Kansas City church marking seven years of unaffiliation,
recounts several problems faced by 'independents'
By Bill Stough
INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- The Kansas City Church of God, which meets here, celebrated its seven-year anniversary as an "independent" congregation July 10.
The founders of the group during an interview on that day made suggestions they said could help other congregations that have recently separated from formal church affiliations.
When the Worldwide Church of God announced major doctrinal changes in 1995, a group of about 200 WCG members in this area, pastored by Gerald Weston, left that church.
But, when Mr. Weston decided to affiliate the group with what was then called the Global Church of God, many in the group said they were not comfortable with that affiliation.
The UCG, new in 1995, held out a promise of heightened congregational involvement. Some of the speakers at the UCG founding conference in Indianapolis, Ind., encouraged local churches to set up boards of trustees and buy local buildings to meet in.
The UCG said it would be more "open" and "transparent" than the WCG. Central control by a headquarters was not to be the UCG's way. So about 100 of the brethren in this area decided to become a part of the UCG.
But some of the members in Kansas City who say they saw the UCG reverting to some of the old WCG practices and mind-sets, so the group split. About half remained with the UCG, and half organized as an "independent" congregation.
So was born the Church of God Kansas City, which meets in Independence, a K.C. suburb. (See "Board Members Blame K.C. Split on Governance Issues," The Journal, Sept. 25, 1997, and "Kansas City, Mo., Congregation Says It Has Learned a Lot One Year After Breakup," The Journal, July 31, 1998.). The K.C. fellowship began with about 50 in attendance and sometimes is attended by up to about 70 of the brethren.
What to expect
The K.C. independent brethren with whom The Journal spoke say they didn't quite know what to expect when setting up shop on their own. For example, how would they deal with any doctrinal controversies that were sure to come along? What if the brethren could not agree on which hymns to sing? What if they couldn't agree on a holy-day calendar?
During the recent anniversary gathering, this writer spoke with a group of 10 K.C. members who talked about just this kind of thing. They told how they have dealt with pesky doctrinal and calendar questions and several other issues.
They also described their unusual solution to the question of whether to ordain elders or not. (See the article about Kansas City ordinations in subscription version of The Journal)
The following is the interview.
Question: Did your congregation have a honeymoon period back in 1997? If so, what was it like and what happened to end it?
Art Salmon: I didn't think it was a honeymoon. It was a depressing time because the family was breaking up. It was a hard time. There was no sense of exuberance like being freed from taskmasters.
Paula Frazee: The first year was our hardest year, in my opinion. We had so many decisions to make. Which way are we going to go? Are we going to do Bible studies in homes? How were we going to organize? We had many basic things to do.
Rick Frazee: Part of the reason things were tough is that we were out doing something totally different from our experience. We didn't want to follow in the same footsteps as before. We didn't want to be hampered and central-controlled, but we also didn't want things to just happen with no direction.
I feel that the people who put together the direction of our church did an excellent job. What happens at the beginning is important just as it was critical for the founding fathers of the United States who put together the Constitution.
Q: I understand you are not incorporated and do not have a board per se. How did you organize?
No corporation, no board
Ramon Coleman: We have officers, but everybody in the church has a vote. We have no board. The congregation votes directly. But we had a couple of times where the vote was very close. If it was a major issue, we would table it for later discussion, then come back and vote later. We are not strictly congregational. If it's a 51 percent vote, that's not enough for us to do it. We go more for a consensus.
[The congregation settled on having a president who may serve for a maximum of two years in a row; a vice president; a treasurer; a secretary; and several committees. The church only recently ordained elders.]
Mr. Coleman: Officers don't make policy decisions. The whole church votes on that. The president decides, for example, to call off church if there is too much snow.
Q: Do most of you turn in your tithes or offerings here, or do you donate to other ministries and fellowships?
Mr. Frazee: People turn in donations all over the place. We have more money than we need for just here. About two weeks ago I had a complaint from the treasurer. She said we have too much money in the treasury.
Q: Looking back, would you change some things if you could start over? What would you keep the same?
George Curry: It's hard to say how it would have turned out if we'd done things differently. If we could have done any one thing better, the results could have turned out worse than what has happened. So we don't know about that.
