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Spirit of Indianapolis revisited

By Jeff Osborn

The writer, a self-employed industrial sales representative, graduated from Ambassador College, Big Sandy, in 1978 and was ordained a Church of God elder in 1989. He has been a member of the United Church of God since its beginning. Mr. Osborn and his wife, Joan, live with their two children near Fillmore, Ind.

On June 2 and 3 my wife, Joan, and I attended the Indianapolis-St. Louis regional conference sponsored by the home office of the United Church of God. This was a special opportunity for us for several reasons. We were heavily involved in efforts to convene the original Indianapolis conference at the end of April and first part of May 1995, and this conference revisited that site.

Actually, the original meeting place for the group that is now the United Church Of God was at an exit off Interstate 70 near Cloverdale, Ind. Even before everyone arrived, we knew we were short on space and scrambled to relocate the meetings for the following days.

By the second day of the original conference, we were meeting at Jonathan Byrd's Cafeteria, near Indianapolis. And here we were one year later.

The memories and emotions flowed as we entered the building. I remembered the anticipation and the hope as we came together to talk about how to preserve God's Word and care for His people.

The spirit of Indianapolis

UCG president David Hulme, who was a part of the original Indianapolis convention, gave an excellent opening talk before the regional group about the "spirit of Indianapolis." He spoke eloquently of a key element of the spirit of Indianapolis: humility.

As I look back on that first general conference of the United Church of God, I agree that humility was definitely a key. As one of the few elders who helped with the physical planning and execution of the meetings, I had taken on several hall duties: the sound system, computer support and, at one point, procuring rubber bands to bundle sets of tapes we were making available to people who couldn't be there.

As far as I was concerned, it was all in a day's work. What impressed me about the humility of the participants was that, regardless of any previous rank, everyone who was there wanted to do nothing more than serve.

At one point in the feverish events, I had to be several places at once. Just as I was ready to head off on an urgent mission, someone grabbed my arm and told me I needed to guard the door to the hallway where the food for lunch was being prepared.

A former evangelist, whom I have known for many years, saw me looking frantic and asked what he could do to help. I told him I was supposed to make sure no one went through these doors, but I needed to be elsewhere too.

He assumed the attitude of a deacon, moved in front of the doors and said: "Go ahead. I'll stop anybody who tries to go through these doors."

It was the perfect example of the spirit of humility recalled by Mr. Hulme a year later.

Following the train of thought started by Mr. Hulme, I remembered several other elements of the original conference that stood out.

The spirit of Indianapolis is embodied in at least four keys crucial to the formation of what is now the United Church of God. The other three are faith, hope and empowerment, and I would like to take a little time to examine these other three aspects.

The faith required to move

  • Faith is more than just a feeling. We know from Hebrews 11:1 that faith is substantive. In fact, faith gives us evidence of things that are not seen in the physical realm. The book of James goes even further. In James 2:20 we read that faith without works is dead.

It was faith that enabled Peter to climb out of the boat and walk across the water toward Christ, and it was his lack of faith that caused him to sink moments later (Matthew 14:31).

I believe our initial move required more faith than has been required of me in my 33 years in God's church. None of my family had any problem with continuing to believe the things we had been convicted of, and proven, so many years ago. But then there was "the organization."

I remember mentioning to people the possibility of moving away from our previous organization's new non-Sabbath-keeping approach. I was cautioned about waiting and watching for God to intervene. Some described their situation and compared it to Israel waiting for the Red Sea to part, saying they felt as if they were running up and down the banks of the Red Sea but nothing was happening.

And nothing did happen until we stepped out on faith. The combined faith of a small group of God's servants started the ball rolling in Indianapolis. There our faith was in God.

A year later we are still walking across the water. From time to time we begin to focus on physical concerns, then we sink a little. But, on the whole, our faith in God is still strong, and those physical concerns have not managed to sink us.

Out of misery, hope

  • "Hope deferred makes the heart sick," as Proverbs 13:12 points out. Over the last few years we were told that, simply stated, our hope in Christ was only here and now. As 1 Corinthians 15:19 states, that is a miserable point of view. If this life is as good as it gets, then we are of all men most miserable.

At the Indianapolis conference, we began to come out of our misery. Watching ministers and their wives enter the building that first night in Cloverdale, I saw tired, apprehensive faces. As people saw old friends, their load began to lighten. We began to sense that this effort might offer us a way out of our hopelessness.

By the end of the meetings, we were brimful of hope, a hope that renewed and strengthened our faith in God.

Over the past year our focus may have drifted from the direction that was so clearly set in Indianapolis. After all, by its very nature the United Church of God comprises many diverse parts making up one body. We have been learning how to administer church affairs from a viewpoint completely new to most of us.

From time to time, when it seemed that the hope that was renewed in Indianapolis might be deferred, people became apprehensive--sometimes visibly upset. But each time I have seen God's Spirit stir strongly among His people. We continue to move forward in faith, not moving away from the hope of the gospel (Colossians 1:23).

Empowerment: the remarkable difference

  • While humility, faith and hope were unquestionably key components at Indianapolis, the one ingredient that made things remarkably different from ever before was empowerment. After all, most of the people at the conference had served God faithfully for decades. To suggest that our humility, faith and hope began only in Indianapolis would be doing God a disservice.

As we came together with humility, faith and hope, we began to work together in a manner that was new to us. No one man wanted to be in charge. In fact, at Sabbath services the day before the conference out of a room full of long-time ministers--many of whom had been evangelists--I had a hard time finding anyone to give the opening and closing prayers. We all just wanted to be there and be led by God.

That no one person stood up and said, "I am in charge; I know what God wants us to do," meant that we each had to move forward in faith, working together to accomplish God's will.

What followed was incredible. We were empowered to seek God's will and serve His people without first getting permission from a human authority. Without the encumbrance of an organization dictating what was right or allowable, we were able to grow and bear fruit as never before.

Congregations at work

At our recent regional conference, I listened to each pastor give an account of the past year. God has obviously blessed the process. Congregations have become empowered to draw on the gifts and strengths they have to do a work. Individuals in the congregations have grown tremendously.

Brethren who were in the background before have stepped out and contributed to local efforts in a big way. Some of the efforts have involved the use of television and newspapers. Some have involved helping brethren in other countries. Still others have focused on youth programs that actually help!

In some cases, congregations are combining efforts to pool their strengths and accomplish things on a regional scale and beyond.

I expect to continue to see and hear of local efforts to do a work, with the type and scope of effort exhibited as varied as the sizes and types of congregations we have.

Perhaps this may well be where our greatest work will be done.

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