United Church of God Big Sandy brethren speak out
at meeting about plans to transfer pastor Dave Havir

BIG SANDY, Texas--No news is sometimes good news, and not much had changed in the 24 hours since the May 4 meeting of the board of United Church of God Big Sandy. The church area had been abuzz for a day with rumors and recycled reports about the letter church pastor Dave Havir had received May 3 telling him he was no longer pastor and that another man, Roy Holladay, would be taking his place.

Mr. Havir says that, contrary to rumors, he has not been fired, even though his removal as Big Sandy pastor was the obvious intent of the letter he received from Richard Pinelli, director of ministerial services for the United Church of God -AIA.

Enough feathers were ruffled in ministerial services' handling of the Havir situation that Mr. Pinelli reportedly felt the need to offer to resign his position as MS director. There was no word as of May 5 as to whether President Les McCullough and/or the council of elders would accept Mr. Pinelli's offer to quit.

Fifty or so people sat in the audience the evening of May 4 to observe the meeting of the congregation's seven-member board of trustees. Several of them commented during the hour or so preceding the official business meeting.

Mr. Havir, pastor since the United Church of God Big Sandy organized in April 1995 (predating the United Church of God -AIA by about three weeks), was one of those commenting. He announced that Mr. Pinelli had called him earlier in the day and apologized for the letter (reprinted elsewhere).

"He has given his resignation to the council, whether or not the council accepts his resignation," said Mr. Havir. "So a lot has happened in just one day."

Two council members

Early in the meeting, Mr. Havir invited the two council members in the audience, Leon Walker and Aaron Dean, both of the Big Sandy area, to speak from the floor.

"Dave telephoned me yesterday after he received the fax [the letter from Mr. Pinelli, dated April 30]," Mr. Walker said. "That was the first time I'd heard anything about the fax. I was as shocked and surprised as he was. I immediately telephoned [United Church of God -AIA president] Les McCullough, who also was unaware of it. He asked me to telephone Richard Pinelli, which I intended to do.

"That was in the afternoon. But yesterday was Sunday, of course . . . I managed to get him [Mr. Pinelli] at 10:30 [a.m.] and mentioned to him the situation, what I felt would be the problem as a result of this letter, how I felt it was incorrectly handled.

"You don't deal with personnel issues this way; I went through all of that. No matter what the issue is, if you're transferring someone, disciplining someone, you need to talk to someone face to face. You certainly don't do it by fax. I said, 'You need to talk to Dave Havir.' "

Mr. Walker said he had spent "all day" on the phone with council members, including President McCullough, about the situation, "because it was not dealt with in a correct fashion.

"I've mentioned to Dave that he should appeal to the council because decisions have been made that have been reversed."

Mr. Walker commented that he felt the council would deal with the situation "very speedily."

Moot point?

However, as events unfolded, Mr. Havir's attempted removal from pastoring at Big Sandy could be a moot point, at least for the time being. It was discussed during the meeting that Mr. Pinelli's offer to resign could put the whole process--the attempt to move Mr. Havir out and Roy Holladay in--on hold.

Mr. Dean, the other United Church of God -AIA council member present, said he had had no knowledge of the situation until news of it broke locally. Mr. Dean, a new member of the council, had attended only the latter part of the recent council meetings in California because of prior commitments.

But Mr. Dean said he had discussed the situation privately with Mr. Pinelli, assuming the state of the Big Sandy pastorate would be under discussion, but not realizing Mr. Pinelli intended to send a letter to Mr. Havir, with copies to the local board members, stating that Mr. Holladay would take over by the Sabbath of May 9.

Even though he was "shocked," said Mr. Dean, he asked the brethren to "give us a chance to address [the situation], and hopefully we can build some trust. There is no trust, and there hasn't been for three years. I wouldn't want to move, either, if I didn't trust people. I want more discussion and openness, although I don't want to go congregationalist, per se.

"You can make a member mad enough until he swears at you, then you can say, 'See? He's swearing. He's got a problem.'

"I don't want to be a part of something that's not handled correctly. Give us a chance to address it. Again, I want trust, and I don't want anybody to have to trust me until I've earned it."

