Second day at Louisville:
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--The big news on the second day of the three-day general conference of elders of the United Church of God, Sunday, March 9, was the voting on eight constitutional amendments and the location of the church office. The edge was taken off the big news, however, because the results of the balloting won't be known until three days after the votes.
By Sunday morning elders here had heard the names of the two cities that made it into the finals for permanent home-office location: Los Angeles and Cincinnati. These were decided on by the council of elders. Earlier six cities had been chosen as possible office locations, including Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and St. Louis.
In the afternoon elders in attendance here and by telephone hookup from several locations around the world voted on measures including the office location. But chairman of the council of elders Bob Dick announced results would not be known for three days. For one thing, the participants by phone didn't have to have their ballots faxed in to Louisville until the next day, and the accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand wouldn't have the results tallied until Wednesday, March 12.
Attendance at the Sunday-morning session was 275, not counting ministers' wives and church staffers, according to church staffer Charles Melear. Total attendance was 400-something.
Also newsworthy was the announcement--actually more implied than announced--that the church administration would be cracking down on congregations of United that have built up sizable bank accounts in their local areas. An unnamed conference participant who wrote up a question that was answered by treasurer Steve Andrews wondered why local churches are allowed to keep local bank accounts when other congregations encourage their members to send money directly to the church office in Arcadia, Calif.
Mr. Andrews sounded sympathetic to the concern of the questioner and seemed to imply that the home office and/or council of elders was trying to determine how to deal with congregations that collect tithes and offerings locally and allow bank accounts to grow for such projects as church buildings.
In getting reading for the voting--which in United conferences is almost always called "balloting"--council member Roy Holladay introduced discussion of the strategic plan.
The plan, said Mr. Holladay, is "a process of building a vision and assembling the means to carry it out."
He compared the plan of God to a strategic plan, noting that "God has a clear vision, an understanding of what He wants to do" and the means of carrying it out.
The strategic plan comes first, elders learned. From that springs the operating plan, and from the operating plan comes the budget.
All three items were taken up during the conference, although at the time of this writing it was not at all clear whether the strategic plan, operating plan, budget and several amendments to the constitution had been approved by elders. Several elders spoke out against automatically approving the plans, saying doing so was premature and more work needed to be done.
But no one knows how the voting went, and no one will know until Coopers & Lybrand gets through counting the votes March 12.
The committee on the council that wrote the strategic plan consisted of six members: Jim Franks, Houston; Doug Horchak, Denver; Peter Nathan, England; Bob Dick, Seattle; and Mr. Holladay.
Advisers were treasurer Andrews; Edwin Stepp, operations manager and assistant to President David Hulme; Richard Pinelli, director of ministerial services; and Steve Sidars, a home-office staffer who's been instrumental in formulating the plan.
After Mr. Holladay spoke, Mr. Hulme addressed the assembled elders regarding the operational plan.
In asking elders to approve the plan, Mr. Hulme said they needed to ask themselves whether they felt the plan reflects "God's priorities for the church." Deciding that was why they would be voting.
Mr. Hulme, in detailing parts of the plan, noted several former priorities that had been tentatively scrapped--until funds could somehow become available. Mr. Hulme and others have been the targets of criticism because of budget overruns in the fiscal year that ends the last day of March.
Regional council conferences have been scaled back for the next fiscal year. Regional congregational visits will be curtailed.
The area that took the largest hit was advertising, sometimes falling under the heading "public proclamation" of the gospel. Several elders later in the day questioned that decision. Why couldn't something else be cut and leave intact plans for what is perceived by many members to be the most important work of the United Church of God?
Specific cuts include the production of a television pilot program, production of CD-ROM videos, a corporate-logo design, reprint articles and study papers.
Booklet production is to be scaled back, although the church still pans to print four new ones during the next fiscal year.
A correspondence course is planned, although under the cutbacks it will debut as a section in the church's magazine, The Good News.
The church will go forward with plans to expand its presence on the Internet, setting up an in-house Web server. "We will also test advertising of the Web site in other media and on other Web sites," Mr. Hulme said.
