United Church of God Council comes calling on
Big Sandy's congregation and board of trustees. (Part 1 of 4)

[ Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 ]

HAWKINS, Texas--Almost half the council of elders of the United Church of God, an International Association, came to town May 9 to meet immediately after Sabbath services in Hawkins High School auditorium with members of the Big Sandy congregation and board of trustees.

The meeting took the familiar form of a question-and-answer panel session, with five members of the council on stage, along with a member of the United Church of God -AIA's ministerial-services department and the local pastor, Dave Havir, who is the focus of the current controversy over whether Mr. Havir should transfer to another area, as directed by ministerial services and the United Church of God -AIA.

Seated on stage, from left, were Leon Walker, Aaron Dean, Dave Havir, Les McCullough, Doug Horchak, Roy Holladay and Don Ward. Mr. Walker, Mr. Dean, Mr. McCullough, Mr. Holladay and Dr. Ward are council-of-elders members. Mr. McCullough is also president of the United Church of God -AIA. Mr. Horchak is a member of the United Church of God -AIA's ministerial-services department, and Mr. Havir is pastor of the Big Sandy congregation.

Council members said the Q&A was to allow communication between the central authority of the United Church of God -AIA and the local board and congregation. Although asked many times, the men on stage never directly answered why they want to transfer or remove Mr. Havir from the local pastorate.

Some of the men seemed to be dropping hints about the reasons for their desire to move Mr. Havir, however, such as when council member Don Ward said something about the local pastor not filling out budget forms on time and not sending in information about the local building program as requested.

Others seemed to be saying that people in Mr. Havir's congregation had complained to church headquarters about him. It wasn't clear whether the alleged complainers didn't like his sermons or his philosophy on church government or both.

Besides talking about the situation at hand involving local governance, audience members took the opportunity to bring up questions concerning other splits in United, such as those in Waco, Minneapolis and Kansas City.

Following is a verbatim transcript taken from an audio recording of the proceedings:

Transcript of Big Sandy Q&A May 9, 1998

Les McCullough [United Church of God -AIA president and council member]: Good afternoon, everyone. I guess the majority of those who wanted to be here are in, so we should get started. A couple of things I wanted to explain to you. Some might be wondering as to the people that are up here on the stage. We had a conversation yesterday, a council meeting yesterday, and certain comments came up, and thoughts were flowing and so on, and reference was made to past activities. And most of us up here had to say we don't know anything about it, because of course Aaron [Dean] is brand new on the council, so he gets to be the whipping boy; he took my place as far as the newest man. While, actually, Joel Meeker has taken his place already now.

Now, on some of the things that came up, there were comments made about the interim board. None of us who are here from Big Sandy were on the interim board. We were not in Indianapolis. I didn't know anything about Indianapolis. I was living in Britain, and the way I found out about Indianapolis one of my friends called and said, well, I'm going to go to Indianapolis, and I'll probably be fired and disfellowshipped, and I just wanted you to know before you heard it through the grapevine. That was the first I knew about Indianapolis one way or the other.

So I did ask for Mr. Horchak to be able to be with us. Both he and Mr. Holladay were a part of the interim board, were both in Indianapolis and have a bit more knowledge as to how certain things developed and why they developed the way they did. So I asked them to be here to help us out. It doesn't do a whole lot of good in trying to explain certain things when we then say, well, I don't know why that came about or I don't know whether that came about or when it came about or whatever.

So we felt that it would be good to have someone with the experience and background of Indianapolis and of the interim board to be able to be here and give us a hand where we really aren't able to give a proper answer, not having been there ourselves.

So I want to get started with something here to begin with. When it comes time for some questions, I know there are a lot of people who'll begin to want exact details, and unfortunately in personnel matters we can't go into every detail of why we made a decision one way or the other out of consideration to whatever personnel it may be that's involved.

And, in the discussions in Arcadia--I have to remember where they were--we had discussions in regard to staffing in church areas this coming year, and a number of people were discussed in different ways. So we have to be aware of that, and we have to be circumspect in what we say about what has gone on in those things.

