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Joseph Tkach Sr. battles bone cancer, names son successor

By Mac Overton

Joseph Tkach Sr., pastor general of the Worldwide Church of God and chairman of the board of Ambassador University, announced Sept. 6 that he has been diagnosed with severe bone cancer. Mr. Tkach had been receiving chemotherapy for colon cancer after undergoing surgery May 29 for the removal of a malignant tumor.

He also announced that he had ordained his son, Joseph Tkach Jr., as deputy pastor general.

The announcements were made in a copyrighted letter in the Sept. 6 issue of Pastor General's Report, a newsletter for ministers of the WCG. The letter was read to Ambassador University faculty, staff and students by AU President Pro Tem Russell Duke during a closed meeting Sept. 7, and was to be read to WCG congregations Sept. 9.

After discussing the coming Feast of Tabernacles, Mr. Tkach wrote, "I must also let you know that recent medical tests have shown that my cancer is worse than we had previously known. A bone scan done with a radioactive isotope revealed some 50 spots on my bones.

"This is a different kind of cancer from the colon cancer and requires a different kind of treatment. I am receiving chemotherapy for the colon cancer, but these spots on the bones will require radiation, and I will need to make a decision about the radiation in the next few days. This treatment can greatly reduce my pain, but it would also make me very weak. There is also the possibility that the radiation treatment can stop the cancer.

"On the positive side, I have responded well to the chemotherapy for the colon cancer. The doctors tell me that my blood is in very good condition and that my liver is still cancer-free. But I want you to know the facts about my overall condition, and the news about the bones is indeed a setback."

The pastor general noted in his letter that God could heal him, but he would praise Him whether he is healed now or in the resurrection.

Sources close to the Tkach family said the WCG leader had decided not to undergo radiation treatment.

Mr. Tkach, who has presided over far-reaching and controversial doctrinal changes in the WCG, wrote,

"God has blessed me to see the beginning of the golden age of the Worldwide Church of God. He has given me overwhelming joy to witness his Holy Spirit at work in a miraculous way to lead us out of entrenched doctrinal errors into the pure light of his glorious gospel!"

He also wrote that, for the "stability and continuity of the [WCG]," he had appointed his son as deputy pastor general and that the younger Tkach would become pastor general upon his death or inability to continue his duties.

In the letter Mr. Tkach said he ordained his son to the position Sept. 5 at a meeting attended by Gregory Albrecht, Michael Feazell, Dean Blackwell, Ralph Helge (WCG attorney), Herman Hoeh, Ronald Kelly, Joseph Locke, Richard Rice, Bernard Schnippert, K.J. Stavrinides and Richard van Pelt.

A news release from WCG public-relations officer Tom Lapacka said the meeting, held in Pasadena, Calif., was a "board meeting."

Before his promotion, the younger Tkach was director of church administration.

During the meeting at AU, to which members of the press were refused entrance, "Dr. Duke was pretty emotional," a source who asked not to be identified told In Transition. "He often cried, and stopped eight or nine times, but kept his composure pretty well."

Dr. Duke also discussed "different ways to deal with grief and said we need to go forward," the source said. "He [Dr. Duke] said that we're moving into the golden years of Ambassador. He said we're in the black, but under financial duress, which he said was not uncommon for nonprofit entities."

Dr. Duke also said AU will begin taking applications and nominations for the position of university president. Dr. Duke has been president pro tem since June 16, when the previous president, Dr. Donald Ward, resigned.

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