Nonpolitical solutions

Mr. Havir mentioned that, although the letter did not state whether Mr. Pinelli wished for Mr. Havir to transfer to another church area or cease being a United pastor altogether, he had learned from another member of the ministerial-services team, Doug Horchak of Denver, Colo., that Mr. Horchak and regional pastor Ken Giese of Houston had planned to travel to Big Sandy to talk with Mr. Havir about transferring.

"I will go on record as saying that I'm looking for righteous solutions," said Mr. Havir. "I'm not looking for political solutions. I really believe we can get righteous solutions.

"On the other hand, I'm going to make sure to evaluate and analyze whether it is a righteous solution or is it a political solution.

"We need God's blessings through righteousness. I'm not just looking for quick fixes. When I was disfellowshipped from the Worldwide Church of God, one well-known evangelist called me up and said all you have to do is apologize and all this will be solved. I said to him we have a real problem because I felt I didn't have anything to apologize for."

Board member Bernie Monsalvo commented that in his opinion the council of elders of the United Church of God -AIA should retract the Pinelli letter, reprimand Mr. Pinelli and cancel Mr. Holladay's trip to Big Sandy to take over the church.

If Mr. Horchak and Mr. Giese wished to talk with board members, Mr. Monsalvo said, he would be willing to talk with the two men, but only in a formal board-meeting situation and only in an open meeting to which members of the congregation had been invited.

Did the COE approve?

Charles McLendon, from the audience, posed a question for Mr. Walker and Mr. Dean:

"I just want to know: Did ministerial services bring this proposition to the board, and did the board approve it?"

Mr. Walker replied: "The whole discussion was in executive session, which we cannot go into. The reason for that is these are private, confidential matters. Let's say any one of you was working for us and we had to terminate you for, let's say, wrongdoing. You would not want us to reveal what those issues are to the general public."

Mr. Walker said that council members informed Mr. Pinelli of their discussions "relative to a transfer [of Mr. Havir] that was being offered."

The situation was to have been "discussed," Mr. Walker said, "and when you say discussed that means discussed. That does not necessarily mean today, tomorrow, next month. Normally you sit down and you talk to a person about that, and you come to a decision."

Mr. Havir commented: "If I understand correctly, the decision that you can talk about was that there was a decision that ministerial services could discuss the transfer with me. When you left the meeting, that's what you expected to happen."

Mr. Walker: "Yes."

Another member of the audience, Larry Ellison, asked: "Mr. Walker, was there a reason for this being discussed? Was there something that Mr. Havir had said or done that was being discussed by the council?"

"There were a few things that were mentioned, a very few," said Mr. Walker. "Again, I cannot go into that. There was no decision. No one said let us go into executive session about Dave Havir."

Mr. Havir acknowledged that Mr. Walker might be putting himself at risk if he fully answered Mr. Ellison's question.

"There was a visit that came in December from Jim Franks [of Houston, another MS staffer and council-of-elders member] and Ken Giese," said Mr. Havir, "at which time they mentioned to me some things."

He said Mr. Giese and Mr. Franks requested the meeting with him. But "when I got there," Mr. Havir said, "I found out it was being pawned off as an official job performance [evaluation]. I bring this up because it was not an official job performance. It was not done professionally and correctly."

Mr. Havir said he has written to Mr. McCullough and to Mr. Giese directly to encourage the church to change the ministerial-services and regional-pastor structure.

Anyone there?

Another member of the audience, Neal McIver, said to Mr. Walker: "I was talking today to different people across the United States, and there was a comment made that Mr. McCullough had a problem with Mr. Havir in this area. If that was in an executive session, I know you can't comment about it. But everywhere ministerial services has gone in and done something like this, they have destroyed the church area.

"Jim Franks went in with ministerial services in Kansas City. There's hardly anybody left in the Kansas City church. He did the same thing in Waco. Ministerial services has blood on their hands. And it's going to be a big problem unless it ends here.

"This might have been a test to see if the Body of Christ stands up and says we're not going to be abused anymore. That's what's happening: The Body of Christ is being abused. There are a lot of ministers who are pompous and self-righteous. They have to lead the parade, so they jump out in front of the parade and they split the Body of Christ, and it's got to stop."

Brian Bettes, another observer, said: "My comments come from having been in Austin when it was destroyed and having been in Waco when it was destroyed."

Mr. Bettes said the church's culture is one of "power and control, maybe not intentionally." But the brethren "are not going to take this any longer."

