewell. "We have two employees, but they're part time."
Inspiring the brethren in the United Kingdom, said Mr. Jewell, is the desire "to point those who will listen to the hope for mankind, the return of Jesus Christ."
1.4 million booklets
After the international reports, and after a break in the proceedings, the meeting continued with Peter Eddington of Cincinnati, an employee in the church's home office, making a presentation on behalf of the media and communications-services departments.
One of the "strengths of United" is its media effort, including The Good News, said Mr. Eddington.
The print and electronic media establish a foundation for other aspects of the church's work, he explained.
"We are establishing a strengthening foundation upon which a bigger structure could be built if God so wishes."
Mr. Eddington reported distribution figures for the church's publications. United sends out its correspondence-course lessons to 4,850 nonmember American households and has, to date, 4,100 graduates of the 12-lesson course.
The church so far has printed 1.4 million booklets, "covering 26 major topics of importance," said Mr. Eddington.
The circulation of The Good News stands at 363,000, with issues coming out six times a year.
Election of four
Although several meetings, including the reports from the international areas, had occurred on Saturday or even earlier, the meeting of the general conference of elders of the United Church of God officially began the morning of Sunday, May 6, with the election of four council members.
Of the 12 council members, three were up for reelection--Victor Kubik of Indianapolis, Mr. McCullough and Mr. Walker--and one, Burk McNair, would have been up for reelection, but he declined to run.
The three men all won reelection. Replacing Mr. McNair was Clyde Kilough. All four men now begin three-year terms.
The elders voted on other items. Most, which did not concern doctrinal matters, required only simple majorities to pass. They included:
The amendment was meant to clarify the church's teaching on tithing, which was reported on extensively in this newspaper in 1999 when a United elder, Garry Pifer of Bloomington, Ill., began expressing his opinion to his congregation that tithing is not mandatory for Christians. (See "Elder Questions Traditional Teaching on Tithing," April 30, 1999.)
The proposed amendment, written by UCG elder Paul Kieffer of Fielefeld, Germany, would have changed the wording of the statement to say that "God ordained tithing as a way of honoring Him" and "as a means of serving Him in the preaching of the gospel, the care of the Church, attending the festivals and helping the needy."
The present wording says "We believe in tithing . . ." rather than "We believe God ordained tithing . . ."
Mr. Pifer told The Journal May 14 that he doesn't see that Mr. Kieffer's proposed amendment changes anything, since no one is questioning that God ordained tithing and made it mandatory in ancient Israel.
"The question is not whether God ordained tithing," said Mr. Pifer. "The question is whether God meant for tithing to be mandatory in a situation that does not involve the Levitical priesthood, which the New Testament church certainly does not."
In any case, the amendment failed, even though the elders supported it by a vote of 226-61. Although 79 percent of the elders who voted supported the amendment, it failed because only 59 percent of the 405 eligible voters voted for it.
In other words, 118 members, or about 29 percent, of the church's general conference did not vote in this election. Seventy-eight of the nonvoters would have to become voters for any measure that concerns doctrinal change or clarification ever to pass.
The old wording said the "mission of the Church of God is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God in all the world, make disciples in all nations and care for those disciples."
The new wording states that the mission of the "Church of God is to proclaim the gospel Jesus Christ preached, the gospel of the Kingdom of God, in all the world," etc.
This amendment also was proposed by Mr. Kieffer, who said many United elders think the old statement suggested "two gospels."
"The suggested wording removes the perceived ambiguity and emphasizes the one gospel," he said.
$16.6 million budget
Treasurer Tom Kirkpatrick reported on income of $15.2 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2000.
"It now appears quite likely that, for the 12 months that will end this coming June 30, the total income received at the home office will be about $16.6 million," he said.
Mr. Kirkpatrick's "conservative" budget for United allows for a 4 percent increase in spending for the next fiscal year.
Mr. Kirkpatrick usually reads the "salary grades" that apply to American employees of the UCG. However, he did not read them this year because they are unchanged from last year. (For last year's list of salaries grades, see The Journal's report on last year's conference in the May 31, 2000, issue.)
Greetings from the president
"Well, greetings friends from around the world," began Mr. McCullough, who stepped up to the lectern to deliver the annual president's message to the general conference.