Mr. Coleman: We've got a lot of strong personalities in this group, and yet we have had no one trying to take control. Everybody is allowed to voice his opinions. We may disagree on our opinions and on things that need attention, but we let everybody talk.
All have agreed to let things go the way the congregation wanted. The group could have been destroyed right in the beginning if a couple of people had said we're going to do it my way or that's it. No one did that.
So I think one of the great things is that we all fit together. One of our first organizational meetings was in George Curry's yard under a tree.
Lenny Cacchio: One of the things that was frustrating to me when we were first starting out was the idea that every decision had to be brought before the whole congregation before something could be done. We just don't get anything done that way. That's where the committee idea developed.
If somebody is interested in an area such as a community-service project, he does not have to bring it to the congregation for approval. The committee does it. They're delegated the authority by the rest of the congregation, and they can just go out and do it.
We don't talk a project to death. We don't spend our meetings talking about everything rather than just letting somebody pick up the ball and run with it.
Mr. Curry: Nobody appoints a committee. Anybody can join any committee anytime. So, if you don't like what's going on in certain committees, go join that committee and then influence it. We have a community-service committee, a sports committee, a guest-speaker committee and others.
Mr. Coleman: Committees have the authority to dole out money as they see fit. The church votes on a budget for that committee, but the committee can spend that money any way they want to.
Q: You have a community-service committee. What are some of the community-service projects you've been involved in? Those are something a lot of churches don't know what to do about.
Mr. Curry: We have about 12 committees representing this congregation right now of which community service is one.
One thing I put together is financing air-conditioning units for the needy. We help other charities financially, and they will deliver the units, or if I want to I can deliver them myself.
I'm putting together a packet that'll have a Bible in it that goes with each air conditioner.
We also give away fans and other things. We have donated money to a help-your-neighbor foundation which helps handicapped and elderly people who need various things. We've helped a couple of families dealing with cancer as well as a Boy Scout camp. I got a gift certificate for somebody who was needing groceries. We have the money, and the three of us on the committee get together and talk it over, then spend the money. We don't have to go through a lot of rigmarole to do it.
Mrs. Frazee: We help in the community at large and not just within the Churches of God, and we've also helped people in other branches of the Churches of God. One example is helping a family that had been injured in an accident out of the community-service fund. We have our own member assistance for people who are part of us, but we've had other members in the Churches of God who have had needs whom we have helped. We don't just donate money to charities. We actually get involved and do things.
Mr. Curry: I'd like to get even more people involved in doing things. My wife and I have been going to nursing homes and doing things there. Ramon [Coleman] sometimes goes to a nursing home and plays the piano for patients. We don't say: "You've got to check with headquarters. We don't allow that. Besides, you're not permitted to help outside the Church of God." We help whoever needs help. Doesn't God do that also?
Mr. Cacchio: These are examples of equipping the saints, giving them the tools they need and the financial backing they need to follow where the Holy Spirit's leading them.
Soothing the savage beast
Q: I understand that the hymns you sing at church became a big issue. Some people in various Church of God groups aren't comfortable singing what they call Protestant songs, even if those songs seem to have biblically correct words. Could you talk about that and how you handled that problem?
Mr. Coleman: Seven years ago we wondered if we were allowed to sing anything that Dwight [Armstrong, brother of WCG founder Herbert Armstrong] didn't write. We still have some people who believe we shouldn't sing whatever Mr. Armstrong didn't allow to be sung.
And yet we looked at it. We tried to find out what the truth was in the Bible, and the majority of us came to the conclusion that it's okay to sing other songs.
And some people still have a problem with that, a big problem. We had a couple people leave because of that. Others stand [during hymns] but won't sing.
Q: Have you had a problem with people pushing doctrinal or other agendas? That seems to be a biggie everywhere. How do you deal with it? How do you keep somebody from destroying your church by introducing heretical doctrines?
Mr. Cacchio: It's interesting because we have people here who keep different calendars and others who have different understandings of the nature of Christ. You know, is He eternal? You just get to the point where you realize that we agree to disagree, and we're all coming to a fuller knowledge of the faith. So when Christ comes back we'll ask Him then.
Q: Does everyone agree on which calendar to keep to decide when to observe the feast days?
