United conference meets for fourth time;
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--The general conference of elders of the United Church of God, an International Association, met here March 7-10 in the Galt House Hotel to vote on several proposals including a decision as to who would occupy four vacating seats on the council of elders and to learn who would be the church's new president.
The conference reelected the four incumbents whose posts were expiring-Burk McNair of San Antonio, Texas; Les McCullough of Big Sandy, Texas; Victor Kubik of Indianapolis, Ind.; and Leon Walker of Big Sandy. This temporarily left the 12-member council with the same configuration it has had since last August, when council member Doug Horchak of Windsor, Colo., resigned.
Later during the conference the council, after the 12 members reportedly cast seven ballots, named Mr. McCullough as the new president.
Complicating the council's configuration were the resignations from the council of David Hulme and Peter Nathan during or immediately after the conference.Their two spots on the council were to be filled by the men whose names are next in line on the list of elders voted on by the council in the election of the four men mentioned above.
(Chairman Bob Dick announced March 30 to the council of elders in a teleconference that he had asked Aaron Dean of Gladewater, Texas, the next man in line to sit on the council, to fill the place vacated by Mr. Hulme's resignation. Mr. Dean told Mr. Dick he would be willing to serve on the council. As of April 1 the second vacancy, for an international representative, still had not been officially filled. Three possibilities for the international representative and 12th council member [taking Peter Nathan's place] are Joel Meeker, John Meakin and Mario Seiglie.)
The order of names on the list is secret, known only to Coopers & Lybrand, the accounting firm retained by the church.
The business of the conference was interrupted the afternoon of March 8, during the second day of meetings, when Chairman Bob Dick, acting on a motion by elder Joel Meeker of St. Louis, Mo., ejected two writers for this newspaper from the proceedings. For details of that incident, see the article at right.
About 385 elders and wives-a total estimated attendance of 650-came together beginning the Sabbath of March 7 for the church's fourth general conference of elders since its founding in the spring of 1995.
Saturday evening Mr. Dick, of Everett, Wash., and Roy Holladay of Fort Myers, Fla., addressed the delegates in the first preliminary session of the conference. Mr. Dick and Mr. Holladay addressed concerns brought up by two other UCG elders-treasurer Steven Andrews of the home office and Marc Masterson of Mahwah, New Jersey-in two mailings to UCG elders a few weeks before the conference.
Mr. Dick defended the council's decisions that affect the approach the church makes toward preaching the gospel and doing "the work" and the decision to allow the presently configured council to name a new president (instead of waiting for a newly reconstituted council to name the president after the conference) and explained why the council had rejected several measures brought up by Mr. Andrews.
(Before the conference the council had reprimanded Mr. Andrews for allegedly "usurping" the power of the council and general conference. The council had instructed Mr. Andrews to apologize and retract certain statements; Mr. Andrews refused. The church and Mr. Andrews later agreed to a "separation" of him as treasurer of the church. See the article about Mr. Andrews' decision not to apologize in the Feb. 26 issue of The Journal.)
Mr. Holladay defended the decision of the council to carry out the general conference's decision in March 1997 to move the home office from Arcadia to Cincinnati, Ohio, after Mr. Masterson had charged that the council had ignored pertinent information that would have weighed in favor of leaving the office in Southern California.
The events of the day had begun several hours earlier at Sabbath services, which besides elders and wives included many of the brethren from miles around Louisville who heard a split sermon by council members Jim Franks of Cypress, Texas, and Mr. Dick.
Mr. Franks spoke of the Body of Christ, quoting Matthew 16:18, noting that "the church cannot be destroyed, no matter our puny efforts."
"We are God's people," he said. "We are a part of His church. And have we ever thought deeply about what that really means? We refer to ourselves as Christians, as God's people. We talk about brethren. All of those are terms that should imply a much deeper meaning behind them."
He related an account of his research into early Sabbath-keepers in New England while he was pastoring churches in that part of the country in the early 1980s.