He noted that United's elders are aging. Mr. McCullough himself is 70 years old.
He spoke of the need to train new elders to replace those who will retire over the next few years.
"We're building a core base for the operations of the Church of God on into the future, and it's going to be a very solid and very substantial core," he said. "It is just staggering to me when people say the United Church of God isn't doing the work."
He spoke of ABC, the Ambassador Bible Center, which operates out of the same suite of offices that houses the church's home office, in nearby Milford.
"ABC is of course something that I've been very excited about and really thrilled at seeing grow. We have 40 students there this year. They're a younger group than last year."
Thanks to ABC and other United programs, said Mr. McCullough, "we are in the process, those of us who teach the classes, . . . of passing on the knowledge of God that has been given to us, the real knowledge that God has provided to us. We're able to go ahead and give back, and those young people are very much involved and excited about it, and they'll be involved in giving back that much more."
Mr. McCullough spoke about the UCG's efforts at a merger with the Remnant Church of God (RCG) of Ghana and announced that United elders who have recently visited the RCG would report to the delegates the next day.
"Jim Franks [one of the elders communicating with the Ghanaians] says that now their church services are just like ours," said Mr. McCullough.
But that's not necessarily progress, he continued.
"I know, having lived in Africa, that Africans enjoy a little more spontaneity in music. They like getting involved in that way. So I don't know that it's necessary that everybody should just be towing this hard, fast, Anglo-Saxon WASP line that you get up and sing a couple of sedate songs.
"I'm not talking about 'Glory, glory, glory.' Nonetheless I don't know that they must conform exactly to what we do, because it's a totally different society."
Nonetheless, he said, the Remnant Church of God is willing to alter its song service to conform to United's.
The president also spoke of the "reconciliation" efforts between United and the CGCF, based in Fort Worth, Texas.
"I would hope that comes to fruition," he said. "It's up to them. They have to go ahead and make their desire known to us. We've certainly tried to be outgoing and solicitous in the sense of talking with them and everything, so things will come along there as God sees fit."
Mr. McCullough noted that United's donor base is growing at a rate of 100 to 175 new donors per month.
"Coworkers," those who have donated more than once," are growing in number at a rate of about 50 a month.
"All I can say is that's just great. It's really wonderful. These new people are helping to found a larger base so there can be more work done by God's church."
Mr. McCullough talked about the commission of the Church of God.
"In the past," he said, "it has been said the church had a twofold commission: to preach the gospel and feed the flock.
"Personally, I've always had a little problem with that, at least in separating the two, because it's difficult, it seems to me, to say there is much of a separation.
"Now, I know what Mr. Armstrong meant when he said that. Nevertheless, the gospel message does feed the flock, providing for them and giving them additional knowledge and encouragement, giving them something that gives them eternal life."
Mr. McCullough quoted from the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10.
"The parable closes with these words of Jesus: Go and do you likewise. So we're here to preach the gospel, to prepare a people."
Mr. McCullough continued: "So really all I can say, fellows and girls, . . . [is] go and do you likewise. Go and continue to carry the message."
Next came a report about the Remnant Church of God of the African nation of Ghana. The report was delivered by Joel Meeker of St. Louis, Mo., and Melvin Rhodes of East Lansing, Mich.
For news of the Remnant Church of God, see "COG in Ghana Close to Merger with UCG," beginning on page 1.
UCG and CGCF question each other
Mr. Holladay reported more on the reconciliation efforts between the United Church of God and the Church of God a Christian Fellowship (CGCF) of Fort Worth.
Mr. Holladay, who is chairman of the UCG task force that handles the negotiations between the two groups, spoke mainly about events since the councils of the two church organizations met together last December in Tyler, Texas.
In Tyler the CGCF visitors included CGCF president Larry Salyer of Fort Worth.
The Tyler meeting "was more of an executive [closed] session," said Mr. Holladay, "because there were a number of issues."
The discussions included several topics:
"They had concerns about certain ministers," said Mr. Holladay. "We expressed the same kinds of concerns to them."
"We explained how United started and that that was not our motivation."
"We asked them why they jumped so quickly" (in 1993).
"They assured us that was not so, that they were not the ones making those statements. They wouldn't say that they hadn't [made such statements] on occasion, but they were sorry, and we were willing to move on."
