United Church of God Council discusses rules, visiting preachers, spirit of Indy
MILFORD, Ohio--The council of elders of the United Church of God, an International Association, decided May 17 that President Les McCullough of Cincinnati should serve as the official spokesman for the church.
The 12 men on the council met here May 12-18 and made other decisions as well. They talked about the Y2K computer glitch; relationships with other Church of God groups; a policy on non-United Church of God speakers delivering sermons from United Church of God pulpits; and the much-discussed rules of association.
Elder Doug Johnson of Lexington, Ohio, the new reporter for the council, said the 12-man body on its first day of meetings welcomed the two newest council members, John Jewell of Eccleston, England, and Richard Thompson of Buford, Ga.
The other 10 council members, who were all present, are Gary Antion, Mississauga, Ont., Canada; Aaron Dean, Gladewater, Texas; Robert Dick, Everett, Wash.; Roy Holladay, Hawkins, Texas; ; Victor Kubik, Indianapolis, Ind.; Dennis Luker, Bothell, Wash.; Leslie McCullough, Cincinnati, Ohio; Burk McNair, San Antonio, Texas; Leon Walker, Big Sandy, Texas; and Don Ward, Hawkins, Texas.
An early item of deliberation concerned duties of and policies concerning elders, deacons and deaconesses. Questions that came up in this discussion included:
Feast and Sabbath services
That same day the ministerial-services department, through manager Richard Pinelli, reported on his department's conclusions after a study of Feast and Sabbath services.
Mr. Pinelli said United's Feast-service format will not change. Concerning Sabbath services, local pastors, he said, should strive for a 60-minute sermon and a maximum two-hour time limit for a service.
Dr. Ward expressed concern about getting so specific regarding length of sermons, noting that sermonettes frequently exceed the standard 10 or 12 minutes.
Mr. Walker suggested making a distinction between a policy and guidelines from ministerial services.
Mr. Antion and Mr. McNair urged flexibility for the local pastor to address local needs.
"All agreed," said Mr. Johnson in his report of the meeting, "that, despite some variations they discussed, our services must continue to be easily recognizable as United Church of God services, wherever brethren may travel."
On May 13 the council discussed how the Y2K computer problem might affect the church and its operations. From a technical perspective, Richard Kennebeck, who handles the church's home-office computer operations, said the systems will be ready for Y2K with no major problems.
One major change to be made, however, involved the need to switch from Lotus cc:Mail software for employee and elder E-mail to an Internet-based system, because cc:Mail, at least the version the church uses, is not Y2K-compliant.
"We simply have to get past that one week in January 2000," he said.
Mr. Holladay led a discussion on appropriate Y2K preparations for individuals and local churches. He said the United Church of God could adopt plans for congregations to help them deal with any natural disaster, and that preparation would also suffice for any crisis caused by the Y2K problem.
Mr. Kubik said he would want to ensure that such precautions be taken in a wise manner. Mr. Antion agreed and said that "just because there are people out there who are alarmists doesn't lessen our responsibility as a council to take care of the church."
Church treasurer Tom Kirkpatrick noted an evolution in the way the brethren pay tithes and offerings. Fewer congregations collect tithes locally, he said. In the last six months only 25 congregations have sent multiple donations to the home office.
The day concluded with an executive, or closed, session to discuss personnel matters.
Chairman's length of service
On Friday, May 14, council members discussed job descriptions and evaluations for the president and chairman.
"The question of the chairman's length of service arose and was discussed," reported Mr. Johnson. "At present, the only limitation is the three-year length of his term as a council member. The council agreed that any change beyond this natural limit would require an amendment to the church's governing documents, not a job description."
Preaching the gospel
The council talked about the church's potential efforts in broadcasting over television and radio and via the Internet.
Dr. Ward said WWL, a New Orleans radio station, has offered to broadcast a program sponsored by the United Church of God. The council decided to turn the offer over to Mr. McCullough for his evaluation.
The council discussed whether "public Bible lectures" are a workable means of preaching the gospel.
Mr. Walker, a council member who oversees the church's operations in Spanish-speaking areas, said they are. They work well in Latin America and elsewhere, he said.
Mr. Jewell, from England, commented that his experience has shown lectures aren't all that effective.
Mr. Antion, from Canada, said Canadian brethren plan a series of lectures for later in 1999.