Plans to hire a public-relations director are shelved. "We acknowledge this is an area where we need more communication," Mr. Hulme said. Indeed in discussion groups at the conference a consistent theme was for the church to communicate better.
Subscription fulfillment may go to an outside firm, or it may stay in house, Mr. Hulme said. And the church is "investigating" a toll-free telephone number on which to receive inquiries and literature orders.
Most council meetings will be in Arcadia during the next fiscal year, because meeting in California is the cheapest way to go. During the current year the council has met in Birmingham, Ala., Boston, Mass., and Tyler, Texas, among other locations. Four out of five meetings next year will be in Arcadia to save funds.
Mr. Andrews on budget
Mr. Andrews then spoke on the budget, explaining that the church is somewhat limited in decisions it can make that affect spending and budget "because of the money that will be expensed on salaries."
Mr. Dick introduced another question-and-answer session, first fielding written questions, then several oral queries from the floor.
On the answering panel this time were the council members who are usually on such panels, including Peter Nathan, chairman of the finance committee; Mr. Hulme; Mr. Andrews; Mr. Holladay; and Mr. Dick. In this particular panel Mr. Sidars was also present, although no questions came his way.
One questioner asked who the "we" is in the wording of the strategic plan. "If it is the entire church," someone wanted to know, "who decides how to apply the plan to local congregations?"
Mr. Holladay answered that "we" refers to the United Church of God as a whole.
Mr. Hulme read a question: "I feel," someone had written, "that postponing the television special [apparently referring to the TV pilot] may end up being our biggest mistake. Tithing simply to pay ministers' salaries is wearing thin. Why couldn't we seek out each church area to seek free or low-cost tine on access channels? I realize they wouldn't be superstations, but at least we would be doing something. This would get the membership involved and excited about United's part in preaching the gospel."
Mr. Hulme referred to the plan that was to have spent about $230,000 on six TV stations. The president explained that the shelved television strategy would have tested a new program scientifically in various markets to get a reading of what would work best on television.
"My opinion," said Mr. Hulme, "would be that free access channels would not give you information that you would need to proceed with this concept of programming of this kind." He said he would prefer to see church-sponsored television break out of the "Sunday-morning ghetto and be seen by a much larger available audience."
Mr. Andrews read the question that had to do with money stashed in local accounts.
"I've heard," went the query, "that one area has $100,000 and another $60,000 in local accounts. If we had this money to be used in our budget, maybe our problems would be solved. Can we not also ask for full disclosure from local church areas?"
The questioner continued: "Don't the tithes of the local church belong to the whole church?"
Mr. Andrews' reply: "The answer would be yes."
The questioner continued: "Can we address this question of money in local accounts quickly?"
Mr. Andrews referred to a section of the bylaws that seems to state that the church as a whole has say-so over local churches' financial dealings. This seems to conflict with the recommendations given to newly forming congregations in the spring of 1995 during the time of the organizational conference in Indianapolis, when churches were encouraged to collect tithes locally and see after their own financial affairs. At that time the home office was seen as an entity that would be funded by voluntary direct contributions from members and by donations from congregations' accounts. At that time no pressure was put on members or congregations to send all their donations to the home office.
Mr. Hulme fielded a question about radio. "When can we expect an approved radio program to use in the local areas? It seems this would be a less-expensive medium than television."
Mr. Hulme said that, since a decision in the Worldwide Church of God in 1984 made by Herbert Armstrong to virtually drop radio from the list of implemented electronic media, "nothing has changed." Radio is still a dead medium.
Mr. Hulme did not refer to the popularity of talk shows in the last 15 years, but he did say radio would still be studied to see if it would be a viable alternative to television.
Mr. Hulme answered a question regarding "member participation," the ongoing discussion in the church about local members' and congregations' responsibility in preaching the gospel. Mr. Hulme, Mr. Andrews and others would prefer to see a centrally planned effort by the United Church of God ; others would prefer to see member-initiated efforts.
"It is not that we're not supportive of local efforts," said Mr. Hulme, "but it is our belief that they are to be carefully managed. That has been our basic approach to it. If we seem to be tardy about this, it's because we're in the startup phase, and we can't do things as fast as people might like us to. That's just the nature of the beast at this point."