"We explained our process. When they understood it, they realized there aren't going to be too many changes in doctrine because three fourths of the ministry has to approve doctrinal changes."
"They wanted to know specifically about voting and why United has never made a clear statement on it. So we asked them to write up any concerns they still had, and their doctrinal committee and ours could sit down and come to a common understanding."
Mr. Holladay said the United men explained to the CGCF representatives that much of the old material was "speculative" and that new information is based on solider scholarship, so "we felt it would be better to bolster our booklet with good, solid material."
"They gently reminded us that we were the ones who initiated the process. We reached out to them."
"In the event of merging," said Mr. Holladay, "would the UCG inherit any debts?
"They [the CGCF] are right now debt-free . . . They pay their debts, then they pay their ministry."
The CGCF men, said Mr. Holladay, "recoil" at the suggestion that they want to join United because of money or job security.
"They have said, 'Look, we base our lives on serving these people. We have been dedicated; we have proved our faithfulness; we have a viable organization going.'"
Though most of the CGCF is apparently in favor of moving toward a merger with United, "a small handful of their ministry and some of their membership . . . still have concerns," said Mr. Holladay. "This is why we're going to try to clarify and eliminate all of the obstacles and come to a conclusion.
"I think they want to move forward and to be with us . . . They realize that because of their limited income they are limited in what they can accomplish."
Knocking socks off
Dick Thompson, a council member from Buford, Ga., delivered an address--a sermon, actually--that traced the history of the United Church of God from its origins in Cloverdale, Ind., in the Indianapolis area, beginning about April 30, 1995.
"They were turbulent times," he remembered. "We were in a time when we really had to do something [because of the altered doctrines and crack-up of the Worldwide Church of God], and there was a genuine sense of urgency felt by everyone who was there."
The United Church of God, Mr. Thompson said, is "tied into a heritage of individuals who have protected the truth of God. I hope that we appreciate our heritage."
The heritage includes Abel, Noah, Abraham, Lot and Moses, he said.
"I appreciate the fact that we're not individuals who are isolated out there, that we're tied in with what God has done for a long, long time."
How hurried are God and Jesus Christ? asked Mr. Thompson. "Do we have the same sense of urgency as They?"
He named three areas of "urgency" for United members to think about:
"We have the pearl of great price," Mr. Thompson said. "It's worth having; it's worth keeping. But the only way that you can keep it is to give it away."
He concluded with the example of Jesus' miracle of the loaves and fishes.
"We are small. We are not great. We are not mighty. But we have the same one who fed 5,000 people and had 12 baskets left over. We have the truth of God. It is a kernel. It is a seed. But it's going to be planted, and it's going to bear fruit."
He concluded: "I want to go out of here and knock the socks off of this world's way and let them know there's a better world coming. I want to be a part of that. Thank God we are."
Council questioning continues
On Sunday night came the second installment of the question-and-answer session presented by the council of elders. This time the other half of the council presided on stage.
Seated, from the left, were Mr. Thompson; Aaron Dean of Gladewater, Texas; Mr. Jewell; Mr. Holladay; Mr. Walker; Mr. Dick; and Mr. Kubik.
Mr. Holladay presided at both sessions.
Space to explain
Chris Moen of Columbus, Ga., walked to the microphone and suggested that on future ballots a space be provided so each voting elder could explain why he voted as he did, especially if he voted no to a particular measure.
Videos of the council
Peter Hawkins of Cape Town, South Africa, suggested that the council of elders appear yearly on a videotape that could be distributed to church areas so the brethren could get to know council members.
Pare down the GCE
Walt Tannert of Tucson, Ariz., expressed frustration that the church cannot change the wording of a fundamental belief because not enough elders will participate in the process by casting votes.
He suggested that, if an elder did not vote for as long as, say, three years, he should be dropped from membership in the general council of elders. He would still be a United elder in good standing, but not a member of the GCE.
"Otherwise," said Mr. Tannert, "the organization becomes paralyzed. There are some people obviously who don't participate in the process, yet they are still carried and make an impact on the ability of the general conference to make some sort of resolution."
Mr. Holladay responded that the council has discussed the matter on several occasions.