He used his research to make his point about "basic Christianity." He said his list of three points wasn't conclusive or exhaustive, but "I have three very simple points. I am a very simple person and capable of only very simple sermons. This is my list of what I call basic Christianity, my list of basic Christian principles. These are things I found in the people [the early Sabbatarians] in New England. This was my test to see if these were the people of God, and I concluded they were."
His points were that:
To support point No. 1, that Christians should be humble people, he cited Isaiah 66 and other scriptures and noted that followers of God and Jesus Christ should be "contrite, meek, demur, honest, submissive and subservient."
"All these are synonyms," he said, "for the word humble or humility." Point No. 1 "identifies an attitude. But, more than that, humility is something you are; it's the way you act, much more than words."
He quoted verses from 1 Peter 5:
"Peter is speaking to elders in the church," Mr. Franks said. "Why does Peter direct it squarely to the elders? The theme of the first 11 verses is humility. Obviously it talks about feeding the flock, caring for people, not being lords but being examples."
But the apostle Peter was referring "not just to something that's inside; it's something that can be seen from the outside by the way you act."
On point No. 2, the faith and conviction of a follower of God, he again referred to early New England Sabbath-keepers. Then he said:
"There's a hope that is so deeply within you that it just has to come out. We have the greatest hope in the world, and yet we seem at times not to be willing to shout it from the rooftops."
Then he explained that by shouting from the rooftops he meant talking about the truth of God "among ourselves."
"How often do we talk about it?" he asked.
Point No. 3, the hope of the future, "drives you forward," Mr. Franks said.
Mr. Dick's sermon
In the second half of the Sabbath service, Chairman Dick said he wanted to take his listeners back to a "significant event in the ministry of Jesus Christ."
He referred to John the Baptist and the question John sent his disciples to ask Jesus: Was He the Messiah, or should they look for someone else?
"Look at how Christ chose to answer the question of John," said Mr. Dick. "He didn't stand on His reputation and say, 'John, you know who I am. John, you baptized me in the river.'"
Jesus had a simple message for John's disciples, Mr. Dick said. "Look at My works. Now, go tell John what you've seen."
Those comments led in to a discussion by Mr. Dick of whether the United Church of God, as judged by its fruits, is doing "the work." He cited the two-year record of the church's magazine, The Good News, noting that the current press run is 80,000 copies, up from 15,000 two years ago.
The magazine is advertised in Reader's Digest, in editions in the United States and other countries.
"Our literature is printed in five languages," he said. "The Good News is printed in English, Spanish, German, French and Italian. Other literature is also printed in Dutch. The Word is going out in the same fashion that the Word has gone out in days gone by."
By "days gone by" Mr. Dick meant the way the message was preached 30 years ago in the Worldwide Church of God. He compared the WCG's magazine The Plain Truth of 1968 with the UCG's magazine The Good News of 1998.
"All of us know," he said, "that the simple seeds that we plant at any given time fundamentally take two to three years to germinate, sprout and begin to come back to us in the way of people who have decided to have some degree of connection and affiliation with us. We have planted and, like the good husbandman, must demonstrate the patience for that planting to bear fruit."
The Good News "is and should continue to be one of the most valuable tools for reaching out to this world that this church has."
He noted that in 1968 members of the Worldwide Church of God were looking forward to 1972 and events that many in the WCG including founder Herbert W. Armstrong had predicted might take place in the 1970s.
He was referring to the widespread belief among some WCG members that the church would flee to a "place of safety" in 1972 and that Christ would return in 1975.
"Our focus was on 1972," said Mr. Dick; "1975 was in a sense irrelevant, but 1972 was highly relevant, and we were only four years away."
He noted that in 1968, although many were looking to 1972, others believed time would be "cut short" and the church's fleeing would take place before 1972.