Mr. Coleman: Before we left Worldwide we had to sit there listening to sermons we didn't agree with. You just sat there getting madder and madder. When we started this congregation, we agreed that in the sermon part of our church service we would not bring up controversial subjects. People who were giving sermons would have to stay with the trunk of the tree and cover things from which everybody could learn but still enjoy coming to church.
But we also have Bible studies three times a month before church, and these are wide open. If anybody wants to give a Bible study on the calendar or the nature of God, it is perfectly okay.
Maybe only a few people come to that Bible study, or we may flood the room. But any subject is open for Bible study, but not in the sermon part of the service.
Mr. Cacchio: Another thing: To do a Bible study like that, be prepared to have people ask questions and disagree with you. The study is interactive.
Carolyn Unnewehr: Another problem is the speaker slamming other denominations. I've had a real problem with that.
Mr. Cacchio: When we started out we were all from United, but now maybe 50 percent of us have a United background and the other 50 percent come from all over the place. We've had several here from a Reorganized Latter Day Saints splinter church who have visited us.
We've had people from Garner Ted's group, others who weren't affiliated with anybody, and the Church of God (Seventh Day). If you take a shot at another religion, you've got a good chance you're going to hit somebody in the eye.
Mrs. Frazee: That was one of the guidelines from when we first set up. We weren't supposed to put down other groups or churches. As the years have gone by, that has proved to be a good policy.
No statement of beliefs
Q: What do you think about a church having a statement of beliefs? Do you think that's a good idea, a bad idea?
Mr. Cacchio: I believe it's a formula for disaster. I think a better way to say it is: [We officially believe] things that are commonly believed among us, because what you don't want to have is a fellowship test in which you have to believe these things or you can't come to our fellowship.
If you say "things that are commonly believed among us," it leaves it open for people who have a different perspective and may be right; they may be right about some things; we may be wrong about some things.
I also know about two independent churches that were talking about merging congregations. The problem was that one group has a statement of beliefs that the other group doesn't fully subscribe to. If they had merged their congregations, they would have ruined both groups.
All of a sudden doctrinal beliefs became a condition of fellowship. So they decided not to merge their congregations. And I think that's probably a wise decision for them.
Karen Crawley: I know a group that I fellowshipped with at the Feast that had come up with a statement of beliefs among the group. The people who founded the group and wrote those beliefs kind of changed the way we thought about those issues. Some of those beliefs were minor to us, and we did want to fellowship there, but our beliefs didn't quite match the wording of the statement of beliefs. So then we were asking if we were still welcome there. It became uncomfortable. A statement of beliefs can cause some of those problems too, I think.
A lot of people I've seen have different beliefs, and they want to bring them out in public. I don't care about something in private.
Some people have a little thing where they want to create controversy. That is their agenda. It's not really the doctrine. They're using the doctrine for another purpose.
Policy on conflict
Q: What is your policy on conflict? What part does conflict play in peace-making in a congregation? Is it a necessary thing to work through to build a healthy congregation?
Mr. Coleman: It's not necessary, but it happens. An example of this is one member here who believes in a different calendar. He has personally come to me and talked to me and said this is the only place he's ever been where he's felt welcome.
He knows I don't believe the same thing, but, as long as he's not up there preaching about it, he's very welcome, and we certainly do want him to stay.
That could be a huge conflict, but he's agreed not to make it a conflict, and we've agreed not to.
A limit to tolerance?
Q: At what point must tolerance end? Even though you like peaceful, loving congregations, some things have to be faced.
Mrs. Frazee: No one ever gets everything his own way. If you want your church to survive, you must be committed to it just like you're committed to a marriage. You understand you're not going to get your way all the time. You move on.
Mr. Frazee: I think the core of the whole issue is loving your neighbor and loving the rest of the group. I can't emphasize that enough.
A lot of times the conflict doesn't hit everybody. If we have an incident that affects everybody in the congregation, then that's an issue we have to deal with. Others are doing things on committees that I might not agree with, but so what? They are the ones doing it; it's their deal.
Lenny is into evangelism. It's his responsibility.
I think we've learned that we as a church do not have to have everybody agree on everything. We don't have to say this is how we're doing it and we're all doing it that way.
I think that's cut down on the conflict because we've come to realize that we're all doing different jobs.