Mr. Andrews answered a questioner who asked if the current budget crisis indicates a scenario that will be repeated year after year, or will the church get its financial house in order.
"I hope it doesn't happen again," said Mr. Andrews. "But I also have to say what I said in Cincinnati and that is that we were in a very fluid situation. I didn't want to submit a budget in Cincinnati [at the December 1995 conference]. I felt it could present a problem, and apparently it has."
The question asked how the church would manage another shortfall. "That's what our knees are for," Mr. Andrews replied.
Mr. Dick moderated questions from the floor having to do with the items on the ballot, the ones that would be voted on later that same day.
The first man to walk to the microphone was Guy Swenson of Indiana, who wanted to talk about sharing responsibility for the proclamation of the gospel.
"Why do we need this resolution [encouraging member participation in preaching the gospel] when the conference and council and home office already recognize the importance of the resource of brethren and ministry in local congregations?"
Because, he said, "the resolution focuses on allowing people the opportunity to find ways that are appropriate" to help bring the gospel message to the world.
Mr. Swenson addressed criticisms concerning "duplication of effort." If we have member participation, then much work will be duplicated, which some see as a not very efficient way to work.
Mr. Swenson said he didn't like to see "needless" duplication, but allowed that member participation is more efficient than people may think.
Tom Clark of Wichita, Kan., asked a question regarding the budget and home-office relocation. "Regardless of where the home office relocates, Los Angeles or Cincinnati, given the budget constraints that we have been very recently made aware of, how soon could we realistically expect to move the home office, to whichever place?"
Mr. Andrews answered Mr. Clark: "It could take years to accumulate the funds necessary to effect a move.
Therefore, assumedly, even if the vote goes for Cincinnati and against Los Angeles, the move might never happen. The question of home-office location could be moot.
Mr. Andrews said even a move to another point of Southern California didn't have to happen, because the home office had a good relationship with its landlord, so the church could leave the office where it is indefinitely.
Another elder (name not available; will possibly appear in the print version of The Journal) asked why couldn't the church borrow money to move the office to Cincinnati, assuming that's the way the vote goes, since the move would pay for itself in four to five years and in the long run would save money, even though a loan would have to be repaid.
Mr. Andrews replied that the church's ability to procure such financing "is absolutely zero." A loan would require collateral, and the church has no collateral. Also, banks are leery of lending money to churches anyway. They do not consider a donor base to be adequate assurance that financing can be repaid.
Elder Larry Walker wanted to go back to the question about funds in local congregations' bank accounts. He referred to the advice and recommendations church organizers had heard two years ago in Indianapolis.
"It was stated very clearly [in Indianapolis] that the most efficient and practical way of proceeding with tithes and offerings was to collect them at the local level," said Mr. Walker. "It was stated that it was putting trust in the local pastor and local membership, that it would empower the work locally: in other words, local evangelism.
"I think a lot of people perceive that there has been more of a recommendation to send funds in to the home office, which appears to be different from what was said in Indianapolis. The method in Indianapolis was a broader way of having a consensus and having people in on this kind of decision.
"Are we reversing Indianapolis?"
Mr. Hulme answered Mr. Walker: "I would say, Larry, that what has happened over the last couple of years has probably modified that situation. It's not because we have sought to modify it in any deliberate way; we still maintain the policy that, if a local congregation wishes to take its tithes locally, then it may do that. We would never try to change that.
"There is that option that continues to be the case.
"But more individual contributions have come to the home office, and you've heard us talk about that before. In my view it's more a fact of development that has taken place. I think Denny [Luker, another council member] was the one who made some of those remarks at the time [in Indianapolis], and I think certainly we are interested in trying to find ways to include the brethren's involvement.
"Going over the constitution and bylaws, we talked about in some detail about everybody in the church having a role, a function, an activity, a doing. And those things are yet to be more fully discussed and developed. I have always been interested in that."
(Another council member, Donald Ward, had moved at the recent council meeting in Texas that wording about local involvement be included in the strategic plan.)