His point was that, with the brethren believing the end of "the work" was so soon to come to pass, they had a zeal and urgency about spreading the gospel message that was lacking in latter years.
"I'd like to ask you simply, brethren, are we preaching the same message?"
He referred to specific articles in The Plain Truth in 1968 and The Good News today and noted similarities of subject matter.
Later in his sermon he talked about the youth of the United Church of God and said that "our children are the responsibility of everyone in the congregation."
He drew an analogy between that statement and a book by Hillary Clinton, It Takes a Village. Just as raising a child takes a village (according to Mrs. Clinton), tending after children in the Church of God is the responsibility of all the brethren.
"In a sense," he said, "children should be seen as collective property. Anything any of us can do to help our children progress toward the Kingdom of God we should do."
He spoke of United's camping programs for young people, including summer camps.
In concluding his sermon, he said that the United Church of God "began with a shepherd's heart."
"And I pray that we will never lose a shepherd's heart. It doesn't matter what our commission is if we fulfill it heartlessly. Our first concern in order of time and immediacy was to care for the church. It was the natural immediate need. Congregations were formed in every location where it was physically possible to do so."
He noted that a few years ago in the WCG the elder-to-nonelder ratio was about 1 to 280. The United Church of God has a much greater proportion of elders to other members. He cited this difference as evidence that the UCG puts "caring for the brethren" above "numbers."
He returned to the question by John's disciples: "Are you the one?"
"I appreciated very much Jesus Christ's answer to John's disciples," he concluded: "no rhetoric, no scripture quoting. He simply said take the time to look at and consider what you see with your eyes and what you hear with your ears.
"I hope all of you feel the same way I do, that the evidence speaks very loudly for itself: This body is doing God's work."
Selection of new president
The elders and wives convened Saturday evening for the first session of the conference. The proceedings began about 7:50 with an announcement by Mr. Dick that the president-selection process was being moved to Sunday evening, March 8. The council of elders would meet during the conference to select a new president prompted by the removal of the first president, David Hulme, in January.
Mr. Dick noted that some elders had called for the council to wait until four new council members were selected by the general conference before selecting the new president. But Mr. Dick said that waiting until after the conference would not be feasible because of provisions in the constitution and bylaws.
He said that the new council, if the selection process were delayed, would have to wait a minimum of an additional two months and a week before selecting the president, and that would be too long for the church to operate without a chief executive officer.
"So the council determined that the old council was the proper council to select the new president," he said, "because of those nuances and intentions."
Mr. Dick calls for fewer secret meetings
Mr. Dick announced that he and other council members intend to meet less often behind closed doors in the future. The council has been criticized by some elders and other members for its secrecy in making certain decisions, even including the firing of Mr. Hulme as president.
Mr. Dick didn't specifically mention Mr. Hulme's removal in this context, but he said "we'd sure like to see a lot fewer executive sessions."
"I genuinely believe that, with the exception of those items of business that appropriately must fall within the confines of executive session," meetings should be on the record and reports of them readily available to elders of the church, he said.
Clyde Kilough, a regional pastor from Northern California who acts as reporter for council meetings, could include more-comprehensive reports to elders if the council met in fewer executive sessions, Mr. Dick said.
"I hope that Clyde Kilough can give you far more reports on meetings and fewer of these little one-liners that indicate executive sessions."
Mr. Dick said that elders in the United Church of God are accustomed to giving simplistic answers to complex questions, and that needs to change. The overuse of simplistic answers leads only to more problems, he said, and elders of the church must learn to do otherwise.
He spoke of the process of amending the constitution and bylaws of the UCG and said that proposed amendments that had been rejected by the council and not allowed to go before the general conference were not evidence of the council's manipulation but came about because some of the amendments were not properly formulated.
He pledged that he and other council members would assist elders in making sure their amendments were in the proper format and would successfully mesh with other sections of the constitution and bylaws. Proposed amendments with problems of wording would not be summarily rejected; they would be sent back to their writers with suggestions on how they could successfully become part of the church governance.