I know that doesn't make people happy. That is nonetheless a problem that we face. We had this problem here two months ago with the former administration, those that were part of the administration up until two months ago, and I had many people write and ask me, well, why don't you just go ahead and say why this was done and why that was done and so on? And then if they sue you we know what they are.

Well, unfortunately, that's just not the right way to do something. The fact is, you know, and this has nothing to do with what we're talking about at this moment, but the fact is, when you get involved in discussing some of the details that have to do with personnel discussions, there is a potentiality of someone taking exception and someone starting a lawsuit and saying you defamed me or you blackened my character or whatever, and someone can say, well, if they do that, why, we know they're not a part of us.

The only problem is you have a lawsuit. And they may not be a part of you, but you also have a lawsuit that you have to fight, and there have been some very expensive lawsuits that the Church of God has been involved in in the past few years, one to the tune of $3 million, and obviously we're not interested in getting involved in anything like that or taking any chances on anything like that.

Now, we did have a man in the California area who is a lawyer who wrote and said, well, you can say anything you want to. California law will allow you to say anything you want to. Texas law would allow you to say anything you want to. It doesn't mean that you couldn't possibly sued or you couldn't be held accountable or you couldn't have repercussions. You can say it. You know, anybody can say whatever they want. The repercussions that come as a result of that, then, are difficult to deal with.

Now, to start out with, I talked with Mr. [Don] Mischnick [president of the Big Sandy board] earlier today. He called me just before I was leaving to go to the airport, and he wanted to know something about the format. And I told him for the council's sake we need to know how Big Sandy, the board at Big Sandy, views themselves. Because there has been an indefinite aura around this subject as far as we're this or we're that.

I have been told several different times that the Big Sandy board is strictly for financial matters and that is the only function that the Big Sandy board has. And I don't know. And so I think it's important for us to understand for the council members here with me, to understand what is the Big Sandy church.

How does the Big Sandy church view itself? Is it an independent congregation? Is it a congregation that wishes to be in some way associated, loosely or whatever, with AI [sic]--they say it's appropriate to use those last two initials, since it's an international association and so on.

Or is it a congregation that views itself as being under the umbrella of the United Church of God, an International Association?

And, before we get very far, we need to understand where do we stand. You know, we know what we understand as far as the United Church of God AIA, but we don't understand where the United Church of God Big Sandy views itself, how it views itself and what the members as a whole think in terms of the way they view that particular subject.

So, Mr. Mischnick, where are you? Do you have a comment?

Don Mischnick: Yes, I do. Thank you, Mr. McCullough. I can tell you what I feel and what the board has talked about since April 1 of 1995.

There was a group of 300 people or more that met--well, 128 of them met in my barn for Passover. Three hundred of us met over at Longview for a service prior to United's ever--before the existence of United. We formed a corporation shortly thereafter near the same time that United was formed. So we were a group of people that were meeting before United AIA ever existed.

The board, I can tell you, through all the years of service on that board, we feel that we are an independent group and that we are recognized by the State of Texas as an independent corporation.

We talked about associating at the time United Church of God AIA came into existence. We talked about safety nets. We've talked about--we had discussions--I don't know--is this thing even going to fly? But let's associate with these people in good faith that they said that they're going to come out with some form of rules of association, which to this day I still haven't seen.

We're associating with AIA as a, yeah, a loose association without even any guidelines.

And I hear people slamming us around the country and all types of innuendoes and so forth without facts and information. But what are we to do? I guess I hate to be judged when there's not even any rules to be judged by. I guess that's the way I feel.

I think it would be remiss for me to stand up here--I'm appalled at what has gone on in the last few days. I told you on the phone this morning I was appalled by the action of this council, that they couldn't even have the intelligence--excuse me--to see what situation they were putting us in. It just is beyond me to be in a situation that AIA is, with the former problems that you just haven't even got through yet with our past president, and then to basically alienate the rest of the Body of Christ in the United Church of God AIA. That's unconscionable to me.