Ms. Crawley: Autonomy creates the ability to make creative decisions. Realizing that cuts down on some of the conflict.
Q: Do you think Satan has tried to destroy this congregation at some point? Has the devil attacked you?
Mr. Coleman: He's the original terrorist.
We had an attitude go through certain people. It seemed to be a destructive attitude of arguing with everything no matter what. I think Satan's behind some of that, and it wasn't just one person. It went through our church there for a while, and there were big arguments on everything.
Then it calmed down and we got around it. Lenny got up and said in a sermon to start praying for everybody. We've had several sermons on that. I gave one also. Pick out an individual and pray for that person one week and another person one week.
Praying has helped us overcome some of those attitudes. We've also drawn closer by having more socials, picnics and camp-outs. We've grown closer by group projects and prayer. I think that's the way we've overcome the challenge.
Q: Would you say that having come out of a more-traditional, top-down Church of God didn't prepare you for any of this?
Mr. Cacchio: It's not as major a deal as we thought it was going to be. We were kind of brainwashed into thinking we couldn't do it and somebody else needed to do it for us. Politicians also try to make you think that way.
But we have talent in this group. Every group does. Once you're actually out there and actually have that freedom to look at it and say we can do it, it's not a big deal. You open up a bank account, find a place to meet and take it one step at a time.
There'll be obstacles, and you get through the obstacles if you're really committed.
Mr. Coleman: One of the turning points I saw back in United was when we had a meeting with a minister to talk about what were his duties and what were our duties. I brought up potlucks and tried to start from a point that I assumed we could all agree on. The example I used was: We don't need ministers to decide whether we need pink or blue napkins; we can make that decision.
But when we looked up and saw his face, we saw that he disagreed with us. He felt that potlucks were a spiritual part of the church, and therefore all the decisions about it had to be made by him.
When he indicated we couldn't choose blue or pink napkins for the potlucks, I knew we were in deep trouble and we weren't going to get out of that hole. We came from that environment nine years ago.
It isn't that hard. It really isn't. If I could say anything to a church that's just becoming independent, I think I'd say don't be afraid. You can do it.
If God's with you, what's going to keep you from doing whatever you need to do?
Q: Do you have a relationship with other congregations?
Mr. Cacchio: One of the reasons we have guest speakers is so other congregations have a reason to come and visit. It's a way of getting different churches together. We've had potlucks with Church of God (Seventh Day), we've had Ron Dart and David Antion come in, and we've had the two other independent groups here in the area come in and meet with us.
Mr. Coleman: We put on a Thanksgiving dinner and picnics that we invite other churches to. The corporate churches can come for the picnic, but they know their church can't put on the picnic and invite us. We also sponsor a sports program and all the other churches are invited. We realize they can come and play sports with us, but we know if their corporate church did it we would not be invited. So we solve the problem for them.
Deal with it
Q: Do you have any more advice for people forming new congregations?
Mr. Cacchio: Let go of your anger and go forward. Deal with it. You have to deal with it. You have to go through a mourning period [after separation from another congregation or affiliation], but don't keep looking back on it, because there's too much to do looking forward.
Mr. Coleman: Don't be afraid. Look what happened in the Bible all the time. God sent people what they needed. Pray for whatever your lacks are, and God's going to take care of it.
I think that's the biggest thing stopping some of us. We're afraid. We've had people around here scared and wondering what will we do without a minister.
We went seven years without one. I'll bet you if you surveyed most of the people in the congregation most would tell you that their personal, spiritual life grew more in the last seven years than it did a long time before that.
We have some very capable people. Congregations now facing independence for the first time are probably fearful and perhaps unsure of what to do. We faced the same things. We would love to talk to people in these congregations to try to help in any way we can.
Dave Havir in Big Sandy is doing this also. But our situation in Kansas City has been different from some other places. If they would contact some of us, we would just love to try to help them. Perhaps we can help them keep from making some of the mistakes that we've made. We can talk by phone and E-mail. We can even go to their churches. We can even bring them here.
[To contact the Kansas City Church of God, write or phone church president Rick Frazee at 3201 N. Union, Independence, Mo. 63055, U.S.A.; firstname.lastname@example.org ; or (816) 461-3252.]
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