Mr. Walker replied to Mr. Hulme's reply: "I think that what some people think of as local evangelism is efforts initiated at a local level, rather than something that is initiated as a policy at the home office [and then extended to local members]."
"I think," Mr. Hulme said to Mr. Walker, "that all we ask is that we'd work together on these things--various units within this body working in mutual submission to one another. All we're trying to say is let us do it together. Let us find ways to do it together."
Mark Gully, pastor from Waco, Texas, continued talking about the same subject. He addressed his remarks to Mr. Nathan and Mr. Andrews.
"There is a lot of concern," said Mr. Gully, "regarding our income and the budget and the tightness of the budget--possible retrenchments, that sort of thing--concerning the amount of money in local congregations or money that is not being sent in by individuals. There are people I'm aware of who are not totally convinced that they should send in their money to the home office for various reasons of trust.
"And I have a suggestion followed by a question regarding this.
"Regarding the home-office location, whatever choice is made by this body here on the location of the home office, after it is done it would be something to put to the whole congregations in United that we would set up a special fund whereby members or individuals could contribute to the fund to indicate how soon they wanted the home office to move. That would allow us to find out what individuals think in a very real way regarding our choices.
"My question is, Has the council considered this? Is this a possibility? And when could it be implemented?"
Mr. Nathan replied that the council had not considered that line of action.
Elder Dave Myers suggested that, if the home office moves to Cincinnati, the church pay moving expenses for only key employees and that non key employees pay their own way.
Mr. Andrews called said a policy based on that idea would be "onerous." He said such a policy would really be a "message that says we don't want you as an employee."
Randy Schreiber asked a recurring question: If an elder doesn't agree with every item in the budget, what are his options? How does he communicate that he doesn't support certain specific budgetary expenditures or allocations?
Mr,. Andrews said elders have two choices. Approve the budget, then work for changes in it. Or defeat the budget proposal, at which point the budget would be changed and resubmitted for approval.
Elder Paul Suckling asked for a "straw poll" to determine the interest in placing the proposed TV pilot program back on the fast track.
Mr. Andrews said he didn't believe a straw poll would be proper because not all elders were present at the conference, so any consensus reached would not mean anything.
Later, shortly before the balloting, Mr. Hulme presented his "president's report." Information he imparted included statistics on church membership. It increased from 16,549 to 17,175 from January 1996 to January 1997.
The attendance gain occurred entirely outside of the United States. Attendance in America declined, although the number of congregations in the United States and elsewhere increased.
United now has 314 churches, up 15.9 percent from 271 last year.
The United Church of God has distributed 250,000 copies of The Good News around the world since January 1996.
Mr. Hulme announced that BBDO, the advertising agency, called him to offer a good deal to the church on advertising services.
Mr. Andrews announced salary ranges for various United employees. The constitution and bylaws provide that salary ranges will be revealed at the general conference. After the December 1995 conference Mr. Andrews refused to divulge salary information, although assumedly he would have given it at the 1995 conference except that "no one asked."
Mr. Andrews revealed "ranges" of salaries. He said that revealing actual salaries of employees "without their consent" can be "a violation of the right-to-privacy laws."
Mr. Andrews said salary ranges still haven't been established for all church employees, but he listed several. In the following partial listing, after the name of the employee position comes the minimum salary, midrange and maximum salary:
President: $83,000, $91,500, $98,000.
Ministerial-services manager: $73,920, $83,540, $95,000.
Treasurer: $73,920, $83,540, $95,000.
Media-communications manager: $59,600, $74,500, $85,000.
Human-resources manager: $49,200, $61,500, $73,800.
Information-systems manager: $49,200, $61,500, $73,800.
Risk-insurance and benefits manager: $49,200, $61,500, $73,800.
Senior attorney: $49,200, $61,500, $73,800.
Cash manager: $45,840, $57,300, $68,760.
Systems administrator: $45,000, $52,500, $60,000.
Controller and tax manager: $39,200, $49,000, $58,800.
Managing editor of The Good News, print-media planner and senior video producer: $39,200, $49,000, $58,800.
Church pastor: $35,360, $44,200, $53,040.