So for my point, yes, I want to say that we look, I look, this board, from my knowledge, they can all speak for themselves, as representatives of this congregation that nominated us to this board, feel that we are an independent group associating with AIA.


Leon Walker: We were discussing again--in fact, I had a discussion with Mr. Havir the other day. I sent him a memo. He hasn't had a chance to respond to it yet, but I sent him a rather lengthy memo to ask him to please help me understand the status of the Big Sandy entity, corporation, vis a vis the United Church of God AIA.

I frankly had some misconceptions. I was not in Indianapolis. I was traveling through Latin America. I think most of you realize that. I resigned [from the Worldwide Church of God] in April and immediately went to Central America. And after that in May, while you were having--at least those of you who were there at Indianapolis--I was in Chile and Peru, and after that I was in Mexico.

So I was either in Latin America at the invitation of the ministry in those areas. I did not become a part--and the Latin American work did not become a part--of United Church of God -AIA until July of 1995.

As mentioned, I was not on the interim board and did not become a council member until January of '96, and therefore I have no knowledge of Indianapolis whatsoever. As perhaps many of the ministers, I do have the videotapes. They've been sent to me, some time ago.

I've never had a chance to view them. I should have done so by this time, I suppose, but as many of us are--our work is way up to here, and, frankly, I never considered from my point of view that Indianapolis was that relevant.

I hope that's not offensive to anyone here because I know for a lot of you Indianapolis is very relevant. So I don't mean that as an insult to you and in your perspective. I'll just say from my perspective it was not relevant. I wasn't there. I hadn't been involved. And therefore I have not deal with it.

I would just say when I came into United as I was attending through April, May, June, through that period of time before officially becoming a part, my concept was that the Big Sandy congregation was indeed as integral a part of United Church of God -AIA as any other congregation in the United States. I knew there was a board, but I again labored under the concept that this board was strictly for financial matters, but that its governance was under the constitution and bylaws of United Church of God -AIA.

That has become clear to me only in this past week that that was not the concept of certainly the board and certainly a number of members. I have no idea how many of the members feel that way and how many do not. I have no way of knowing. I've never discussed the issue with any of you. And none of you has ever discussed it with me. So I have no idea what the percentage concept would be or any such thing as that.

I would just say that, in terms of what has occurred recently, there is a conflict-of-interest situation, because I can see your point of view that Don Mischnick has brought out that I did not understand before and how some of you would take that as a corporation dealing in the affairs of another corporation. And I see your point of view there, and certainly we want to look at that and discuss that.

At the same time Mr. Havir is an employee of United Church of God -AIA. And therefore the employer does have a right to deal with employees. So there is a conflict of interest where you have an employee who is on the one hand a member of one corporation and on the other hand the president of another corporation.

To use one of the analogies that was brought up last Monday, I think it would be rather strange to have the pastor of the local Baptist church who obviously is employed there being the president of the United Church of God Big Sandy corporation. There would be an obvious conflict of interest there.

So that's one of the issues that we have to deal with. So there's an employment issue, and there's the legal-entity issue. And this is where some of the emotions have become involved in this. And that's what we want to try to understand more fully. Any other council members want to comment along this line?

Don Ward: My cow kicked over the waterline this morning, so I'm not moving as fast as I usually do.

It might be after--maybe John [Warren]. Are you going to address this same issue of how you perceive or--I think, if we've got somebody else who wants to address the issue of how Big Sandy perceives itself, I would hold my comments until they do that.

John Warren [member of the local board]: I have comments concerning that but also other ones. To begin with, I'm kind of appalled and embarrassed at this situation where you come in here after you've made a decision and asked us questions. That doesn't make any sense to me. I came out of an abusive system just a few years ago. And I made up my mind I was never going to go back underneath it.



