The letter further expressed strong support for the pastor and asked for
representatives of the home office to reconsider.
One week later UCG-AIA president David Hulme of Arcadia, accompanied by
UCG council of elders member Jim Franks of Houston, Texas, personally fired
Mr. Hulme's actions have sparked even more complaints about the situation.
In Transition made repeated efforts to speak with Mr. Hulme and Mr.
Franks but were unable to reach them before press time.
Events in Florida and other parts of the United States are prompting questions
from loyal UCG members about the authority assumed by individuals and departments
at the home office and are raising questions about whether they are honoring
what many perceive to be the essential "spirit of Indianapolis."
The UCG was formed in May 1995 by former Worldwide Church of God elders.
Many who attended the founding conference left Indianapolis with the impression
that the newly formed UCG, although clearly dedicated to an international
effort of preaching the gospel, was nonetheless being built on the foundation
of local-membership empowerment, including the development of local and
regional evangelistic efforts and the freedom of any of the congregations
and their members to collect tithes locally and participate in governance.
Efforts of the home office and many of its paid elders to downplay this
founding vision have created tension in church areas across the country.
A significant number of UCG pastors are aggressively preaching about the
supposed evils of brethren having too much say about the congregation and
its activities. Many of the elders and other brethren who cite the nonauthoritarian,
fraternal and collegial approach called for and approved at Indianapolis
are branded as "congregationalists" and rebels and are said to
In the Spokane, Wash., congregation of the UCG, for example, all the unpaid
elders have stopped attending as a result of issues they say grew out of
a disagreement with the pastor over the development of local bylaws.
In January 1996 the Spokane congregation, which is locally incorporated,
voted 85-3 to adopt bylaws. Elders in Spokane say the pastor had a change
of heart on the bylaws shortly before they were passed and for almost a
year since has worked to have the local corporation dissolved or the bylaws
Some boards are working
When the United Church of God was launched in 1995, locally organized and
incorporated church-governance structures were held aloft as ideal. And
some congregations have worked well with local boards.
The Kansas City, Mo., church is one of the UCG congregations that reports
doing "just fine" (said a member there) with a board.
(Elders at the founding conference were advised that congregations could
choose to incorporate or operate as unincorporated associations; both types
of church structures could set up boards to represent their members.)
Richard Pinelli, director of the UCG's ministry under Mr. Hulme, said in
a sermon delivered to the fledgling Kansas City UCG congregation the weekend
after the Indianapolis conference, "The authority [in this church]
to do anything will no longer rest with one man, one rule."
He emphasized "a different way of doing things," which he said
included setting up locally governed congregations, in which church members,
including leaders, would work in concert to begin doing the work from a
Board member Rick Frazee of Independence, Mo., says: "We've tried to
model what we thought the UCG was doing with the general conference. We
aimed to legitimize the spirit of Indianapolis in working by consensus.
Our town-meeting format, where any church member can attend the board meetings
and speak their mind, is working well."
His wife, Paula, echoes her husband's sentiments. "It's responsible
serving," she says. "It really gives everyone a sense of participation."
But in some other areas a significant number of UCG members seem increasingly
annoyed with the unilateral actions of the home office when it comes to
transferring pastors. Pastors are assigned or reassigned with no input from
Some members of the UCG's Garden Grove, Calif., congregation, which formed
before the UCG, were disappointed when pastor Dennis Luker was replaced
without any effort to communicate with the local board about his replacement.
More recently a locally incorporated congregation saw its pastor resign
in a career change. One of the two congregations he pastored, Fort Wayne,
Ind., passed a unanimous resolution that it sent to regional pastor Victor
The resolution requested that Mr. Kubik visit the congregation so members
could discuss with him the preferences of the congregation and learn more
about the type of pastor it would be assigned.
Mr. Kubik visited the church and conducted what he termed a "very productive,
cordial" meeting with the board and other brethren.
Some weeks later, while Mr. Kubik was out of town, a representative of the
home office directly assigned a new pastor, with no attempt to inform or
seek input from the members.