Mr. Dean said the council sent a questionnaire out to elders to ask them why they do not vote.
"But people who don't vote don't answer questionnaires," he noted. "If it's a conscience thing, then everybody's voting no anyway . . . How do you get enough votes to change it when people won't vote to change it? We're kind of stuck. It's ridiculous."
Mr. Hawkins quipped that perhaps nonvotes could be counted as yes votes.
Stan Erickson of Wichita, Kan., commented that perhaps the questionnaire didn't clearly ask those who do not vote to respond to the questionnaire. Maybe the council should send the questionnaire out again.
Mr. Holladay replied that only two survey forms with negative responses came back to the council. Everyone else who responded did so positively.
Mr. Walker said the council had not been sure whether the nonvoting elders declined to vote on all issues or only on particular issues such as a doctrine.
"We thought that this amendment [on the proposed change in the fundamental belief regarding tithing] would give us the opportunity to find that out. And I guess you could say we did find that out."
Cecil Maranville of Phoenix, Ariz., asked if the council members believed the approximately 25 percent of elders who do not vote are representative of a similar proportion of the general membership of the UCG that does not believe in voting.
Dave Treybig of Lubbock, Texas, suggested that United might take a cue from mutual-fund shareholders. The boards of mutual funds send out information on "recommended votes" to shareholders. Maybe the council could do something similar.
Mr. Hawkins suggested that maybe a third choice on a ballot could say "Not applicable." Perhaps those who do not vote would feel comfortable marking such an option, then such votes could be excluded.
Roc Corbett suggested that the council write a letter to GCE members who do not vote and request that the men voluntarily remove themselves from the voting privilege.
Back to Mr. McCullough
Ralph Levy of Cincinnati brought up again the questions that had dominated the previous night's Q&A session: the renomination of administrative officers (the questions on the previous night specifically dealt with President McCullough's term of office).
"What concerns me," said Dr. Levy, "is that the elders generally do not seem to have as much of a voice as would have been appropriate. Is there some way we can put in place a method that the elders may present to the council in a dignified manner their feelings concerning reappointment of administrative officers of the church?"
Mr. Walker replied that Dr. Levy's point was "obviously a point for the council to discuss."
"My hunch," said Dr. Levy, "is that more would be gained by our putting our feelings in writing than by opinions being expressed in an open forum such as this . . . The biblical model of course was the apostles and elders, plural, who came together to make that decision."
The church's process
Arnold Burns of Asheboro, N.C., suggested that somehow the general conference should be privy to evaluations of the officers. "Then there would be understanding" of the process.
Council member John Jewell commented that the church does have "a process."
The process, he said, is "agreed by the general conference. That is where the general conference plays its part, as I see it."
The council works more closely with the officers than does the general conference, so it is appropriate that the council select the president.
Mr. Jewell cited the example of the nine justices of the United States Supreme Court.
"Before each meeting of the Supreme Court, they meet by themselves in a room. They don't need anybody else in there. As they come in, in their robes, with nobody else there, they all shake hands with each other to indicate to each other they're going to arrive at an objective opinion and keep personalities out of it."
Mr. Meeker, who had broached the subject in the first place on the previous evening, asked a related question: He wondered if the council thought it appropriate that it is possible for an officer--for example, the president--to be removed even though only a minority of the council members voted for his removal.
This can happen, he said, because in some situations two thirds of the council must vote to keep an officer. If two thirds--that is, eight people--vote to keep him, fine. But what happens if only seven people vote for him? That's still a clear majority, but he will not be retained, because seven does not constitute a two-thirds majority of 12.
Mr. Walker, Mr. Dick and Mr. Thompson agreed with Mr. Meeker that that is a problem, and they informed him they planned to discuss it in meetings of the council of elders immediately after the general conference.
Call for clear communication
Bruce Dean, elder from Sydney, Australia, approached the microphone and complained about "a lack of clear communication on behalf of the council on their decision [regarding President McCullough] and how they interpret the bylaws."
A problem, he said, is "your lack of respect for the general conference of elders by not communicating clearly why you came to the decision you came to ...
"We wonder, first of all, if you're a servant body . . . If you're a servant body, and our servants, we wonder why there is even a tradition of one person not voting for themselves."