He said Mr. Horchak had commented to him on one occasion that the fact that the Big Sandy brethren were getting fed up with the church-governance situation was "proof that what Dave Havir's doing there [in Big Sandy] is a problem: The brethren just won't submit."

"I'm sorry," said Mr. Bettes, "but my submission goes to Jesus Christ. I don't care if this goes against Dave Havir; I don't care what man this goes against; if this organization is going to follow the Worldwide Church of God's pattern and some of the other Church of Gods' pattern, I want nothing to do with it whatsoever.

"That is not a statement against our council; I think these two gentlemen understand that. It's simply a fact that we cannot go on mistreating the flock of God."

Getting the fax

Mr. Havir noted that one of his two teenaged sons had retrieved the letter in question from the Havir family's facsimile machine and was startled to read that his father was being replaced.

Another audience member, Dionisio Velasco, addressed Mr. Walker: "You mentioned, Mr. Walker, something about an executive session. But you said that, in the example of David Hulme [whom the council removed as United Church of God -AIA president in January], there's certain things that shouldn't be said.

"But when someone like David Hulme or any president or chairman [is removed], and when the rest of the church doesn't know the reason, that secrecy creates doubts. Why are so many people around the world not knowing what had happened? Many people are thinking that you, the council of elders, did something that was not right to David Hulme."

Mr. Velasco said that, "if a minister is feeding me, why should someone in the high ranks come and tell me, hey, you're not going to follow this guy anymore; you're going to follow this one?"

Rules of association

Floyd Spears, a member of the local board, spoke up:

"This problem goes all the way back to Indianapolis, Ind., in 1995. There was a conference there, some 153 ministers were there, and an old worn-out deacon or two, trying to figure out what was going on."

Mr. Spears said the United Church of God organizers at the founding conference in Indianapolis promised the delegates that "rules of association" would be distributed within a few days after the conference.

"As a matter of fact," said Mr. Spears, "they have not even told us what the word association means."

Until the rules of association are in place, said Mr. Spears, "the sort of thing that happened here will continue to happen."

Another member of the audience, Dixon Cartwright (publisher of The Journal), commented on the rules of association that, since they were not delivered as promised within a few days of the church's founding in the spring of 1995, the congregations of the United Church of God have been operating under "implied rules of association" that allowed for a wide range of styles and philosophies of congregational governance. For the United Church of God three years later to impose arbitrary rules that would disrupt the functioning of congregations and their boards under pain of expulsion would be "unethical."

A member of the audience, Loynell Hooper, asked:

"I have a question for Mr. Havir. In your conversation with Mr. Pinelli . . . did he indicate to you who the 'we' in the letter is?" [Mr. Pinelli's letter began: "After careful and prayerful consideration, we have decided to . . . appoint a new pastor . . ."]

"No," replied Mr. Havir. "I did not grill him in the same fashion that I did Mr. Horchak because Mr. Pinelli was apologizing, and I felt it would not be the appropriate time. Mr. Horchak thought that 'we' would certainly be ministerial services. I had been under the impression that it also included the president, but Mr. Walker and Mr. Dean have given me the impression that the president may not have been as involved as I thought."

Mrs. Hooper continued: "Did he [Mr. Pinelli] indicate that he acted alone in making the decision?"

Mr. Havir: "No, I think he would say it was ministerial services, the regional-pastor structure, Horchak and Franks, also including input from the regional pastor, Ken Giese."

The consensus thing

Mr. Havir said he had mentioned to Mr. Horchak that the concept of "consensus" is misused in the United Church of God . "It's so easy to say that we feel this or that. [But] you can't hide behind this consensus thing. You guys [the MS team] are going to have to take full responsibility for what you guys are going to do to this congregation . . .

"Richard Pinelli apologized, so he accepted some [responsibility]. I hope that ministerial services will accept a greater level. If the president has to accept any, I hope he accepts it instead of sidestepping it.

"Like Doug Horchak said, I don't think there are any words that would help you feel better about this decision.

"I said, 'Doug, you'd be surprised. "I'm sorry" would go a long way.' But Doug said he was not going to say that."

Servant leaders

In reply to a question about who was Mr. Havir's supervisor in the United Church of God , he said his boss was the president, Mr. McCullough. He said he did not consider the ministerial-services men to be his supervisors; he considered them to be his servants in the same way he considers himself to be a servant of his congregation.