Local incorporations discouraged
The home office has openly tried to discourage the incorporation of local
UCG congregations. Steve Andrews, an attorney and UCG treasurer, last summer
wrote an article in New Beginnings, a UCG member newsletter, titled "Sorting
Out the 'Private Sins.' " Mr. Andrews presented his vision of the potential
legal ramifications and consequences of "inurement"; i.e., members
providing benefits to themselves from tax-deductible tithes, a situation
that Mr. Andrews said could arise if members make donations and pay tithes
to the local congregation.
He used as an example the purchase of snacks by the congregations. In the
judgment of many UCG elders and other brethren, Mr. Andrews' presentation
was so overstated that many elders privately began calling the incident
Cookiegate, a takeoff on President Richard Nixon's downfall over the Watergate
scandal in 1974.
Turmoil in Miami
In Transition has received copies of dozens of communications
relating to the crisis in Miami and West Palm Beach and has talked with
people on both sides of the issue.
Sharon K. Sloat, a member at West Palm Beach, was among those who wrote
the council. Mrs. Sloat said she has known Mr. Smith and his family for
15 years, from the time he was a WCG associate pastor in Wheeling, W.Va.
Mrs. Sloat, who moved to Florida in June, in a Dec. 1 letter to the council,
"Many of us here in the Miami/West Palm area feel like we have
been going through a nightmare but almost wonder if this is a sign of the
future. As you must know by now, 100 percent of the Miami congregation
respectfully and unanimously seek Mr. Smith as their spiritual leader .
"Mr. Smith was not fired for adultery, stealing, or murder. Exactly
one week prior [to his termination] his [regional pastor, Roy Holladay]
and Mr. [Richard] Thompson [a member of the ministerial-services team that
supervises the field ministers under ministerial head Mr. Pinelli and Mr.
Hulme] told Mrs. Smith that she could tell the congregation that the meeting
went well and that her husband was a minister in good standing with United."
On Dec. 7, in a question-and-answer session at services in Miami, Mr. Holladay
declined to discuss the details of Mr. Smith's firing. Several Miami members
reported that Mr. Holladay gave as his reason for silence the biblical concept
that love covers sin, although noting that Mr. Smith had "not sinned."
In an effort to clear the way for an open discussion of his firing, Mr.
Smith told In Transition Dec. 8 that he was willing to sign a legal
document agreeing not to sue the UCG for wrongful termination.
"In fact, I've already signed a termination contract," Mr. Smith
said. "I received a gratuitous payment equal to one month's pay, plus
payment for unused vacation."
He said he thinks language was included in the legal document saying that
he agreed not to pursue legal recourse, but he's not sure.
"I was so rattled by the events of the day of my firing that I didn't
think to get a copy."
Blown out of proportion
Mr. Holladay said Dec.11 of the situation in Florida:
"I am concerned that a local incident such as this will get blown
out of proportion. Mr. Smith was terminated because of job performance.
Because [the situation] is a question of ethics, privacy and employment
laws, I cannot discuss this.
"The fundamental question comes down to contradictory sets of information
coming from church members. The perception in this case that a couple of
people stirred up trouble is simply not true. The fact-gathering here involved
the church membership.
"The ministerial-service team investigated this for several months,
trying to work it out. In my opinion, they bent over backwards.
"I can't really say if we've lost members over this. I know of a couple
who have stopped attending, but there's been a gradual attrition over a
period of time for various reasons."
Mr. Holladay said he hopes the churches in south Florida will stabilize
and another pastor will be brought in.
"Except for this, of the approximately 20 churches in this region things
are going very well."
The situation remains tense and is far from resolved, according to other
brethren in Florida. Mr. Smith remains popular, and many brethren say they
believe he was the victim of a smear campaign on the part of a handful of
members, especially in the West Palm Beach congregation. Many brethren say
they are upset.
On the other hand
John Rodberg, a deacon in the West Palm Beach congregation, and his wife,
Carol, were mentioned by members of both the West Palm Beach and Miami congregations
as detractors of Mr. Smith.
Mr. Rodberg, who was ordained a deacon in the WCG about 1976, said he wasn't
"trying to get Mr. Smith fired." He did say that he did not agree
philosophically with how Mr. Smith proposed spending some locally collected
Mrs. Rodberg contacted In Transition to say she wasn't out to get
Mr. Smith, either. "We weren't against him. We were against his thinking
and against his management of our first tithe.
