During the Big Sandy meeting the members present reviewed three documents, which Mr. Treybig said were modeled after the papers that govern the ownership of the building that houses the Houston North congregation of the United Church of God.
The Big Sandy congregation owes $350,000 in interim financing. That debt will be assumed by the UCGIA and financed at a bank of the UCGIA's choosing.
Mr. Treybig said he does not foresee the UCGIA making many payments on the new note. Rather, he thinks the church will decide to retire the note in one lump sum, thus freeing up the building, which could be worth much more than is owed on the note, to contribute to a "better financial statement" for the UCGIA.
A few reservations
A discussion preceded the vote, and church members expressed some reservation about the move.
For example, elder Jack Elliott from the audience remarked that "this seems to me to be pretty much a one-sided contract."
Mr. Elliott noted that "we raised locally over $250,000, and, as I see this, it's all protecting the UCGIA council of elders ... I think we ought to discuss that aspect more before we go on record as saying that this document is going to hold feet to the fire from now on."
Mr. Treybig responded to Mr. Elliott's concern by noting that "our intention from the beginning, when we paid [the building] off, was that we would deed it to the UCGIA when it was completed."
So the vote to immediately turn over the ownership is simply a "speeding up of the process," Mr. Treybig said. "We're letting them take over the financing, the permanent financing, rather than having to take care of it locally."
If the ownership had remained local, the UCGIA would have continued to make regular subsidy payments to the UCGET that, in more-usual circumstances, would go toward the congregation's payments to rent space on the Sabbath from someone else.
In this case, however, there will no longer be any local responsibility for making payments.
From the audience Steve McNeely, a UCGET member and certified public accountant, made several comments in defense of the proposed decision to transfer the building's ownership.
"When we made application for permission to build this building, we sort of agreed how to do it," Mr. McNeely said. "Originally the title was to be transferred when it was paid off, so in essence the spirit of the agreement is exactly the same. The money's still coming from the same place."
The "use agreement," which Mr. Treybig projected a copy of onto a large screen, specified that if there were ever a disagreement about the use of the building by either the congregation or the church's international headquarters, the dispute would go into arbitration.
The arbiter, the document specified, would be the UCGIA's Ohio-based 12-man council of elders.
This writer for The Journal asked from the audience about that provision of the arrangement. Since the document acknowledges that two parties are making a legally binding agreement, isn't it unusual and even unwise for one of the parties to agree that in a dispute the other party will have final, binding power to decide how the dispute will be settled?
From the audience Mr. McNeely responded a few minutes later to that question:
"Dixon's right," he said. "You don't have agreements where one side is the arbitrator. But I have no problem with that in this instance. This is a spiritual organization, and God places people in positions of authority."
Anne Elliott, from the audience, commented about another Church of God congregation in Big Sandy, an apparent reference to the Church of God Big Sandy (CGBS), which a few weeks after its founding in 1995 became affiliated with the UCGIA.
When the CGBS (in those days known as the United Church of God Big Sandy) split in 1998, its board, which had control of its then-new building, dropped its three-year affiliation with the UCGIA, and its members who wished to continue their membership in the UCGIA were obliged to find another place to meet on the Sabbath.
The local UCGIA members then organized as the UCGET, the United Church of God Big Sandy dropped "United" from its name, and the UCGET members until a few months ago met in a civic center, school auditoriums and motel conference rooms.
Mrs. Elliott agreed with Mr. McNeely that a building is not all-important but commented that the members on the CGBS side of the 1998 split were too concerned with a physical structure.
"They [CGBS members] got the building because they wanted to have the building and keep that building," Mrs. Elliott said. "Their congregation is disintegrating, and they've got few people there. They've got that building and that's all they've got."
Mr. Treybig quickly interjected: "I don't want to castigate any other group, but I agree that the building's not the issue."
The Journal asked Dave Havir--pastor of the CGBS from its founding as an independent congregation and throughout its UCGIA affiliation and now, for 10 years, as an independent group again--if he agreed with Mrs. Elliott that his congregation is disintegrating.
"Did Anne really makes those comments? Anne is like the rest of us who are too busy with our personal lives and our church lives to keep up with what other branches of the Church of God are doing.
"Not only does the Church of God Big Sandy have a sizable group meeting in the hall each Sabbath, we have an outreach program that interrelates with dozens of congregations and hundreds of scattered brethren around the world. And we continued our tradition of sponsoring five Feast sites this year.
"Although we are not corporately structured like United and our direct connections are smaller than United's, we are certainly not disintegrating.
"Can I say one more thing?"
Go ahead, responded The Journal.
"United's local building has become a wonderful blessing to the brethren who attend their congregation," Mr. Havir continued. "I had two personal tours of the building while it was being constructed, and I have been to two functions in the building since its completion.
"I was able to attend a wedding in their building last May, and I went to a meeting for the public in August. Their building is beautiful."
Concerning the UCGET's decision to transfer ownership to the home office in Milford, Ohio, Mr. Havir commented that "that's their business."
The right to comment
Gordon McCarty, from the audience, made a comment that went off in a different direction from others'.
"I am a newcomer," Mr. McCarty said, "but I want to make an observation. I appreciate how I've been welcomed here [by UCG members], and it's interesting that you have the right to make comments.
"I [recently] came out of an organization where you couldn't question things, and I wasn't given a choice and was told to leave even though I'd supported them and been there all along."
At the Nov. 12 meeting of 42 adult members of the United Church of God East Texas, Mr. McNeely summarized the prevailing perspective that a few minutes later resulted in an almost-unanimous decision to turn the ownership of the building over to the church's home office.
From the beginning of the UCGIA, he said, "we've kind of agreed on how we're going to do it. We're going to be on the team, and the same principle applies with our building ...
"I think one of the unintended consequences of what everybody went through 12 or 15 years ago [an apparent reference to the breakup of the Worldwide Church of God] is that, it seems to me, we've gone beyond prudent to really wanting to watch out for our own so much ...
"On the other hand, I think there is an opportunity to walk in faith, not by being stupid but by saying that, if people just want to run away with this thing [the building] and take it, then so be it. God can look out for us.
"If we're always trying to protect ourselves in every little way, it's endless, and I see that attitude in the greater patchwork-quilt Church of God."
The United Church of God East Texas meets every Sabbath at 2:30 p.m. at 1007 N. Tyler St. (Highway 155 North) in Big Sandy. See also www.ucgeasttexas.org.