Roger Daniels, a member of the audience, stated two reasons he was attending the meeting: "One of them was that three hours ago I heard a rumor that Mr. Havir was fired, so I wanted to get the facts. The second reason is that I want to do things right. I'm not here to follow Mr. Havir or anybody; I want to follow God. For your information, I feel like Mr. Havir has been leading us towards God."

John Warren, a member of the local board, said Mr. Giese had telephoned him just before the meeting "and mentioned to me that he had a meeting scheduled with you [Mr. Havir] Wednesday morning. And he wants a meeting with this board Wednesday night. He said that would be after the meeting that he and Doug Horchak would have with you Wednesday morning."

Mr. Havir stated that he would solicit more advice from friends and brethren before he decided if he would meet with the MS men. He said he would strongly recommend to Mr. McCullough that he cancel Mr. Horchak's and Mr. Giese's plans to travel to Big Sandy the week before the Sabbath of May 9.

"I think Roy Holladay will back off from this Sabbath [visit]. I hope Horchak and Giese will back off as well."

State of flux

Then Don Walls, another board member, asked: "Since Richard Pinelli has submitted his resignation, are these guys still coming to town?"

Mr. Walker commented: "The council members are all discussing among themselves, but we've had no teleconference, no council meeting per se. In fact, Dave Havir mentioned some things a moment ago that I had not heard. It's in a state of flux right now. Whether there would now be a reconfiguration or resuggestion, I do not know."

Mr. Walls again: "Considering the circumstances, do they have the authority to come here and conduct a meeting?"

Mr. Havir: "I think if they were wise men they would not even think about such a thing." But, "if they don't have the wisdom to back off this situation, maybe that will tell a lot of people a lot of things."

United Church of God -AIA council member Dean commented: "I would say that, since Mr. Pinelli called Mr. Havir, Mr. Pinelli's probably called Doug Horchak and Ken Giese and told them not to come."

Mr. Havir noted that many people were reading about the situation on the Internet.

"It's all over the place," he said. "Now a lot of people are wondering: If this is the way they're dealing with Dave Havir, how did they deal with David Hulme? That's why I think the council's best interest is that this get resolved, and again I think we can have righteous solutions that really work."

Mr. Spears, a local-board member, commented: "I suggested to Mr. McCullough today that Mr. Giese and Mr. Horchak stay home, and he said, no, I think they need to come talk. I said about what? And I didn't get an answer to that. I wanted you to know that Mr. McCullough thinks they need to come and talk."

Sharon Bettes spoke from the floor: The track record of the United Church of God all over the United States "is horrendous," she said. "I hope that you guys . . . can convince the rest of the council, because if you can't we're in for a really rough time."

Charles Black, from the floor, commented: "It's my recommendation that you [the local board] not add fuel to the fire. I don't know what you have to lose by meeting with these two men. By refusing to meet with them, you are going to be adding fuel to the fire."

Mr. Monsalvo responded: "I think the Scriptures admonish us to redeem the time, and this is a total waste of time. I believe they have nothing to discuss with these individuals unless they present a formal apology for the actions of their boss."

Mr. Walls, a board member, said: "I would be willing to meet with the men, not individually. But I would meet with board members if the board wants to do that. My first question and my one thousandth question will be why. If they will not say why they feel a transfer is necessary, then I don't think they have anything to talk about."

Chose to affiliate

Mrs. Hooper spoke from the audience: "It's fine that Big Sandy has a board when these men decide to move somebody on their whim. But smaller churches don't have a board, so what's to prevent these men from moving anybody anywhere?"

A man from the audience who is a long-time Church of God member spoke next. He later asked The Journal not to mention his name in this article.

"I was on the phone today an awful lot too," the man said, "and I talked with board members, I talked with council members, and as I understand it the Big Sandy church is an independent church. We chose to affiliate with the United Church of God, and as long as we're an independent organization the council does not have the right to replace you [Mr. Havir] as the pastor.

"Now, to go a little bit further, I was ready to draw up a petition, to use the [Big Sandy church's telephone] hotline and start calling around to get people to sign this petition and then present it to the council--to just show them where this church stands."

The speaker said that accusations, even if unfounded, can tarnish a person's reputation, and it is too easy for supervisors to run roughshod.