"The UCG's downfall is that it permits local congregations to collect
tithes. I've gone to Global. They do know about leadership. They are the
original people. They are on the right track. Our thing was that we didn't
want to be like Worldwide."
None of those contacted concerning the events in southern Florida, including
his detractors, suggested that Mr. Smith misappropriated church funds and
acknowledged that Mr. Smith cannot sign checks drawn on the local account.
Spokane bylaw battle
Across the country in the Pacific Northwest, in Spokane, Wash., another
situation is simmering, and some UCG brethren say they are upset. In this
case, the pastor is perceived by some as being kept in place by the home
office in spite of the recommendations of the board and the regional pastor
that he be transferred.
The Spokane congregation of the UCG started May 6, 1995, the Sabbath after
the Indianapolis organizational conference.
In a June 15, 1995, letter to In Transition, Rod Hall, chairman of
the board of the Spokane congregation, wrote that well over half of the
WCG's Spokane congregation left to join the UCG.
He said the brethren were relieved to meet again with those of like mind,
without contention and stress.
"The atmosphere is reminiscent of the Feasts in the 1960s," he
wrote at that time. "Each Sabbath seems like a holy day."
Mr. Hall wrote that at first he was "not in favor" of establishing
a board, "because I was uncomfortable with the pastor sharing the decision-making
process with others who have the power to override his wishes. We all had
gotten comfortable with government from the top down.
"However, Mr. Treybig was excited about trying the board system. Now
that we are about six weeks into its operation, I can see that a board system
can be a very effective tool in handling the administrative needs of the
church. This, of course, must be made up of converted individuals interested
in letting God lead and guide them."
In November 1995, In Transition contacted Mr. Treybig about how things
were working with the board. He expressed enthusiasm for the process that
seemed to be working well in in his area.
"As far as I know, Spokane is the only Pacific Northwest congregation
with an elected board," he said, noting that all but one of the board
members was ordained and all had been long-time WCG members.
"I've been pastor in Spokane for nine years. It's one of those rare
instances where the church and pastor made the move together."
He added that about 175 of the 300-member WCG congregation had joined the
Mr. Treybig said that Mr. Hall, elder Perry Miller and he had traveled to
Indianapolis for the conference that produced the UCG. He said they were
excitedly establishing a locally controlled congregation, based on the concepts
outlined during the Indiana conference.
Change of heart
The seven-person board, which included all the elders (Mr. Treybig, Mr.
Miller, Steven Wineinger and Robert Gentry), prepared a set of bylaws for
the congregation's consideration.
Mr. Gentry recalled recently that the board requested assistance from the
UCG home office on some occasions but was told, in effect, "you are
on your own," he said. "We believed the finished document was
imperfect, [but] in fact one of the most relied-upon features of the bylaws
was that they could be amended."
A draft copy of the bylaws was distributed to the members in November. A
Jan. 13, 1996, meeting was eventually scheduled for adoption of the bylaws
and the election of a regular slate of board members to replace the interim
board. Mr. Wineinger said that in December the board continued to refine
the bylaws and believed it had a better document in January than the draft
it had provided the congregation in November.
But, shortly before the bylaws were presented to the congregation for ratification,
Mr. Treybig said he had changed his mind about them.
All three elders say that, to their amazement, during the Jan. 7 board meeting
Mr. Treybig distributed a letter he had received challenging UCG Spokane's
governance on the basis that it included a woman on the board and allowed
women in the congregation to vote.
"Mr. Treybig proposed for the first time that elders should be the
governing body in the church, thus avoiding the issue of women voting,"
Mr. Gentry said recently.
The elders say Mr. Treybig restated his opposition to the bylaws he helped
create, but were adamant that the congregation had been promised what they
called a "town meeting" and an opportunity to accept or reject
Bylaws approved 85-3
Before the vote, Mr. Treybig delivered a sermon condemning "congregationalism"
and supporting "presbyterianism" (rule of the ministry). After
the sermon, the congregation voted 85-3 to ratify the bylaws.
"The congregation was just as mystified as the board by the sudden
turn of events," Mr. Gentry said, "and couldn't imagine the sermon's
purpose was to oppose the document the pastor had helped develop."