Dave Havir [Big Sandy pastor]: I was wondering if I could make a request, that we have no applause for anything and pray to God, thank God, worship God, but the applause could kind of turn it into more emotional, and we would not like to do that. It doesn't mean you can't have fire; it doesn't mean you can't have enthusiasm. But I think it would keep the [unintelligible] a little bit better. I appreciate if you would do that. Thank you very much. Sorry, John.

John Warren: And whenever I decided to fellowship here in Big Sandy I was excited with the way United was going at that time--it's certainly changed directions since then--but I see the problem is that the ministers after Indianapolis got together and replaced the same old system that they were used to in Worldwide with a ministerial hierarchy, and that is an abusive system, and we have witnessed it all across this country.

And I guess it's Big Sandy's turn now. You're doing the same thing here. That is divisive. And I would hope that you as council members would see to it that this can be changed.

I don't think anybody here in Big Sandy wants division. We don't want a split. But it's up to you to decide that you are willing to go back and discuss with the ministry that you will change the ministerial-service setup, and you will not--

Like today: You're in here now asking us questions which you promised that you would do--and I know you can hide behind the fact that you were not on the board at the time or whatever--but the council who sat on the stage in Gladewater [in January 1996] promised this congregation before any decision would be made they would come and talk to the congregation.

I feel in your minds that's what you're doing today, and the decision to replace the pastor was made last week. That to me is ridiculous.

Floyd Spears: With all due respect to all of those to whom respect is certainly due, we suffered a tremendous catastrophe here in the area of Gladewater and Big Sandy and Hawkins and the whole area in nineteen hundred and ninety-five. Some of us were just ripped apart. Many of us were scattered asunder--some of us who met in a meeting down in Houston, Texas, called the Worldwide Church of God Texas, wherein we discussed where will we go from here--knowing full well that the Church of God under Jesus Christ does exist somewhere, feeling above all else that it was not in the Worldwide Church of God, Big Sandy, Texas. So we had quite a meeting down there, quite a number of ministers there, and there might have been one or two of us old, worn-out deacons.

So we kind of expressed our thoughts among one another for a day or two, and then we went to Indianapolis. We heard there was a meeting up there.

I have expressed to at least two of you men here today that I thought that God knew full well 20 years ago what was happening in the Worldwide Church of God, and I was convinced that God didn't like it. And He sat quietly and allowed it to happen. And he ripped the Worldwide--Satan did, with God's permission--he ripped the Worldwide Church of God asunder, and He scattered the people abroad.

Now I contended for more than two hours with the former president of this corporation that you represent [David Hulme] that there was something wrong with the Worldwide Church of God. And he assured me that--he said, Mr. Spears--and he looked me straight in the eye--and he said you're coming from the wrong premise altogether.

There was nothing wrong with it.

Well, then, I said, I guess God must have made a mistake. He shouldn't have scattered the Church of God worldwide.

So then in the meeting in Indianapolis a number of things were said. We sat there for either two or three days, I don't know. But a lot of things were said, and so that interim board was formed. But we were told to go home, set up a board, set up a corporation within your own state, open a bank account, receive money, take care of the people's needs and see that their needs are taken care of, minister to the people. And, if you have any money left over, why, send it to Arcadia, and we'll do a work with it.

So the rules of association were to be formed later.

And then I asked a young lawyer when you were here before, some of you, for a meeting sitting on the stage very much like this, I asked the younger lawyer [Steven Andrews]: Is it your idea that if you fail to come forth right away with rules of association, if you put it off long enough do you think some of us are going to forget it?

And then I said later on: As far as I know, Mr. [Richard] Pinelli [director of ministerial services], Mr. [Doug] Horchak [member of ministerial services], Mr. [Jim] Franks [council member and member of ministerial services] or Mr. [Ken] Giese [regional pastor of an area that includes Big Sandy] literally have no business up here.

I said that, and I'll say it to you again. I'm not ashamed. Because we don't have any rules to go by. We don't know what you're coming for. We don't know what you propose to do when you get here. And I refused to meet with Mr. Horchak and Mr. Giese when they were here before, or Mr. Franks and Mr. Giese--I have no business with you because I'm on the local board at the Big Sandy Church of God, and you're coming from the international association. You're coming from a ministerial standpoint, which is ecclesiastical. I have nothing to do with that.