Associate church pastor: $31,200, $36,400, $44,200.
Conference planner, purchasing manager, Spanish-language editor, strategic-plan coordinator: $29,780, $37,230, $44,676.
Assistant to the ministerial services manager: $26,744, $33,330, $40,116.
Assistant producer, copy editor, executive secretary, payroll secretary, senior accountant, pay clerk, church-data clerk, legal secretary, receptionist, tape distributor: $20,880, $26,100, $31,320.
Clerk, assistant mail clerk: $16,640, $20,800, $24,960.
The voting happens
Mr. Dick announced that ballot results would not be available until Wednesday, March 12. Assumedly they will be announced to elders by E-mail after they return to their homes.
Before the votes themselves, elders had the chance to speak for or against the various measures.
Ballot item No. 1 was for the strategic plan.
Herb Teitgen, an elder from South Dakota, spoke in support of the strategic plan. "I am convinced that this is a collaboratively prepared document with input from many members and elders. I was pleased with the mention of Jesus Christ in our mission statement. He is the center and core of the meaning of God's festivals, God's plan, the Creator of the universe, the one who came."
Jeff Osborn of Indiana opposed the strategic plan. He said he felt lacking "a more clearly defined support of contributions by local congregations to preach the gospel."
He said he felt problems with the plan had not been addressed properly. Defeating the plan would force the church to go back and "do it right this time."
"We have danced around a highly critical issue of a financial crisis, saying go ahead and approve this and we'll figure it out as we go . . . But I would encourage you all to consider putting it back before the council and having it done properly."
No statements of support or opposition were made for the operations plan, which was ballot item No. 2.
Ballot item No. 3 was the 1997-98 budget. No statements were made in its support, but Mr. Gully spoke in opposition from the floor:
First Mr. Gully praised changes in conference procedures that allowed elders more of a chance to criticize and otherwise discuss matters at hand.
"But I have an area of deep concern, and that is regarding this budget."
Presenting the budget as is to congregations "would be a betrayal of trust to our congregations," said Mr. Gully.
He said congregations are supposed to be consulted in advance about the budget. He quoted sections from the church constitution to back his claim. Since the budget had just gone to the elders, there had been no time to present it to congregations, therefore "I think we should consult the members of our congregations" before approving the budget.
David O'Mally, Fresno, Calif., also spoke in opposition to the budget. Mr. O'Mally addressed the conference by telephone:
"I'm in opposition to the budget because I do not think that it reflects adequately the priority of preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God to the world," he said. "The proclamation budget part is inadequate. It talks about $2.1 million to be used in that matter. But if you look at what it's being used for, $678,000 of that is salaries and administration. In addition, there is $275,000 for postage and shipping.
"There is only approximately one fourth of that $2.1 million to actually go outside the organization with any advertising or broadcasting.
"Therefore, I think we should go back and take a look at this budget and say does it really reflect our mission, our desire to preach the gospel."
Mr. O'Mally cautioned that, if the elders ratified the budget, then their attention would be focused on other, less-important, matters and they would never get around to fixing the problem. Therefore, they should vote against the measure.
Next came the home-office-location ballot.
Ed Smith, an elder from Cincinnati, spoke in favor of moving the office to his hometown.
"Half of our population is in the eastern half of the United States," he said. "Half of our churches are east of the Mississippi. Half of our pastors are east of the Mississippi. Why was the formative conference in Indianapolis, the second in Cincinnati and the third here in Louisville? It's obvious this is where the heart of it all is."
Don't think short-term, he urged his fellow elders. "It would be very unwise to think we don't have the money right now."
The central office for any corporation "ought to be where you could serve the maximum amount of people with the least amount of money."
Mike Blackwell spoke out in favor of Los Angeles.
Personal preferences should have nothing to do with the decision on the office location, said Mr. Blackwell. But "if it's not broke, why are we trying to fix it? The question is not Los Angeles vs. Cincinnati vs. Houston vs. Dallas. The question in my mind is more of one of where can the work be done very well and be done in a very timely fashion."
Why move 30 people to Cincinnati from an adequate location if you don't have to? Mr. Blackwell asked.