The elders say the pastor was surprised and angered by the vote as well
as the fact that the interim board (with one exception because of medical
problems) was reelected to become the permanent board.
In Transition asked Mr. Treybig Dec. 9 to comment, but he declined
to speak on the record. He did fax a statement Dec. 10:
"The bylaw process has been difficult for us and we are saddened
by the fact that some have chosen this time to leave. We are encouraged
though by the progress we have made in the past few weeks while revising
our bylaws. We are finding common ground to insure that our local members
will be involved in doing the work and that we will remain part of the
United Church of God."
He further offered to review In Transition's article before publication
and to "comment on sections that I feel need clarification."
Rather than provide the article, In Transition faxed Mr. Treybig
a summary of notes compiled during hours of telephone interviews that chronicled
events of the past year.
Elder says Sabbath services tense
Mr. Treybig, in a written reply, said: "Your notes from interviews
with the three elders and one former elder (by his own choice) appear to
be consistent with what they have told me. The debate over whether to be
entirely locally autonomous or part of a worldwide work has indeed been
The former elder referred to by Mr. Treybig is Dave Crabtree of Coeur d'
Alene, Idaho, who was a WCG elder for about 10 years and who became a UCG
elder but attended in Spokane rather than Coeur d' Alene.
Mr. Crabtree, who did not serve on the board and did not work on the bylaws,
said he stopped attending the Spokane congregation before this year's Feast.
"I haven't stopped fellowshipping, but I don't assemble on the Sabbath
with the UCG. I have no ill will toward anyone."
Mr. Crabtee said his decision to stop attending the Spokane congregation
was because of the uneasy ambience he perceived on the Sabbath.
"The Sabbath atmosphere was not one of rejuvenation. So many of their
sermons dealt with government. We felt it wasn't profitable to put ourselves
in that situation. I just don't have time for the quibbling and politicking.
We now meet with other brethren in a private fellowship.
"Our UCG congregation started out with high enthusiasm. We considered
having our own building, but the pastor pulled back from that approach,
and it left a lot of us feeling it was not the organization that we thought
we were joining."
He said he still considers the Treybigs friends of his.
Local vs. worldwide work?
Although Mr.Treybig characterized the debate as between autonomy and doing
a worldwide work, Mr. Wineinger said the central issue is control.
"The conflict ripping the Spokane church apart is the result of the
pastor fighting to keep control: control of what the membership will believe,
something most of us are still sensitive to; control of how the money will
be spent; control of whether or not a local work can be done in the area
and how; and so on."
Mr. Wineinger said he believes that "we, those God has called and in
whom He has placed His Holy Spirit, are all part of the royal priesthood."
(The concept of a royal priesthood [1 Peter 2:9] has a flashpoint for many
within the ranks of the UCG ministry in recent months. Some say it is a
code word for those who reject the concept of the authority of the ordained
But Mr. Wineinger said he believes in structure in the church.
"There should be bishops, elders, overseers, deacons, etc., within
the church functioning as servants within the Body. There is the need for
some full-time [paid] ministers. The ministry and the home office exist
for the purpose of empowering and supporting the membership."
But United is at a crossroads, he says.
"Arcadia has the chance to do something really different. We are waiting
to see. It isn't what we believe so much that would make us a cult but how
Mr. Wineinger said he belongs where he can "best be a Christian. I
hope this can be in the United Church of God, an International Association."
UCG releases conference transcript
Differing opinions on the role of UCG congregations date to the Indianapolis
conference (In Transition, May 5, 1995).
Since then it has become obvious to some that UCG elders do not agree in
their recollection of what happened in Indianapolis. Last June In Transition
reported that the home office had prepared a transcript of the conference
(In Transition, June 24).
In early November the home office released a partial transcript of the Indianapolis
In a cover
letter Nov. 8 from Mr. Hulme, the president said his memory of the meetings
had "proven less than perfect. The transcript may demonstrate the same
to you [elders]."
A main point of his letter was to explain "difficulties" springing
made by Ray Wooten, a member of the original board who was not reelected
at the December 1995 general conference in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Mr. Hulme said Mr. Wooten's remarks were out of line and had distressed
"As a result, Mr.