November unity statement
Mr. Dick also spoke of the "unity statement" that was jointly signed and released by the 12 council members late in 1997. Some elders had complained that the firing of the president coming on the heels of the statement showed that the statement was "farcical."
After the statement's issuance and the president's removal, "we received a reasonable amount of mail," he said. "Some fairly asked, based upon the knowledge available to them, is the unity statement not somewhat farcical? Those were the kinder statements; they went downhill from there."
So he rehearsed the reasoning and evolution of the unity statement: that it was released as a reaction to earlier statements by other elders that a "split" was imminent in the United Church of God and that the sentiments enunciated by the statement were sincere and accurate.
"The unity statement published in November was in response to a specific issue," he said. It had nothing to do with the removal of the president; it was in reaction to rumors of a split."
The removal of the president, he seemed to be saying, was still necessary, whether there had been a unity statement or not.
Mr. Dick introduced Mr. Holladay, who besides serving as a council member is chairman of the home-office-relocation committee and chairman of the strategic-planning committee of the council. Mr. Holladay is also involved in studies of "media," or how the church's message should be proclaimed.
He said the title of his address was "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Home Office and Media but Were Afraid to Ask."
He mentioned that other men on the office-relocation committee were Gary Antion of Mississauga, Ont., Canada; Burk McNair of San Antonio, Texas; and Victor Kubik of Indianapolis.
Mr. Holladay explained, in an apparent effort to counter criticism and questions sparked by Mr. Masterson's mailing to the ministry, how the proposed move to Cincinnati (to be effected by the fall of 1998) came about.
He said several studies were undertaken by outside firms and were seriously considered by the council in following the decision by the elders in Louisville last year to move the office.
He said that, based on the studies and the mandate from the other elders, the council decided the relocation should go forward, and the planned move to Cincinnati should go forward.
Regarding the church's policy on "media," Mr. Holladay said "breakout sessions" later in this conference would tackle media policy, but he assured the elders that the council was firmly supportive of a centralized approach to preaching the gospel.
"We realize," he said, "there is a desire to do more things locally that that has to be coordinated so that we are all on the same page.
"We all recognize that Jesus Christ is the Head of this church.
"We know that Christ has given us a responsibility to take the gospel to the world.
"We want to do that, and Bob [Dick] addressed that today.
"Are we preaching the gospel as a witness? Yes, we are. Do we want to do it more? Yes, we do.
"We realize that in the church's preaching of the gospel to the world as a witness there's an element of a warning.
"We also realize that Christ charged the church, in Matthew 28 and the book of Mark, chapter 16, and Luke 24-you put all of these chapters together and you find, as our mission statement says, that we have a mission to take the gospel of the Kingdom of God and of Jesus Christ to the world, to make disciples and to care for the flock."
Mr. Holladay said he hadn't talked to any minister in the church "who doesn't want to do that. We all desire to do that."
"Let's stop and realize, brethren," he concluded, "that Satan would love to divide us as a church, as a group, to get us off into different approaches, to have one saying do this and another saying do that.
"I don't see that. I see that all of us want to accomplish the same thing. We need to realize that our real enemy is not one another; our real enemy is Satan the devil."
The second day of the conference, Sunday, March, 8, began with reports from non-U.S. areas by representatives from those areas.
Bruce Dean of Loftus, New South Wales, Australia, reported that Australia has 700 UCG members in 15 congregations and four outlying Bible studies. The mailing list in his country includes another 750 people.
The Australian UCG is financially self-sufficient, Mr. Dean reported.
The Aussies are running television ads as well as half-page ads in Reader's Digest. Some 150 responses from the latter have come in; another ad is planned for June.
Mr. Dean said Australians plan to offer the What Happens After Death? booklet to funeral homes by direct mail.
Australia has five UCG Feast sites.