The day concluded with a closed session to discuss personnel matters.
Process of appeal
Sunday, May 16, began with a discussion on the "process of appeal" to the council of elders, which is an avenue for church members to challenge disciplinary actions or other ecclesiastical decisions to the council after applying Matthew 18 criteria for resolving problems among brethren.
The council then discussed and refined a policy on suspension and disfellowshipping but decided more work is needed on this subject at a future council meeting.
Next came a discussion of the "rules of association," the controversial set of regulations that determine a local congregation's relationship with the council and home office.
Appearing before the council were two pastors of congregations: Darris McNeely of Indianapolis, Ind., and Mitch Knapp of St. Paul, Minn., and Eau Claire, Wis. Also present were members of the boards of the Indianapolis and Cincinnati North congregations.
Mr. McNeely and Mr. Knapp addressed the council to convey concerns of members back home. Their congregations both have boards of directors that make certain legal decisions on behalf of the congregations.
Boards in United congregations have frequently clashed with the central authority of United. Many of the splits in United have occurred in congregations with boards, some of which formed before United formed, in April and May of 1995.
Mr. McNeely's comments and questions included a request from his board back in Indianapolis for clarification of one of the rules of association. The rule mentions that "advisory councils" are appropriate for congregations but says nothing about "boards" or "board members."
Pastor McNeely also asked for comment about the phrase "appropriate balance" in a rule as it pertains to the amount of money United will allow to reside in local accounts.
Members of the Indianapolis delegation also requested endorsement of the structure of the local Indianapolis corporation by the United Church of God -AIA. They asked to be cited as an example to other congregations that might choose a similar structure. Furthermore, they wanted to be assured of being allowed to continue the present configuration, and they asked for more communication with the central managers of the United Church of God -AIA.
Mr. Walker led a discussion that discussed a possible wording change specifically to allow for the existence of local boards in the rules of association.
Regarding local collection of tithes and offerings, Mr. Luker stated that wording needs to allow for a consensus on acceptable amounts of locally held funds. Jointly making the decision would be the home office, council and local congregation.
Mr. McCullough called for equality among similarly sized congregations and noted that equality requires centralized oversight.
The goal of the rules, reported Mr. Johnson, "is not to remove control from anyone, but to provide for everyone's needs."
Mr. Knapp, pastor in St. Paul and Eau Claire, presented his material next and spoke of the importance of allaying lingering suspicions in the minds of local members and boards that are skeptical of the rules of association.
Mr. Knapp called for a more cooperative approach to drawing up local budgets than is allowed for in the rules. He also asked for the acknowledgment of congregational preferences regarding transfers of pastors.
He suggested that certain sections of the rules be written to be more inclusive; that council members visit church areas; and that someone communicate to the brethren the advantages of being a part of the United Church of God -AIA.
He said it is important in some congregations for local collection of tithes and offerings to continue to take place.
Mr. Luker noted that that policy is guaranteed by the rules.
Spirit of Indianapolis
On May 17 the council discussed, among other things, the "spirit of Indianapolis."
Mr. Holladay, acting as moderator, asked the council members what they see as important from the April-May 1995 founding conference in Indianapolis and what is not important.
Mr. Walker said he does not want to "return to" or dwell on the memory of Indianapolis. "I do not look upon Indianapolis as a place to return to. I personally, philosophically, am not interested in returning anywhere ... How do we progress from Indianapolis ... as we move ahead?"
Mr. Dick said the "spirit that formed Indianapolis" is more important to him than "the spirit of Indianapolis." He criticized a presentation near the end of the 1995 Indy get-together that he said departed from an approach previously agreed upon by all the planners of the conference.
Mr. Dick's was an obvious reference to the presentation by Ray Wooten of Birmingham, Ala., one of the founders of United who is no longer a United member. Mr. Dick is correct in that many people who cite the "spirit of Indianapolis"--which was perceived by some to have been a departure from the central-planning days of the parent Worldwide Church of God--refer often to Mr. Wooten's presentation.
Mr. Wooten had called for more initiative in many activities including preaching the gospel by local congregations than is exercised by most present congregations or encouraged by the council and home office.
Mr. Wooten himself states that the "spirit of Indianapolis" is a "myth" because few of the founders believed in the ideals that he espoused at the conference. He acknowledges that his approach at the time differed markedly from the approach of other church founders.
