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United Church of God reaches first anniversary

By John Robinson

ARCADIA, Calif.--The United Church of God, an International Association, headquartered here, was born one year ago May 1 in Indianapolis, Ind.

In a historic conference of ministers and former ministers of the Worldwide Church of God April 30-May 2, 1995, elders selected a nine-member board and laid plans for the organization.

The Sabbath of May 6, four days after the conclusion of the conference, UCG church attendance was 6,000, making it the largest WCG offshoot to form initially. Within three weeks, the UCG's ranks had swollen to 8,000. By Pentecost, June 4, almost 4,000 attended UCG congregations and gave an offering of $678,098, funds that were earmarked for the home office here.

Total UCG attendance, including international areas, now approaches 20,000.

The explosive growth was largely because of a grass-roots movement among lay members and elders of the WCG. Thousands of members of the WCG were looking for a home, a place to worship where their long-held doctrinal beliefs would not be undermined or even ridiculed.

In many cases, members formed their own groups when their pastor either went along with the WCG's doctrinal changes or were slow to take a stand. In other cases, WCG pastors openly withstood the new WCG teachings they considered heresy and formed local groups.

The Worldwide Church of God Texas, the United Church of God of Alabama and the United Church of God of California were some of the first organizations to form in the spring of the year as the exodus from the WCG picked up steam.

In late April (see related article, page 12) some former WCG regional pastors and a few others met in Indianapolis to organize a conference. About 150 elders attended.

The conference named to its interim board Bob Dick, 51, Jim Franks, 45, Roy Holladay, 54, Doug Horchak, 42, David Hulme, 49, Victor Kubik, 47, Dennis Luker, 58, Burk McNair, 63, and Ray Wooten, 62.

Six of the nine were regional pastors of the Worldwide Church of God. Mr. Kubik was the former associate director of church administration. Mr. McNair, ordained an evangelist in 1979, pastored the San Antonio, Texas, congregation. Mr. Hulme was a presenter for The World Tomorrow telecast.

After its selection by the conference May 1, the board named a chairman, Mr. Hulme.

Six of the nine were regional pastors of the Worldwide Church of God. Mr. Kubik was the former associate director of church administration. Mr. McNair, ordained an evangelist in 1979, pastored the San Antonio, Texas, congregation. Mr. Hulme was a presenter for The World Tomorrow telecast.

After its selection by the conference May 1, the interim board named a chairman, Mr. Hulme.

International areas developed

Although the massive defections began in the United States, other areas of the world followed in short order.

Some 1,500 brethren from eight Spanish-speaking countries decided to affiliate themselves with United. Lay members and ministers from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, led by former WCG regional director Leon Walker, made the joint decision to affiliate. Mr. Walker, now a UCG employee, is still responsible for ministering to the Spanish-speaking brethren in those areas.

Mr. Walker reports that 1,800 non-U.S. Spanish-speaking brethren have affiliated with the church.

Other international areas began to feel the effects as the realities of the doctrinal changes reached their shores. As reported in In Transition July 21, 1995, the regional director for Britain, Leslie L. McCullough, announced his retirement, and several other ministers turned to resignation or retirement as the impact of WCG doctrinal change became apparent. Mr. McCullough left his post in August and is now an elder in the United Church of God.

The doctrinal winds of change swept through the heartland of Germany in August of 1995 with the resignation of the WCG's regional director in Germany, Paul Kieffer, along with other ministers, and the establishment of United congregations in the cities of Cologne, Darmstadt and Stuttgart, as reported in In Transition last Aug. 25.

Ministers in South Africa who left the WCG ministry believing the church had lurched into apostasy included former WCG regional director Andre van Belkum.

In Australia, a transitional planning team of ministers Bruce Dean, Rod King, Graemme Marshall, Rod McQueen and Reg Wright and lay member Roy Hickford organized and established the United Church of God after a July 27 planning meeting.

Draft of bylaws released

In mid-September, shortly before the Feast of Tabernacles, the UCG's home office mailed to the UCG ministry a draft of its bylaws (see In Transition, Sept. 22, 1995, page 7), which were to be considered for ratification by its entire ministry in December.

The interim board of directors met in Kansas City in late October to review suggested changes in the bylaws. Board members met together 24 hours in two days, most of that time in closed sessions. The board allowed In Transition to sit in on two sessions, on the morning and afternoon of Oct. 30.

The directors met to work on a revised draft of the proposed constitution and bylaws that the directors planned to submit for ratification at the general conference of elders in Cincinnati, Ohio, December 3-5.

The board dealt mainly with Sections 4 and 7 of the bylaws, considering suggestions from church members that came in as a result of the draft of the bylaws published in New Beginnings, a UCG newsletter.

Church lawyer Steve Andrews, who works out of the home office here, said the board had received about 130 separate pieces of communication with suggestions for changes in the document, including some that came in after the Oct. 23 deadline.

Feast of Tabernacles

The UCG in September launched a new 32-page color magazine, The Good News. The WCG used to publish a magazine of the same name. The name was not protected by copyright, so the UCG began using the name for its magazine.

The first issue was distributed to brethren during the Feast of Tabernacles.

Speaking of the Feast, the UCG organized nine U.S. and two Canadian sites, with 1,056 more Feastgoers attending services than had registered for the Feast. At the Corpus Christi, Texas, site alone, high attendance figures showed 2,059 attending, 483 more than the 1,576 registered before the Feast.

Coordinator Roy Holladay said, "This is the first year that I can remember that actual attendance was higher than registration. With a total of 14,212 attending, when you consider that 10 percent on average miss a service, then we could have had as many as 15,633 attend the Feast in North America this year."

General conference

The general conference of elders met in Cincinnati Dec. 3-6 to ratify the bylaws and elect a permanent council of elders to replace the board.

The crowd of 800--402 elders and their wives--were on hand for the proceedings. Elders voted on the bylaws, approving them 372-24, with 94 percent voting for approval.

Eight of the nine of the interim board members were reelected. The only interim board member not re-elected was Ray Wooten of Birmingham, Ala. Mr. Wooten had strongly disagreed with most other members of the board over differences in approach to church government.

Four new members were chosen: Gary Antion, Toronto, Ont., Canada; Peter Nathan, Radlett, England; Leon Walker, Big Sandy, Texas; Don Ward, Hawkins, Texas. Mr. Antion, Mr. Nathan and Dr. Ward had served on the faculty of Ambassador University. Mr. Hulme appointed Mr. Antion and Mr. Nathan to direct the UCG's Canadian and British operations, respectively.

Mr. Walker had been the director of the WCG's Spanish-language operations. Dr. Ward, president of AU until June 1994, had resigned and joined the UCG shortly after his resignation. Dr. Ward is the only unpaid elder serving on the council.

Growth continues throughout year

The UCG attendance continued to increase throughout its first year, but at a reduced rate.

UCG council secretary Gerald Seelig reported April 12 that, in the United States, 15,148 attended services on the first day of Unleavened Bread and 14,050 the second Holy Day, giving offerings on those days of $576,275 and $566,457, respectively.

Mr. Seelig said attendance and offerings on the first day were up 23.3 percent compared with Trumpets figures, with percentages for the second Holy Day slightly less.

Thousands of members met outside the United States, pushing the total attendance to nearly 20,000.

A pilot TV program, public Bible lectures, a target circulation of 50,000 for The Good New magazine, and an educational compact-disk program are now part of the UCG's strategic plan to preach the gospel during the next year.

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