Mr. Dean referred to the tradition on the council on matters such as the reconfirmation of an officer of that officer abstaining from voting for himself, which in itself could cause him to be denied reconfirmation.
"Secondly," said Mr. Dean, "I'll make a comment: If I did not have half of a body of people that could support me in a role, I think that would be enough for me not to continue in that role."
Howard Davis, elder from Portland, Ore., approached the mike and commented that he doesn't ordinarily participate in anything political these days.
However, "I do believe that the whole question of a general conference of elders getting very intimately involved over personalities, particularly the office of the president, has the potential of being very divisive in the general conference of elders.
"And, contrary to what I earlier thought--which would have been [in support of] a general election for the president--I think that there was wisdom beyond what I would have perceived in actually having that decision reside in the council for the very reasons articulated by Mr. Jewell and others."
In other words, said Mr. Davis, only by working with someone on a day-to-day basis can one come to an informed decision about an employee.
"I don't personally want my life mucked up spiritually and to see the GCE involved with the politics of personalities over administrative offices in the church," Mr. Davis continued. "The CEO of the church I belong to is Jesus Christ."
The office of a president "is not a spiritual office," he said. "For us to compare what the apostles did, or what very senior prophets in the New Testament did, with an administrative office now in the church is not fair to the Bible, and I don't want my life and the holy body God is creating here--I'm speaking for one elder--to be mucked up over administrative decisions that are best handled, in my view, . . . [by the] council of elders."
Only a deacon
Mr. Holladay reiterated that, even though questions had come up about the wording of the bylaw article, the council did follow due process. Also, he reiterated, the council has responsibility for selecting the officers.
Mr. Jewell commented that he appreciated Mr. Davis's remarks. In the church's U.K. operations, Mr. Jewell is the chief executive officer of the national council, analogous to Mr. McCullough's position in the American corporation.
"Howard is absolutely right," he said. "It is not a spiritual office."
Council member Aaron Dean commented that, since he had written the offending bylaw, he should probably say something.
Christ is the spiritual head "of this church," Mr. Dean said, "and [it is unfortunate] anytime anyone gets to a point where people follow [church leaders] blindly because of personality, and that there are splits in the church because of it."
Mr. Armstrong, he said, "would be very sad that perhaps some people had lost their salvation over him as a personality."
Mr. Dean mentioned he doesn't like executive sessions except for, perhaps, the discussion of personal sins.
"But we've made some rules that certain things are kept in that session, and we follow those rules. I think openness is great. David [the David of the Bible] is coming up, and everybody's going to know what he did. I pray that my sins aren't published."
Mr. Dean continued: "We're here at United because God didn't appoint another pastor general. Mr. Armstrong did appoint Mr. [Joseph] Tkach as pastor general, and the document he signed has all the titles except apostle. Mr. Tkach badgered Mr. Armstrong to ordain him. Mr. Armstrong refused to do it."
Mr. Dean said that if someone could prove to him that God really has appointed an apostle to succeed Mr. Armstrong, "then I will follow him." But if United members see the position of president as the position of apostle, "then we haven't done our job."
He concluded: "Sometimes I think we wouldn't have let Stephen be stoned because he was only a deacon."
How to ask
Mr. Jewell commented that he has a problem with certain questions because of how they're asked.
"Sometimes questions are loaded. You then have to say there's an attitude problem on behalf of that questioner. I don't mind any question, but let us be careful about what the attitude is we present in asking that question."
Mr. Jewell said that in a meeting of elders from international areas before the conference, on Friday, May 4, he had been "distressed" because of attitudes apparent in that meeting.
"If this sounds corrective," he said, "so be it. We should be sure our attitudes are right before God. Ask questions as hard as you like, fine. But it's the attitude that counts. God looks on our hearts. He looks on my heart, and I have to be careful. Let's be careful of the attitude that we bring to these things."
Vote for yourself
Guy Swenson, an elder from Lafayette, Ind., stepped up to the microphone to say that three years ago Mr. McCullough "stepped into the lions' den" after the ill-fated presidency of David Hulme (who, after his departure from United, became president of the Church of God an International Community of Monrovia, Calif.).