The Journal plans to publish Mr. Wooten's remembrances of the founding of the United Church of God, and his thoughts on the spirit of Indianapolis, in the near future.
The view from here
In the discussion moderated by Mr. Holladay in the recent council meetings, Mr. Kubik mentioned that some United founders concentrated on the preservation of old-WCG doctrines, but others brought to the conference nontraditional ideas regarding how a church group should organize.
Mr. Dean said that, although he was not present at Indianapolis, he viewed the meetings there "as a kind of reaction to a spiritual receivership like we had a physical receivership in '79."
His reference was to the 1979 takeover by the California attorney general of Pasadena, Calif., WCG headquarters to investigate alleged financial irregularities by church officials.
Mr. Walker said that, although he also was not at Indianapolis, the good thing about the founding conference was the founders' desire to set up a system of checks and balances.
Mr. Holladay asked the men to expand on what they believed to be the legacy of Indianapolis.
Mr. Dick mentioned the founders' willingness to be candid and open and that the church should not proselytize.
Mr. Luker said the founders were motivated by a love for the law of God.
Mr. Holladay said the love was also for the church and people of God.
Mr. Thompson said the founders committed to do God's work again.
Mr. Kubik remembered the importance of naming the church and the beginnings of the idea for a constitution and bylaws.
Mr. Jewell saw Indianapolis as a time of commitment to "get it right" and to work in unity and peace.
Mr. Walker mentioned checks and balances again.
Mr. Dean spoke of creating an infrastructure designed to prepare the bride of Christ rather than one that focused on a personality.
Mr. Antion spoke of the importance of the correct use of God's truth.
A discussion ensued on relationships with other Church of God groups. Mr. Dick said some United congregations have wanted to invite non-United speakers to address their congregations. People are free to visit and attend United services, they concluded, although United has not officially defined its relationship with other groups.
Mr. Antion said he worries about the council making too many policies, thereby usurping the initiative of the ministerial-services department.
Mr. Kubik commented that people who come to a United service expect to hear a United elder speak and should be assured that will happen.
Mr. Thompson stressed that, when it comes to church services, United ought to be exclusive. A United service must have a United speaker, although seminars don't have to fall under the same restriction.
Mr. Antion said certain exceptions should be made to the United-only rule, but each exception should be preapproved.
Treasurer Tom Kirkpatrick and Mr. McNair disagreed with Mr. Antion that exceptions should sometimes be allowed. Both men stated there should never be any exceptions to the rule. They cited the reaction of many United members to the proposed invitation of an elder from outside the United Church of God to speak to a Cincinnati congregation last winter.
The elder was Ronald Dart of Christian Educational Ministries, Tyler, Texas. After he accepted an invitation from Cincinnati pastor Jim O'Brien, the United Church of God rescinded the invitation. (See "Cincinnati Invites, Then Uninvites, Ron Dart to Speak," Dec. 31, 1998.)
Mr. Walker said United should never have any outside speakers because having outside speakers would offend the brethren.
Mr. McNair told a story about attending Church of God (Seventh Day) services many years ago in Oregon. He still has vivid memories of arguments he witnessed between elders from various groups after the close of Sabbath services.
Mr. Luker asked if an elder from the United Church of God should ever accept an invitation to speak to another Church of God group. He said he thought that would be acceptable, as long as ministerial services approved such an arrangement.
Mr. Antion stated again that any rule should include an exception clause.
Mr. Dick asked that ministerial services formulate a policy statement on the crossing over of speakers from different groups.
After a report from Mr. Kirkpatrick on finances, Mr. McCullough led a discussion on the possibility of employing a public-relations consultant to help the church coordinate ideas generated in the council and from the general membership of the church.
The communications committee then initiated a resolution that named Mr. McCullough as the official spokesman for the United Church of God. Council members unanimously passed the resolution.
United Church of God publications editor Scott Ashley of Arvada, Colo., updated the council about booklets and magazines. (For more about Mr. Ashley's presentation, see the related article on page 28.)
On the last day of meetings, the council members talked about traveling council members.
Mr. Luker endorsed the importance of church members realizing council members should not be invited to areas to deal with problems or questions without permission from ministerial services.
The council presented a gift to Clyde Kilough in appreciation for his two years of service as council reporter. Mr. Johnson recently replaced Mr. Kilough as council reporter.
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