So, if you want to meet with the whole board, the entire board, tell me what you come for, and I'll be happy to meet with you and discuss with you any of these matters. And I believe for you to be here today, under these conditions, I believe it is a very divisive situation. And I really think that in all fairness to the United Church of God Big Sandy, Texas, that you shouldn't be here under these conditions at this time. Give us a little time to think whether or not--

You see, we don't know about the association. I pleaded with some men, and I think at least one of you are sitting there among us today, to tell me what the word association means according to the criteria by which you adopted that word in Indianapolis in nineteen and ninety-five.

That word association means something to me because I've been a member of a number of associations. And in an association they will tell me what they expect of me if I'm going to be a member of it. And then they also--I am able to expect [sic] to them what they plan to do for me. And that has not been forthcoming. I think this meeting is altogether out of time. I think this is altogether out of place. And I'm ashamed of the fact that it had to happen on this Sabbath day.

Brian Bettes [Big Sandy member and Q&A moderator]: I think before we go any further the question has been raised by some people sitting here exactly why are you men even here. Some people don't even know what happened this past week, what's transpired since last Sunday. So, if Mr. Havir or one of you gentlemen would care to enlighten everyone here as to what exactly's happened since then, then some people will understand why we're having this meeting.

Les McCullough: Yeah, Brian, Dave just told me that. I'm sorry. You know, you take things for granted. Some people are not on Internet or not on the local grapevine or whatever the case may be.

The reason--ah, what has transpired in the last 10 days or however long it's been--as I alluded to to begin with, there was a planning meeting in Arcadia by the board in which staffing for the 1998-1999 fiscal year was discussed, and various changes were discussed as far as things we were going to be doing--the media policies and so on. As a part of the discussions, there was a discussion in terms of transferring Mr. Havir to another pastorate.

I'm trying to think how I say this because I understood perfectly well what had been talked about, and I think the rest of the board did. Mr. Dean wasn't there, so he can't be answerable one way or the other. But a decision was made that there need to be various transfers as far as the field ministry in the United Church of God. My understanding was that Mr. Havir was to be contacted and that Mr. Horchak and whoever were going to come and talk with him.

A letter was going to be presented. As I understood it, the letter was to be presented by Mr. Horchak or as a part of the overall conversation, as sort of an official statement or recognition or whatever you want to call it.

Unfortunately, the letter was faxed to Mr. Havir. I didn't know anything about a fax. I know the other staff members, council members, didn't know anything about a fax. That isn't the way to handle personnel matters; I don't have any question about that. I'm perfectly aware of that. And so consequently a great deal of feeling has arisen--the comment being, I guess if I can boil it down: You can't transfer our minister.

And so that is why we're having the discussion today, in terms of what does the Untied Church of God Big Sandy see itself as, and, as Mr. Mischnick said, in his mind it's a totally independent organization that is willing to have some kind of loose association with United Church of God AIA.

That's one thing we're trying to find out. I am not here to argue with you about whether or not you have a board. There are other churches associated with the United Church of God who have boards. And so I'm not saying that this is some unusual, strange breed of cat. There are a very small number of churches now that have boards, and a large share of them made a decision to cancel their board or to change their board, or whatever they did.

We had a letter about 10 days ago from an individual back, well, in the United States, who had had a board and had been very adamant about a board, and the board had been very adamant, and he wrote in and said: In reevaluating things, our board has decided to disband.

Okay, fine, that's their prerogative. They can disband. Or they can remain as a board.

So one of the things that I was saying was that we wanted to find out for a clarification so we know where we stand, so you know where you stand, in terms of working with one another. And it's unfortunate that there has not been that understanding or that recognition, at least by some.