"I personally feel he [Mr. McCullough] did an admirable job in taking the reins of something that was careening in a lot of different directions at the time. He and Tom [treasurer Tom Kirkpatrick] have done a fantastic job. If you remember, we were half a million or a million dollars in the hole at the time, and now we're four-plus million or so ahead."
Mr. Swenson wanted to talk about the tradition of a council member not voting for himself.
"The idea that a council member who is being considered for the presidency cannot vote for himself is something I don't remember in the bylaws or the constitution. Servant leadership is different from gentile leadership. When I ask for volunteers to clean toilets, I don't mind somebody voting for themselves. It's when I have to do a Macedonian call [Acts 16:9] that I have a problem."
From a "gentile" perspective, said Mr. Swenson, voting for oneself is voting for prestige, power and authority. But from a Christian perspective voting for oneself is voting for more work, hassles, responsibilities and more opportunities to show concern for others.
Mr. Swenson asked the council to reconsider its tradition of a member not voting for himself.
Mr. Holladay responded that the tradition is "not a hard, fast rule that you cannot ballot for yourself. It has been more of an understanding."
Mr. Walker commented that "most of us feel a certain embarrassment in voting for ourselves over certain issues." However, when the council votes for measures that could benefit employees of the church as a group, then they are in effect voting for themselves anyway, because they are employees.
King Finlay, an elder from Bethlehem, Pa., commented that, when his children were getting ready to attend the WCG's Ambassador College many years ago, "I told them they would be involved in nepotism; they would [hear of] sexual problems--because we were not a clean church."
But members of United, by comparison, are "ecstatic and excited" about the UCG. He cited the "wonderful transition from Mr. Dick to Mr. Holladay" as council chairman. This could take place, has said, "because there is no dynasty."
Mr. McCullough, said Mr. Finlay, "wasn't put out. It is an honor for him to serve for another year--and we are ecstatic. There is no dynasty."
What's the question?
Vernon Hargrove, an elder from Hammond, Ind., commented that everyone agrees Jesus is the head of the church., but "that's not really the question, in my opinion. I really don't think any of us base our salvation on an administrative officer."
Mr. Hargrove noted that Mr. Jewell, in his "corrective" comments a few minutes earlier, had warned the elders to watch their attitudes when they ask questions.
It is true, said Mr. Hargrove, that "arrogance doesn't usually get a good response.
"But of course there is another side to that coin too, as we all know. I hope you don't take it wrong, but is it possible that the council members can also be in a wrong attitude in the way in which they answer our questions?
"As King Finlay has said, some of us have been around for 40 years, maybe a lot longer than some on the council. So please don't treat us like children and put us down as if we don't know what we're talking about."
Mr. Hargrove said he had not been in attendance at the first Q&A session the previous night, "but I have heard a lot of rumors. So I would appreciate it if someone would just explain to us what is the issue, and why the issue, so we can understand it from the official position. Is that clear enough?"
Someone in the audience shouted, "Hear! Hear!"
Mr. Holladay explained that most of the questions and comments have centered on Section 9.1 of the bylaws and whether the council properly interpreted it and whether the council could divulge information concerning the reasons for the decision to reconfirm Mr. McCullough for president for only one year.
Still don't know
Cecil Maranville, elder from Phoenix, commented that he thought the council had conducted itself "with the highest professionalism and the highest ethics."
Nothing illustrates the high level of professionalism and ethics better than the fact that "we still don't know what happened in executive session three years ago with the most thorny of problems."
Mr. Maranville was apparently referring to the session in which the council decided to fire the previous president, David Hulme. The council never divulged the reasons for Mr. Hulme's departure, although The Journal published the list of reasons in its Jan. 30, 1998, issue.
Cybercast inspires question
Dan Deininger, elder from Helena, Mont., walked to the microphone to read a message that had just arrived by E-mail from a woman in Texas who was listening to the proceedings via the Internet, thanks to the technical expertise of Mr. Deininger and his helpers.
The woman questioned the UCG's practice of allowing elders of other Church of God groups to speak before congregations of the United Church of God when the visiting elders have not been credentialed by the UCG.
"I don't necessarily want to hear some other preacher address my congregation," Mr. Deininger quoted the woman as saying.