Efforts in the Baltics
Victor Kubik reported on United's efforts in the Baltics. Even though he is involved in United's international efforts, Mr. Kubik lives in Indianapolis and is one of nine members of the council of elders who represent U.S. elders.
"We have baptized one lady [in the Baltics] who never knew of our former fellowship [the Worldwide Church of God]," reported Mr. Kubik.
A Lithuanian member is giving monthly Bible studies in Estonia, he said.
Twenty articles have been translated into Baltic languages from the English version of The Good News.
Twenty-five audiotapes have been translated into Russian and Estonian.
Mr. Kubik announced a United Web site with a Russian address.
The church in Canada
Tony Wasilkoff, an elder from Calgary, Alta., Canada, reported on Canadian efforts by the United Church of God.
Canada, he said, has five pastors and six other elders.
Attendance on the feast days was as high as 532. Canadian attendance of the WCG several years ago was as high as 12,000.
Canada has a nine-member governing board, Mr. Wasilkoff said. The board includes five pastors, two nonsalaried elders and two "lay members."
The Canadian version of the church's New Beginnings newsletter is published bimonthly by Ranier Salomaa.
The Good News is going out to 2,000 Canadians.
A Reader's Digest ad recently brought 766 responses. Another is planned for April.
Canadian church members are involved in brochure programs.
George Delap, in his report from Britain, said 500 UCG members attend 17 congregations, and the church distributes about 700 copies of The Good News.
Mr. Delap then launched into what another elder later called "a political speech." Here are quotations from Mr. Delap's address:
"We are deeply disappointed and dismayed at the removal of David Hulme from the office of the presidency and what we perceive to be the methodology of the way it was accomplished . . .
"We do worry about The Journal and other such publications and some of those who write for them.
"We do worry about a home-office relocation which we feel is ill-advised and feel that we can ill afford.
"We do worry about the holding of God's tithes by local congregations and unilateral decisions to build church buildings at great expense when we cannot afford to preach the gospel the way that we would want to preach it.
"We do worry about the fact that we talk about spiritual consensus when it appears to us that what we actually have is more akin to democratic politics.
"In fact, we have a growing skepticism about the whole system of governance which appears to leave itself far too open to political manipulation. We believe that, unless we address these things and that we do a major rethink of the way we govern ourselves, we will see division continue to abound, and we will undermine some of the very good things that United has achieved.
"We believe that the general conference of elders cannot stand by and let that happen."
At a break during the proceedings, The Journal asked Mr. Delap what he meant by his statement that United elders in Britain worry about The Journal.
"We feel that certainly in my area people who read The Journal have problems associated with reading it," he said, "and it worries those of us that look after the people, and I feel that if something is causing a problem that we have to address it."
The writer then asked Mr. Delap what he thought should be done about The Journal.
"I'm yet to be convinced that it's a publication we need," replied Mr. Delap.
But what should be done about it? Is Mr. Delap saying The Journal should cease publication? Is he simply recommending that people not read it? What would be his solution to the problem he perceives?
"It's not my solution," he said, "in the sense that I feel that the council of elders need to take the lead in finding a solution in what appears to have become a problem in the church."
The Journal writer again asked Mr. Delap what he thought the council should specifically do about The Journal.
"Well, that's for the council to decide," he said. "It's my job if I have a problem in my area. If I see something that's a problem, then I need to go talk to the council and say, 'Look, this is a problem, as far as we can see.' It's not for me to tell them what to do and for them to provide solutions, but I do have a responsibility to tell them what the problems are."
Report from Germany
Winfried Fritz represented Germany in the international reports.
"In Germany they say the situation is critical but not hopeless," Mr. Fritz said. "In Austria they say the situation is hopeless but not critical."
Never before in his country has more freedom existed "to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom of God," said Mr. Fritz.
The United Church of God in Germany got off to a "not very good" start in 1995, he said. "From the beginning we had people coming to the United Church for very different reasons and with very different expectations."
