The Journal: What happened at the conference this year? How was it different from conferences in other years?
Ellis Stewart: What always happens at a conference, Dixon? It’s where the elders of the church meet together and we vote on various things and have fellowship and eat together. It was a great conference.
The Journal: How was it different from the other conferences you’ve been to.
Mr. Stewart: The purpose of the conference is for us to get together and vote on certain issues, and there’s always voting on who would be on the council of elders, the board.
The [12-man] council of elders also has meetings throughout the year. A lot of those meetings are over the phone.
The Journal: What are the personnel changes as a result of this year’s voting? Obviously there was a change in the presidency because Dennis Luker died on March 14.
Mr. Stewart: This year there were several different people, nominees, to be on the board. They included John Elliott, Vernon Hargrove, Rainer Salomaa, Rex Sexton, Randy Stiver, Len Martin and Steve Myers.
The one man who’s new on there was John Elliott. Mario Seiglie was already on the board and was voted back on.
Some went off the board who did not want to serve in that capacity any longer. One was Bob Berendt, and another was Bill Eddington. The brand-new board member was Rex Sexton.
The Journal: What about voting other than for personnel changes?
Mr. Stewart: A proposed amendment to the constitution passed that has to do with the purpose of the church.
The Journal: What is the purpose, as voted on?
Mr. Stewart: The old wording said that, quote, God’s purpose for His church is to prepare those willing to live His way of righteousness and self-control and to function as His instruments in the administration of salvation to humanity and to demonstrate His wisdom to His spiritual creation.
The Journal: What’s the revised purpose of the church?
Mr. Stewart: It’s, quote, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God in all the world, make disciples in all nations, teach and care for those disciples and prepare them for the return of Christ, end quote.
They made the change because they decided the old wording was not correct according to the Bible.
The Journal: What about the Q&A [question-and-answer session]?
Mr. Stewart: It was long. There were no big controversial questions or comments this year.
The Journal: You said that one year ago to me. But I found a recording of that Q&A and had a completely different impression of it after listening to it compared with what you said about it.
Mr. Stewart: Well, they discussed how to preach the gospel. We discussed how we might save money and stuff. It is our job to preach the gospel. There was an open mike, and people who wanted to talk, ask questions, lined up, and it went on and on and on and on.
The Journal: So was anything brought up about John Elliott’s proposal last time for the general conference to have its own chairman apart from the council’s chairman?
Mr. Stewart: Yes, that was brought up. Right now I can’t remember what happened, but if my memory is right I believe they’re going to have a deputy or vice chairman for the general conference who will also be on the regular board.
They had so many things to do they just didn’t have a lot to say about it. But I think this vice chairman will help the chairman of the council.
The Journal: Help him do what?
Mr. Stewart: They did discuss that at some length. But John had a whole bunch of questions last year and they did not get all those answered. They’ve just been awful busy this past year. John does a lot of overseas work.
The Journal: I remember someone on the council last time—maybe it was Gary Antion—asking John why he wasn’t satisfied with thinking of the council chairman as also chairman of the general conference of elders.
John’s very logical response was that that would be a conflict of interest. So if there’s going to be a vice chairman of the GCE who is a member of the council, why isn’t that a conflict of interest?
Mr. Stewart: I don’t know. They made mention of that in there, but they had not answered a lot of those questions because people have been so busy.
We’ve had a very busy year after the split [in late 2010 in which many UCG elders left to form the Church of God a Worldwide Association, commonly referred to as Cogwa].
This year the main thing was preaching the gospel and also how can we keep the young people in the church. There were a lot of ideas brought up.
The Journal: That’s a good question. What were some of the ideas?
Parents, teach your children
Mr. Stewart: I think the overriding answer was the parents need to teach their children while they’re very young to have a relationship with God, not just with them but with God, and for them to learn to pray as they get older.
The Journal: That brings to mind another question. What you just said could help keep young people in the church, but how would it inspire them specifically to have or maintain a relationship with God? After all, you can have a relationship with God and not be a member of a particular church.
Mr. Stewart: You’re right. We recognize there’s more than one church, you know, and we don’t know how many people God is dealing with.
But there are things we can do. We can have not only the Bible schools for the different congregations, but we can let them participate in various things.
For instance, at Mothers’ Day, just last Sabbath, all the little kids [in the Big Sandy UCG congregation] came up to the front and took their mothers with them. That was to help them feel like a part of the congregation.
The Journal: I understand. But what you’re describing is a way to help young people feel comfortable in a particular congregation or COG denomination, not how to help them have or maintain a relationship with God. That question is larger than that.
Mr. Stewart: No, it’s not.
The Journal: Okay. So you’re saying having a relationship with God is synonymous with staying in, for example, the United Church of God?
Mr. Stewart: No. God’s church is not limited to a group name. It would include different groups.
The Journal: Are you saying you cannot have a relationship with God unless you are a member of a church?
I think the Bible shows there are congregations to help us to have personal contact with members.
I think to follow God’s Word by being in a congregation of like-minded people helps you to grow and express love and unity and several of these things that you can’t have being alone.
You’re supposed to be interviewing me about the conference. I was so tired that I probably dozed off during part of the Q&A. It went to 11 o’clock.
The choosing of the president
The Journal: How about the new president? How is the president chosen? Is he selected the same way the chairman is chosen: by a vote of the several score elders of the general conference?
Mr. Stewart: No, the president is picked by the 12 board [council] members. We as elders were able to make our suggestions for president known to the board. They took all those into consideration, I think.
I believe there were 26 names suggested, and then the council of elders reviewed all those before deciding on the new president. [A few days after this interview, the council chose Victor Kubik as the new president.]
The Journal: What was the theme of this year’s conference?
Mr. Stewart: The theme was “Edifying the Body Through Spiritual Gifts.”
Current council members and administrators of the United Church of God
Carmelo Anastasi, Scott Ashley, Bill Bradford, Roc Corbett, John Elliott, Mark Mickelson, Darris McNeely, Rainer Salomaa, Mario Seiglie, Rex Sexton, Don Ward and Robin Webber.
Victor Kubik is church president. Council chairman is Mr. Webber.
Write the United Church of God at P.O. Box 541027, Cincinnati, Ohio 45254, U.S.A. Visit the church online at www.ucg.org.