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UCG elders ponder church headquarters move

By Linda Moll Smith

The issue of whether the United Church of God, an International Association, should move its headquarters out of Southern California heated up in early June with the sending of an electronic-mail message on the subject to UCG elders via the church E-mail service.

The church's home office is housed in a rented facility in Arcadia, Calif., only minutes from the Worldwide Church of God headquarters in neighboring Pasadena.

A UCG elder, who asked not to be named in this article, addressed a message on the subject of the office location June 9 to Roy Holladay, a member of the UCG council of elders and chairman of the council's committee studying the issue. In addition to Mr. Holladay, the message went to the entire list of elders worldwide.

The elder's message expressed disappointment that a decision concerning the home office's location has been delayed. The elder, who attended the Indianapolis conference, April 30-May 2, 1995, which created the UCG, said he perceived a mandate from the elders who met in Indiana to move the office out of Southern California.

He mentioned trust and credibility as points and asked if the council could be breaching a promise.

The elder said his E-mail message sparked 28 electronic responses out of the more than 320 elders on the E-mail system. Thirteen went to all UCG elders on E-mail. The remaining 15 were sent only to him, or to him and only a few others. He said of the 28 messages that 16 were supportive, two were neutral and 10 negative. He said he also received a half dozen or so phone calls, which were mostly supportive of the points he had raised in his E-mail.

The UCG operates its own E-mail network, based on Lotus Development Corp.'s cc:Mail, through which ministers and other church personnel with a personal computer, modem, the appropriate software and an assigned password can access the private network via a toll-free telephone number.

The E-mail exchanges were the most open manifestation to date of apparent frustration among some UCG elders who left the May 1995 Indianapolis conference with the impression that Arcadia, where the UCG's offices have been located since its inception in May 1995, was to be only a temporary location.

Others, including David Hulme, president, and Steve Andrews, treasurer, have exhibited a different perception. They have downplayed any notion of a strong expression from the ministry that the home office should locate other than in Southern California.

After the UCG's general conference of elders' meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, last December, the council said it would present a complete report on the relocation issue to the general conference (all UCG elders) by February. This deadline was missed, although shortly after Jan. 1, 1996, UCG home office personnel had retained the C.B. Madison Co. to research suitable locations for the home office.

In a May 28 letter to UCG elders regarding the office location, Bob Dick, chairman of the UCG council, asked for suggestions. He also said David Jarvis, a senior consultant for C.B. Madison, had reported the company's findings, which as of June 19 had not been shared with the general conference.

However, in a June 19 telephone interview, UCG council member Jim Franks of Houston, Texas, said C.B. Madison, during the council's meeting in Houston March 3-6, identified nine cities as office sites: Atlanta, Ga.; Chicago, Ill.; Cleveland, Ohio; Cincinnati, Ohio; Dallas, Texas; Detroit, Mich.; Houston; Memphis, Tenn.; and St. Louis, Mo.

Mr. Franks said C.B. Madison did not rank the cities, however. The firm also said that unspecified cities in Southern California were as good a choice as any of the other locations. When pressed to select one of the nine as an alternative to Southern California, Mr. Jarvis named Chicago.

"There were two timetables for a move," Mr. Franks said. "The first was to move in 1996; the second was to move in 1997."

The Houston elder said the proposal from the home-office staff was that the council should recommend three scenarios to the general conference, each with either a 1996 or 1997 move date, for a total of six choices. One scenario was a move to another Southern California city, a second was a move to Chicago, and a third was a move to another, unnamed, city outside Southern California.

The search criteria C.B. Madison were given had not been shared with the entire conference as of June 19.

Search reopened

The May 6 issue of New Beginnings, the UCG member newsletter, reported that the council discussed in a May 2 meeting in Birmingham, Ala., the office-location report.

Mr. Dick "reopened the discussion on the location of the home office," New Beginning reported. "The Council felt that there was a need for more information before making a recommendation to the General Conference of Elders.

"It was further proposed that an ad hoc committee be established to do an independent study of the issue. The committee will be entrusted with the responsibility of recommending criteria and then presenting a report to the Council. The committee was asked to provide a list of potential consultants to assist in this project.