Luker spoke out plainly about his desire to be part of a national and
international work," Mr. Hulme wrote.
Mr. Hulme said he talked with Mr. Wooten and "mentioned that his address
had not followed the broad outline [Mr. Wooten] had agreed on with the conference
planning team. I noted that he seemed to have rather fallen back on an earlier
'script' about autonomous congregations."
On Dec. 11 In Transition asked Mr. Wooten about Mr. Hulme's remarks:
"The transcript itself absolutely refutes the paragraph about difficulties
being experienced as a result of comments made by me in my address on setting
up the church. If Mr. Luker was caused distress, it was because he was being
pressured by others.
"I know the truth of the matter. I went to Indianapolis knowing that
a number of those men did not want local autonomy from the beginning. That
was especially clear from the time David Hulme was installed.
"I was the main one to argue for local involvement of brethren in doing
the work. Had I not been there, the UCG would have been established from
the start as another headquarters-type operation.
"I also did not apologize as is stated or acquiesce to David Hulme's
viewpoint. He came to me and said, 'But, Ray, we need to do a work,' and
I merely agreed, 'Yes, that's right. We do need to do a work, but a work
to actively involve every member and the gifts God has given him or her.'"
Grappling with preaching the gospel
The United Church of God as a whole continues to grapple with governance
and its role in preaching the gospel.
Ministers and other members have expressed to In Transition positive
reactions to the UCG's progress, including the publishing of The Good
News magazine, even while personally wanting to do more.
The broad base of UCG's grassroots constituency regards the work of preaching
the gospel as a cooperative, not competitive, effort between the Arcadia
management team, the ordained ministry and all other members of the church.
Many in the church who are poised to take increasing personal responsibility
for and involvement in evangelism say they are discouraged by the home office's
negative reactions to, or shutdowns of, such member-guided efforts as the
production of public-access cable television programs.
They report they are dismayed by a return to what they regard as politics
as usual: the WCG-influenced mind-set that the real work of the church can
be properly performed only by one anointed leader or by a handful of ordained
The argument used by the home office to bolster this viewpoint is that Indianapolis
was then, but this is now: an attitude expressed in a recent letter mailed
with transcripts from the Indiana conference.
In that letter dated, Nov. 8, the UCG's President Hulme writes: "The
United Church of God, an International Association, has grown and developed
a great deal since May 1995. Some of the decisions taken at that first conference
have been superceded. The actual practice of organizing the Church and the
experience of its development has caused us to learn and modify as we go.
I hope we can all recognize the leadership of our Father and His Son in
the direction the Church is traveling under their guidance."
Finally a forum
A significant number of UCG elders have expressed a need for an electronic
elders' forum. They say the general conference has little opportunity to
discuss important issues.
Dan Deininger, a UCG elder in Helena, Mont., tried to set up a semiofficial
forum last summer, with limited success. Some UCG elders said they desired
to participate but were concerned that they would be damaged politically
if they contributed to a forum that was not approved by the home office.
Mr. Deininger said he backed off on his efforts because of limited time
and because Mr. Hulme promised elders in the Northwest in August that the
home office would set up an E-mail forum.
Mr. Holladay told In Transition Dec. 11 that the forum "should
be online almost immediately."
"All those presently on the [Lotus Developments] cc:Mail [electronic-mail]
system will be notified when that happens, provided a copy of the guidelines
for its use and given a chance to sign up," he said.
"We think it's a really positive move and something we've all been
wanting to do."
Scott Ashley, an elder in the United Church of God's Denver, Colo., congregation,
believes the governance-debate situation is "tragic."
"I wouldn't want to go back to the blind faith once delivered,"
Mr. Ashley, managing editor of The Good News magazine, said, "and
the UCG does have growing pains, even though at last report our income is
doing very well and Feast attendance exceeded our expectations.
"I've heard of many diverse reasons why we've lost members all across
the country. Every conceivable doctrinal difference has cropped up as old
heresies emerge and brand-new ones surface.
"But I've seen this affecting all groups. It is not a corporate problem;
people are being swayed in their faith by all manner of organizational,
doctrinal and personal problems.
"What we need to remember is who the true enemy of all of us is. It
is Satan the devil, whose motivation has always been to destroy, distract,
disrupt and divide."