Cincinnati says everyone's invited to family tournament

CINCINNATI, Ohio--Jim O'Brien likes to see Church of God members from various groups get together, so he and the congregation he pastors here are inviting you to attend a "family tournament" in December.

"Tournament" in Church of God congregations in the United States means basketball, naturally. But Mr. O'Brien and the Cincinnati congregation of the United Church of God, an International Association, are trying not to place too much significance on jump shots and zone defense and put more emphasis on the Sabbath.

"We started a tournament last year," he told The Journal Nov. 17, "and we built it around the Sabbath because we recognized that what was unique to us is not our ability to play sports. We decided if we're going to have a sports weekend we would build it around the Sabbath."

The "sports weekend"--scheduled for Friday morning, Dec. 25, through 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 27--will feature "teaching opportunities," he said, designed to include everyone.

Friday night will start the ball rolling with three Bible studies going on at the same time: one for teens, one for young adults and one for families.

"On Sabbath morning we'll have a dozen seminars. They will occur in two sessions, six each session. The idea there is choice and variety so that when people leave they will say, 'I had a great seminar, but there was another one I wanted to hear.' They will be forced to make a choice."

Who will conduct the seminars, and what will they talk about?

"There will be a variety of topics," said Mr. O'Brien, "from prophecy to family relations. The teachers are not all confirmed yet, although I can announce that Ron Dart [of Tyler, Texas, director of Christian Educational Ministries] has accepted our invitation. Also, Fred Kellers and Darris McNeely have accepted."

Mr. Kellers, from Nashville, Tenn., and Mr. McNeely, from Indianapolis, Ind., are pastors in United, but Mr. Dart has never been a United member. Will other non-United speakers be involved?

"I don't want to say yet who else has or has not accepted," said Mr. O'Brien. But he acknowledged that an invitation has gone out to the Global Church of God as well as some "independent" speakers.

The seminars are to be "interactive." They will be 45 minutes each, "and the participants can bring in a cup of coffee and a doughnut. Then for the afternoon services we'll have split sermons and several pieces of special music performed by youth in the church from various geographic locations."

During the seminars, preteens can attend Sabbath-school classes, and parents may place their toddlers in a nursery so they can participate in the seminars.

But what about basketball, and what if someone wants to sit in on seminars and sermons but doesn't know a hoop from a free throw?

"We have a fairly new commercial facility here that has five basketball courts under one roof," Mr. O'Brien said, "but you don't have to be sports-minded to participate in this event. There's a large food court in the same facility as the basketball courts, so people can talk and eat and watch ball games, and there will be a Ping-Pong tournament going on that's kind of ancillary to the basketball. People who don't want to get out on a basketball court can play Ping-Pong if they like."

The activities on the Sabbath will be at Kings Island Resort Convention Center (a motel and meeting facility), just off Interstate 71 at Exit 25. Sports will happen at Sports Express, a mile from Kings Island Resort.

Visitors may take advantage of a special rate for the church group; $140 rooms will go for only $40 a night. Call (800) 727-3050 for reservations and mention the Church of God.

Last year for the event 500 people showed up from 20 states. Mr. O'Brien thinks 600 people from the United States and Canada could show up this year for the event, which is sponsored by the local congregation, not the UCG-AIA's home office, which recently moved from California to a suburb of Cincinnati.

For more information call Mr. O'Brien at (513) 755-0040, or E-mail him at Visit the Cincinnati church on the Web at

"There are only two things we ask of people attending," he concluded. "The first is that we not cause offense to people from other groups who may be attending. The second is that we not be offensive to somebody who isn't converted enough to follow the first request."

Editor's note: Since this article was published in the Nov. 30 issue of The Journal, the United Church of God, an International Association, apparently has advised the Cincinnati congregation to rescind the invitation to Mr. Dart. As a result, Mr. Dart has apparently decided not to press the issue and has canceled his plans to travel to Cincinnati for the special tournament weekend in December. The Journal plans to publish more on the situation in the December issue.

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