Another elder (name available in print version of The Journal) spoke in favor of the next measure, an amendment to Article 9.1 of the bylaws. The amendment would prohibit the president from serving simultaneously on the council of elders.
The elder said the present situation, with Mr. Hulme serving as president and council member, is a "conflict of agenda."
"This change is needed to separate the various authorities in the church, the general conference of elders, the council and the home-office team. Doing so would properly balance their roles as in a family. It would properly align the system of checks and balances that were intended at Indianapolis. Not to make this correction effectively diffuses both the council and its chairman."
Don Hoosier, elder from Dallas, spoke against the same proposal because, he said, the church should not impose more restrictions than it really needs.
"I feel we already have a balance of power provided in the constitution and bylaws. Will having two hats make the president a pastor general? No, there are plenty of checks and balances. Will passing this amendment instill more trust, as some have said? This amendment is showing distrust. You don't instill trust by showing distrust. Also, there is no precedent in the Bible for this type of procedure. If we want a man as council member and the council wants him as president, why not let it happen?"
Mr. Dick announced that Herbert Cisneros, an elder on the phone from El Salvador would speak in support of the amendment.
However, Mr. Cisneros made a statement admonishing the elders to support the council of elders. Assumedly Mr. Cisneros meant his comments to be in opposition to the amendment and in support of Mr. Hulme as president and council member.
Ballot No. 4 was to decide whether to amend Article 9.1 of the bylaws, which would impose term limits on council members.
Elder Randy Stiver spoke in support of term limits, drawing a sports analogy. The amendment, he said, would provide the church with a "deep bench." The regular turnover of council members would provide an informal advisory council for the incumbent members to draw on and "eliminate potential burnout."
"To imply that Christ worked in us first doesn't imply that Christ won't work through us again and again and again in the future. I think we need not to be focusing on personalities. I think it creates an imperative amongst us elders to be watching for those who would serve as good council members. Christ has blessed us with lots and lots of talent and elders."
Elder John Bartholomew of South Africa spoke from the floor against the amendment.
"I fear there is an apparent lack of understanding of the missing dimension in government," he said. "The majority of us are here because we believe we are not a religious democracy, that we have a system of governance that was established by God through a Spirit-led consensus. I believe the moment we place human limitations on terms of office, we deny God's involvement, His will and His purpose. How do we know how long or short God wants individuals to serve in a particular office? If an individual is willing and able to continue to serve, he should be available to reelection regardless of any number of terms he may have served."
Mr. Bartholomew continued: "We're dealing with God's government. God's government is the whole purpose of us being here and for Christ's return. I perceive a type of a democratic mentality which accompanies limitations on terms of office. Democracy leads to a lack of mistrust of men and the offices they hold. I elected you, I can criticize you, condemn you, get rid of you."
Ballot item No. 6 was a proposed budget resolution. No statements were made of support or opposition to this item.
Ballot item No. 7 was something called a "proposed sharing resolution."
Jeff Osborn spoke in support of the resolution, which would affect local-church involvement.
"Some have asked why do we need to define local activity?" asked Mr. Osborn. "I don't think coming out of Indianapolis any of us would have expected to do that. Over the last year and a half I have seen a number of local initiatives discouraged by the desire of the home office to control all such activity. I'm sure that desire is from the most sincere motives. We have had some very pleasant, soft words that there is strong support for local initiatives, but I don't believe we've articulated that."
John Meakin, an elder from England, opposed the same measure:
"I think aspects of this resolution appear very attractive," he said, "but I feel that the wording of this resolution and its preamble is not adequate to address the challenge which lies before us. I see the potential for duplication of effort and unnecessary competition."
Mr. Meakin called for central coordination of efforts to preach the gospel.
Ballot item No. 8 was to extend something called the "provision amendment process." No statements were made in support or opposition.
The final item, ballot item No. 9, concerned "technical amendments." There were no statements of support or opposition."
After two reports via telephone, from Peter Shenton on Scandinavia and Estonia and Alan Tattersall, Ghana and Nigeria, the conference was dismissed for the day. Meetings were to resume at 8:30 Monday morning and conclude around noon.
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