Now, maybe some felt that they understood that or they saw it, but some certainly didn't. And I would have to say that I for one did not. I assumed that the Big Sandy church looked at itself as being under the umbrella of the United Church AIA. I'm mistaken in that. Okay, I know something I didn't know. And that makes a difference in various ways. So at least we're aware of that, and for the benefit of those of you who didn't know what was being talked about or why it was being talked about, we at least have that clarified.

Now, is there another board member there that wanted to say anything or not?

Bernie Monsalvo [local-board member]: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you very much, Mr. McCullough, for explaining this thing. I'd just like to say that personally I was in Indianapolis too. I remember Mr. Horchak and Mr. Holladay. By the way, we have had nothing but the greatest admiration and respect for all those people who were at Indianapolis. I do remember the big hall in Indianapolis where everybody was having a meeting like this and we were asking questions, and we were saying--there were a lot of things that were said in Indianapolis and I appreciate it.

We came back and we were like the 12 spies that went to Indianapolis, and we came back and reported: That's it. We are going to do things right this time. I appreciate that. And I think that was great. I think that's what we came back and at that time the United Church of God Big Sandy was already operational, and it was running. I was part of the board, and I am still part of the board, and we never view ourselves as having governance over the church--in other words, because we believe the pastor is the overseer.

Now, I do believe we are loosely associated with AIA. To begin with, we have learned from you men in college--Mr. Holladay was the man that baptized me, so if I've done anything wrong he is to be blamed. [Laughter.] I asked him in Indianapolis, I met him and I said: What do you do when the minister who has baptized you has been disfellowshipped from the Worldwide Church of God? And he said: I don't know. I said: Well, you are the man.

So I've loved Mr. Holladay; I've known him for many years. And I know where he stands from; he's a servant of God. and so is everybody, by the way. The thing that we have here is that as a member of the board we do not interfere on any ecclesiastical matter at all. Our bylaws said that we have the elders of the church, they are in charge of all ecclesiastical matters. We do not tell Mr. Havir or anybody in the congregation who to anoint, who to pray for, what to do or anything like that at all. We are a--we have a financial board, that's true. In other words, we have made financial decisions. We want to help.

As a matter of fact, it would be of interest to you that our bylaws state that any member of the board of the Big Sandy church has to abide by the constitution of the United Church AIA, because those are the doctrines of the church. And I looked at every one of those, and I said do I wholeheartedly and without reservation abide by them? And I said I do.

So every member of the board has already--understands that the constitution of AIA is what we go by. As a matter of fact, we asked the pastor, much to his dismay, that he should be the chairman of the board, and as such he conducts the meetings. But as a board here we do not interfere on the ecclesiastical matters. I think should be understood. We have nothing to do with the ecclesiastical side of the house. We believe that the pastor is the one in charge of overseeing the congregation. He is the one that has the spiritual help and understanding [unintelligible].

As far as we are concerned, we believe that Mr. Havir has been doing an excellent job, outstanding job, and I'm a businessman, and so is everybody here. We take time to go to board meetings and discuss things, and primarily most of the meetings are boring.

Last Monday we had a regularly scheduled meeting. We meet every Monday night, as is our custom. And at that time I was personally--I received a fax personally--I received the copy of a letter that was sent to me by Richard Pinelli. As soon as I saw that letter, I immediately wrote to Mr. Pinelli, and I think I copied all of you.

And as a member of this congregation I believe that I asked Mr. Pinelli, I said, No. 1, I believe that you should retract this letter. No. 2, I believe that you should resign your position in ministerial services for the way you handled this matter. No. 3, I believe that these men that were supposed to come up here should not come because there wasn't going to be auspicious. And No. 4 I believe that the Big Sandy congregation is owed an apology for all the heartaches and the troubles that have been forthcoming in our midst.

I have seen the tears of the people in this congregation. I have seen people crying. I have seen people call me. And we don't want to separate or be away from any spiritual guidance that AIA can provide. But I think we have been, I believe, grievously offended by a letter that came to dismiss our pastor. Thank you.

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