"The Council of Elders approved the creation of this committee, with Mr. Holladay as the chairman. The other three members of the committee are Mr. [Gary] Antion, Victor Kubik and Burk McNair."

Insiders say the council as a whole was concerned with the way home-office personnel were conducting the selection process. Mr. Hulme, who was en route to California in advance of a trip to the Middle East, did not attend the May 2 meeting.

Mr. Dick said in his letter that the council in its Birmingham meetings in early May decided to renew the office lease in Arcadia, which was to expire at the end of May, "while we undertake an expanded home-office-location survey."

He gave as factors in the decision to renew the lease the expense of relocation, the legal attitudes of states toward churches and the recommendation of the consultant that it was "not sound business practice for a start-up company to disrupt its operations by a full relocation in its first year of business."

$600,000 to relocate

Mr. Dick wrote that the consulting firm told the council that any move outside of Southern California would "conservatively cost the organization in excess of $600,000."

Mr. Franks, asked how the proposed relocation could cost $600,000, said this was the amount arrived at by the consultants and presented in their report. He said about 25 full-time employees staff the office in Arcadia, but probably not all would choose to move. Spending $600,000 to move 25 employees equates to $24,000 per employee.

"This is based on each employee, in addition to moving expenses, being paid an additional bonus," Mr. Franks said. (A 5-percent bonus was traditionally paid by the WCG to cover incidental expenses and other costs of a move.) "The consultant also said there would be a crossover time where there would be double rent," Mr. Franks said.

Mr. Franks said the council's involvement in the home-office-location issue was "a learning experience."

"We have no intention of not providing choices to the general conference," Mr. Franks said. "It is the intent of the council to provide to the elders the information necessary to make a good decision.

"All 12 of us were given the opportunity to give input when asked about the criteria for the move last December. Not everyone responded, especially on how the criteria were to be weighted.

"It's one thing to feel that we should move out of Southern California. But, where do we go? That requires a lot of study. That's what we're doing now. We're doing the best we can, and we ask that people be patient with the process."

Spirit of Indianapolis

An often-repeated phrase among UCG elders has been "the spirit of Indianapolis," meaning the intent of the original general conference.

During that convention, one of the sessions was devoted to gathering input from the elders. Elders and their wives and other attenders were seated at large round tables and encouraged to come up with three concerns they would like addressed publicly.

Seated at one of the tables were Mark and Michelle Mickelson, pastor and wife of the UCG's Lubbock and Amarillo, Texas, congregations; John Carfourek pastor of the Olympia, Wash., congregation; John Robinson, publisher of In Transition and a UCG elder and his wife, Alice; and Dixon Cartwright, editor of In Transition, who was covering the meetings for the newspaper.

"Our table discussed a variety of topics," Mr. Robinson recalled in a May 16 interview. "We came up with three topics we'd like to have publicly discussed. The first was move the home office out of California. The second was move the home office out of California. The third was move the home office out of California. We wanted to make sure the topic was formally addressed."

Mr. Mickelson, interviewed by telephone May 17, recalled the discussion at the table. He said: "I remember we were very passionate in our discussions about wanting to move out of Southern California. In fact, some people have tried to play it down since, but we felt very strongly about it."

Former WCG regional pastors and other conference organizers were stationed around the hall to move from table to table, talk with the elders and guests and, at the end of the session, collect the lists so they could be compiled and addressed in a later session.

Ray Wooten, a former WCG regional pastor and original UCG interim-board member, elected in Indianapolis, "came by our table and collected our list," Mr. Robinson said. "We orally reviewed the list and explained that we wanted to be sure the topic was addressed."

Mr. Wooten, in a May 17 interview with In Transition, said he clearly recalled the incident and agreed with Mr. Robinson's characterization. "And their table was not the only table that had the home-office issue on their list," Mr. Wooten said.

Many topics that arose in the discussion groups were discussed later in the day. But the subject of the home-office location was not brought up.

Mr. Wooten was asked if it surprised him that the topic was not addressed.

"Not really," he said. "I thought it was so obvious that Arcadia was a temporary home and that there was a clear consensus to move out of the region at the earliest convenience that it didn't surprise me that it wasn't discussed. It was to me a given."