Mr. Holladay responded that in certain congregations--such as one in Alaska in which members of two congregations, one UCG and one CGCF, meet near each other and include people who have been friends and brethren for many years--he could see little wrong with such an arrangement.
He emphasized that, although outside speakers do address UCG congregations on occasion, they must not do so "without approval."
Meet the elders
Mr. Hawkins, the elder from South Africa, suggested that the council might want to post biographical information about anyone who might be running for a church office on the Internet so the elders could easily familiarize themselves with the candidates.
Live ministers preaching
The last day of meetings of the conference began at 9 a.m. Monday, May 7, with council member Victor Kubik of Indianapolis addressing the elders.
"God has been with us," said Mr. Kubik. "He's provided us a home, and now we're beginning to see the fruits, to see the progress taking place in the church."
Members of other COG groups say they're amazed at what the UCG has accomplished, said Mr. Kubik. United has 26 booklets, a correspondence course and an established magazine.
"But, more importantly, what we have is a ministry. We have ministers everywhere in the country, and most congregations that you would visit on any given Sabbath have a live minister preaching . . . You don't have a boom box playing a tape. This is one of the greatest assets of the UCG: the depth, the experience, the elders that we have."
The elders are farmers in a great harvest, said Mr. Kubik.
He quoted 1 Corinthians 3:6, about Paul planting, Apollos watering and God granting the increase.
He said church leaders need to think in terms of "how to include as many as we can"; that is, how to capitalize on the talents and abilities of the general membership of the church.
He cited the story of Ora Runcorn from Herbert Armstrong's autobiography. Mrs. Runcorn was the woman who in the 1920s challenged Loma Armstrong regarding the Sabbath.
"God used Ora Runcorn to give Loma Armstrong a list of scriptures that nailed down the Sabbath in her mind," said Mr. Kubik. "He used her to seed Mrs. Armstrong's mind."
Mr. Kubik talked about enthusiasm for doing God's will.
"We cannot be passive in doing the work of God. We're not in the ministry just to be caretakers. We need to become more active and say that preaching the Word, evangelizing, doing more than what I have been doing, is a job not for someone else but for me to accomplish.
"It's my responsibility. It's my job to review Article 1 of our constitution, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God to all the world . . .
"I'll end with a rabbinic quote: If not us, then who, and if not now, then when?"
Darris McNeely, elder from Indianapolis, presented "Thinking in the Bible: Sowing and Watering the Seeds of the Gospel."
His presentation is a good example of a secondary theme of the conference: discussions concerning the involvement of the general membership to further the work of the church.
Mr. McNeely told about obtaining a list of subscribers to The Good News who live in his area, then making use of the list to "put together a team of people to develop what I call a Good News subscription-development program that is in the process of watering and spreading the good news of God's Kingdom."
After gaining access to the list, the Indianapolis congregation designed its own literature, envelopes, postcards and other materials to mount a campaign to interest people locally in the church's work.
The congregation's goals were to "spread the truth of God," Mr. McNeely said, and "to provide regular contact with Good News subscribers with the local church."
The materials the members sent included printed materials and tapes of local sermons. They sent out the tapes after determining that certain people on the subscription list would be interested in detailed church material.
As a result, 54 people are on the list as tape recipients.
Trust and togetherness
Robin Webber, elder from Garden Grove, Calif., told about a similar project in his home congregation.
Mr. Webber said, mentioning his "previous association [the WCG]," that he is "tired of looking backwards."
The UCG's home office also gave Mr. Webber's congregation a subscription list of local subscribers to The Good news.
Mr. Webber says the members in his church area delete from the list anyone they know is already attending a Church of God congregation.
He said the hallmark of the UCG's efforts is that it "promotes trust": from "minister to minister" and from "the administration and to the brethren."
Second, the UCG fosters "togetherness."
"When we don't have trust, then we don't have the United Church of God, and when we don't have togetherness, all those pieces of the puzzle coming together, well, then that's not the united brethren of God."
At 10:45 a.m. Monday, May 7, the conference split up into "breakout sessions" to discuss topics including congregation-driven evangelism.
New council member
On Monday afternoon, the last day of the conference, the newest council member, Clyde Kilough, addressed the conference. For Mr. Kilough's remarks, see "New Council Member Pushes Servant Leadership," beginning on page 1.
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