He said that he believed most people in his area came to United to "continue their beliefs."
"Most of them did not care much about new organization or new structure. There have been endless discussions involving bylaws and structure, and there seems to be no end of distrust and fear by some who are very vocal, and I believe fear is a wrong basis" to start a new church.
He said brethren he had talked with at Sabbath services in the previous few weeks had expressed disappointment about "the way decisions were introduced to the church," and "they expressed deep concern about the lack of openness and transparency."
Income, he said, is 41 percent below last year's.
"If we ministers do not come home with a clear picture of what is going on and what the solutions are, we will have lost trust for a long time."
He said his brethren want to know about the situation in the United States with congregations that have incorporated locally and collect donations locally.
"How many of the churches have their own little work going on?" he asked.
Peace is not the most important thing in the UCG at this time, he said. "Truth, openness, clarity is necessary. The work in Germany will have excellent prospects if we will be able to solve the problems at hand. The fields are ripe for harvest all over Europe. Europe will be the center of the prophecies in the next years ahead, Europe and the Middle East, as we know. And there is much to do."
Optimism from Chile
Mario Seiglie, an elder from Santiago, Chile, delivered the report about his area.
"In Latin America funds have always been short," said Mr. Seiglie, "but we have learned what resourcefulness means. We do all we can with what is available. It's amazing how much is being done in that area. We have a wonderful magazine in Spanish which has always been the way of God's calling in this part of the world. We've never had television."
He said the brethren in Latin America have built The Good News' circulation up to 5,000 subscribers, and "the brethren are very enthusiastic about it."
"We have a total of 1,700 brethren in the area," he said. "We've had 58 baptisms last year, and we already have baptisms this year, and the most exciting part is that this year we are beginning to cast the net again and we already have developed the subscribers to where we can have [Good News] lectures, and now we have the fish so we can begin casting the net, and we can bring in more people who didn't know about The Plain Truth magazine."
Mr. Seiglie told his audience he was "very thankful" because "you are all making this possible. We appreciate all the help that is being provided. In Mexico there are already 220 subscribers through members distributing this magazine.
"They already have a harvest of seven persons waiting to be baptized, mainly through The Good News magazine.
"In Central America, Guatemala has experienced good growth. They have already [regained] what was lost some three years ago. They're already back to where they were prior to 1995.
"El Salvador is also showing good growth . . . Colombia is also developing the programs, distributing the extra magazines and developing subscribers that way."
Although Peru has suffered from "El Nino," said Mr. Seiglie, "thankfully none of the brethren have been affected by it."
Mr. Seiglie ended by quoting Acts 15:3, about the "great joy" of the brethren.
"I hope we all have a happy spirit," he said. "This is a time when we are here being blessed, and we should be thankful for what God has been doing," and "let's keep that great joy."
Joel Meeker, an elder who lives in St. Louis, Mo., is editor of The Good News in French. Mr. Meeker gave the report on the French areas.
"Probably one of the most exciting things that happened in 1997 for us was the purchase, with help from the media department, of an Apple Power Mac computer," he said. "This is so we could prepare our own magazines and not be dependent on help from the people in the United States, who have been extremely kind in helping us."
He said the press run for the French Good News is about 2,000.
Comments about Italy
Carmelo Anastasi, who traveled from Italy to address the conference, thanked God that "during 1995 Jesus Christ did not allow His church in our region to die again."
The Italian Good News began last March and has received 1,000 subscription requests, he said.
"I have a list of 15 people who are waiting to be visited."
"We are going, despite the mistakes-who does not make mistakes?-to work with the next president and work with the home office," Mr. Anastasi said. "We have a good chance to, and we are willing to bear what appears to be an injustice [possibly a reference to the removal of Mr. Hulme as president]."
He said he was confident that by "submitting to one another we can accomplish an international work."
He said three booklets have been translated and will be printed when funds become available.
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