Transcript of remarks on home office

In Transition has learned that the home office has prepared a transcript of the entire Indianapolis proceedings. In Transition also learned that Guy Swenson, one of the organizers of the Indianapolis conference that produced the UCG and now an unpaid elder in the UCG, has a videotape of the proceedings. Mr. Swenson was asked, and agreed, to provide this newspaper with a transcript of comments concerning the home office that came at the end of the conference.

At the conclusion of the formal meetings, Tuesday afternoon, May 2, Roger Foster, pastor of UCG's Phoenix, Ariz., congregation, gave the closing prayer. Immediately Victor Kubik, an organizer of the conference who was subsequently elected to both the interim UCG board and last December the permanent council, took the podium after the prayer for some final announcement and comments.

What follows is Mr. Swenson's transcript, taken from the videotape of the meeting. Mr. Kubik is the speaker.

"So, quite an event. I did have a few more announcements here, so please bear with me. For those who get a defective [audio cassette] tape [duplicated for distribution] for some reason, please contact Darris McNeely [former pastor of the WCG's Indianapolis South and Columbus, Ind., congregations, who helped arrange the conference] for replacement.

"Also, now that we are the United Churches of God, an International Association, a beautiful, elegant name [some commotion]. What did I say? [Pause, leans over to hear someone off stage.] Church of God, sorry [laughter]. I just need more controversy [laughter]."

"I might mention that again this is transitional, and also we have chosen for the present time during the transition period to leave it in Southern California because that is where we will have help for becoming established and getting the help we need. Certainly I hope we will be able to move out of Southern California for many reasons."

At this comment--which Mr. Kubik said in a telephone interview May 18 was not intended to elicit an audience reaction--came spontaneous applause that lasted nine seconds. After the applause, Mr. Kubik continued:

"I think we just heard all the reasons we needed [laughter].

"My wife and I want to get out of Southern California as quickly as possible. Believe me, I am very mindful of that and do want to leave Southern California. I am not exactly sure where; that will be part of our discussion.

"So far, all we have is a post-office box, and it is a big box [an allusion to an earlier comment from a regional pastor who said the size of the post-office box pastors rent for the collection of tithes and offerings is an indication of faith], so maybe it can be our residence [laughter]. When I come home, I will know the combination.

"Certainly, while we are rejoicing we are happy to know that we also have concerns. I certainly do, but I am very positive, because that God has been here with us. We have worked in a manner that the regional pastors already have worked in a collaborative fashion. I don't want to add anything more to what David Hulme said, but I am very positive that we have a big work ahead of us, organizing and being able to reconstitute.

"But the work has been done here, and I want to thank you very much for the sacrifice and the effort from here. It came from many corners of the United States, and I know that you want to be part of this historic occasion and putting your signature to this birth [pause, shuffles papers].

"Okay, I was looking at other announcements, but that is the entire announcements.

"I know there will be many questions, and your input is very much desired. We will be getting in touch with you with the data base we have created with the names from here.

"We can thank many people who have sacrificed their time, efforts and virtually taken their vacation time or time away from normal work to spend hours and hours working. But I am not going to make a listing of many people.

"I do want to thank especially Guy and Jennifer Swenson [conference organizers] who have spent up to [applause for 12 seconds]who have worked till 3, 4 o'clock in the morning typing things up and doing all the different functions.

"Again, this is not something that we have had training for and oftentimes we look at each other and say, `Now what?' And Guy and Jennifer have been there too when we said, `Now what?' I would tell Guy, `What do we do now?' and he would be very helpful facilitating the process. I want to thank both Guy and Jennifer.

"I think that all of us are tired and edgy. Please don't tell me, ask me, any questions or say anything irritating [laughter]. I think that we are all this way and it [indecipherable] is a challenge to our health.

"So we will be praying for you. Pray for us. Pray for the board. Pray for us to be guided by God in making decisions for other people.

"I think the ones that win or lose at Indy are the people, the people that we serve. They are the ones that we are here for.

"We are not hereif we don't organize something, they will drift off, shatter, splinter.

"And now, with what we have done, we provided a baby. And a carriage. And a bassinet. And a crib. Thank you very much. We love you very much."

Mr. Kubik leaves the stage. Applause lasts for 19 seconds. The meeting ends.

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