"We're also already getting flack for building a building, but this building is just a start, because, once the other United churches see this building and they see that it's going to be operating for this church and other activities and perhaps even a mini-Feast site, I think jealousy is another key word here. We've got something they don't have; we've got a home."

Wayne Weese, from the audience, drew a sports analogy:

"Over the years Big Sandy has been looked at as an enigma. Nobody knew what to do with Big Sandy. I finally figured out what is so unique about Big Sandy--even now, in our past association until now.

"I'll put it in school terms. We're a 5A church. We're not a 1A or a 2A. It takes more for that 5A church. We have the gamut from gray heads to the young. I'm here to tell you, if we keep messing around like this, these kids are getting so fed up with getting shuffled back and forth, back and forth. Look at the Methodist church in Big Sandy. It's dying because there is no youth, not one. When we as grownups can't get our act together, we lose the youth, because they see the hypocrisy and the stupidity.

"So my question is, to the councilmen, to everyone here: When is all this stuff going to stop? It's my belief that we can't do anything until we heal ourselves. We can't do a work. We can't do a thing. To me this building that we're building is part of that healing. We have a home. We're a 5A church in need of a home."

Best interests of United Church of God -AIA

Mr. Havir reiterated that two issues were involved in the discussion of the proposed meetings with him and the board. The meeting with him is a separate issue from the meeting with the board, he said. He would decide whether to meet with the two MS men; the board should decide whether it would meet with them.

Mr. Havir said he believed he and the church could "work through" the situation.

"I believe there are individuals who are capable of making righteous conclusions and alternatives, and we want to respond righteously to everything as well."

Mr. Havir mentioned a topic he had referred to in his sermon of the previous Sabbath: "cultlike tendencies" of some members of the Churches of God.

It is in the United Church of God -AIA's best interest to "destroy those cultlike tendencies," he said. "I still say we [the United Church of God ] have the best potential, but we're going to have to make some hard choices."

Mr. Havir repeated that he appreciated Mr. Pinelli's apology. "I'll be anxious to see the involvement of President McCullough in the matter and the good things he will do. He's in charge of that, and I'm sure he's a very wise individual. I think he's a peacemaker. I think he will make efforts to seek peace. I'm looking forward to responding in peaceful ways."

Just before a break in the proceedings, Mr. Monsalvo bemoaned the culture of secrecy adhered to by many, he said, in the Churches of God:

"How many more people do we have to sacrifice to the false god of secrecy before anyone realizes that we're worshiping the wrong god of secrecy? If those people want to talk to the board, I want all these people here. I would be willing to come here and meet with them, but I want to pursue no secret agenda. I don't want to sacrifice anything to the god of secrecy. Too many lives have been destroyed to that false god."

Explosive situation

During the break, in conversation with other people attending the meeting, Don Mischnick, president of the local board, commented that "Big Sandy's a big stick of dynamite waiting to go off, and somebody lit the fuse yesterday at 2 o'clock [when the Havir family received the faxed letter]. Somebody had better stomp that sucker out or it's going to blow and take a lot of people with it.

"I hope that Big Sandy can serve to help other areas, that this same thing won't happen to them. If they succeed in destroying Big Sandy, then there'll be another Waco, another Kansas City, another Florida. My hope is that something good can come of this that will help other AIA congregations."

Official business

After the break, the board got down to official business, which in this case was deciding whether, when and how to meet with the MS representatives, should they show up in Big Sandy.

Board member Greg Smith said: "I will not meet with them singly."

Mr. Monsalvo said: "I will not meet with anybody unless it is like here, in an open forum."

Mr. Havir said: "There's a rumor going around that the reason they want to get rid of Dave Havir is because they want to control Big Sandy. First, I seek not to control Big Sandy, and, No. 2, there's no human being alive who could control Big Sandy. I don't think we'd want to anyway."

After a short discussion, the board decided unanimously that it would meet with the MS men, but only as a group in an open meeting.

Although Mr. Giese had apparently expressed the desire to meet on Wednesday night, Mr. Monsalvo said that could not happen because Wednesday night is Bible-study night in Big Sandy.

Mr. Mischnick, local-board president, said: "If the council will back off on this matter, I don't think we need to meet with these men until our regularly scheduled meeting next month."

Mr. Monsalvo: "I'd like to send a message: We'll meet with you, but stay home if you can."

Mr. Havir said to Mr. Monsalvo: "You're feisty tonight, aren't you?"

Mr. Spears said: "I don't understand what their business is here when we don't even have the rules of association."

Mr. Warren said: "Maybe they would hear us better if all of us were around the table saying the same thing."

Mr. Smith said: "I'd like to meet with them and hear why they were going to dismiss you, not just pat answers from our culture, because, frankly, I'm getting tired of it. I think the entire congregation should be here, too, and start with Matthew 18 and work these problems out.

"The church has never practiced that all these years, and, frankly, I don't want to be a part of this church any longer if it doesn't start doing it. We can say we had to do it in executive session because of professionalism and corporate ways of doing things, but we're supposed to be part of what the Bible says to do and how to deal with issues.

"I think it's pretty pathetic that my mom has to make a comment and wonder if there is any fit man in Israel to lead this church, and maybe a woman needs to stand up and do it. I think she's got a valid point there."

Mr. Walls: "Let me propose that we set a meeting for Thursday night [May 7]. That is more than enough time for the council [of the United Church of God -AIA] to deal with the problem."

Then followed a short discussion of the mechanics of conducting Sabbath services. The board members agreed that Sabbath services would take place as normally scheduled, at 1 p.m. on the Hawkins High School campus, with Mr. Havir conducting services.

"The United Church of God Big Sandy, Inc., has rented the Hawkins High School hall at 1 p.m.," said Mr. Monsalvo, "and I've seen nothing to change that."

Proven guilty?

After the meeting the question remained: What had Dave Havir done? Was he guilty of some kind of malfeasance? Did he kidnap or murder somebody?

The Journal asked one of the local-board members what he thought was the real reason the United Church of God, an International Association, is apparently unhappy with Dave Havir being pastor of the Big Sandy congregation.

"I have my personal speculation, but I really don't know," John Warren said. "That's why I want to meet with Giese and Horchak, to find out what is behind this. My problem is, though, that I think I know exactly what it is, but I just hate to say. I'd prefer that the reasons be officially presented to either Havir or to the Big Sandy congregation or at least to the local board. If there are problems that need to be taken care of, let us deal with them."

Well, what does Mr. Warren think is the real reason?

"I think," he said, "that there is a major philosophical difference between people's understanding of what the church [the United Church of God -AIA] was going to be about. In Indianapolis the people from Big Sandy felt like we had a new organization with a fresh start. We thought we would be open and above board, and it wouldn't be anything like what we were used to in the past.

"In the past a bad minister could stay in an area and the people just had to put up with it, or a good minister could be transferred out just on the whim of ministerial services.

"Combine that with the situation here in Big Sandy where we're sending out tapes for people who can't attend church services. And we're building a local church building, which some people find offensive, mostly because they don't understand the reasons behind it and the need for it. It all comes down to feeling that Big Sandy is rebelling against the home office or the council of elders, when all we're trying to do in Big Sandy is serve the needs of the people.

"By doing what we're doing it's like we're not under the control of ministerial services or the home office. That's a philosophical problem. There's some people who are so used to the decisions being dictated throughout the ministry they just can't understand how we can be reacting this way in Big Sandy.

"I agree with what Wayne Weese said last night [in the local-board meeting]: his concept of big school, small school and why do some people think Big Sandy thinks it is special. I don't think Big Sandy looks at it that way. We don't care what other people do; we just want to serve the needs of the brethren here, the children here and anybody else who can come here and benefit from what we have, whether it's in the realm of church services, Bibles studies, feasts or athletic activities.

"I also think that some of the articles written by Dave Havir that he writes for The Journal are offensive to other ministers. I think that could be a contributing factor as well."

Should Mr. Havir not write for The Journal or write different kinds of articles?

"That's a difficult question to answer. I think he should be free to write anything he wants to write, and we should be free to read it, evaluate it and see if we agree, disagree--or maybe we don't even care."

The Journal also telephoned Mr. Giese to ask him to comment for this article, but he declined to do so.

Trip plans canceled

The Journal learned late May 5 that ministerial services had called off Mr. Giese's and Mr. Horchak's visit to Big Sandy. Mr. Havir also said that, "as far as I know," Mr. Holladay's planned move to Big Sandy had been called off.

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