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UCG council fields Big Sandy brethren's questions

By Dixon Cartwright

GLADEWATER, Texas--Members of the Big Sandy congregation of the United Church of God, an International Association, asked some difficult questions of members of United's council of elders here the Sabbath of Jan. 11.

They asked about ministerial hiring and firing policies, home-office location, trips to the Middle East, how the president differs from a pastor general, congregational boards and elders' E-mail.

The 12-member council, headquartered in Arcadia, Calif., was in the area for a conference Jan. 9-14 in nearby Tyler. Big Sandy pastor Dave Havir suggested to Bob Dick, council chairman, that a question-and-answer session "might be beneficial for the council and the membership" after Sabbath services and an already-scheduled potluck meal on the Sabbath during the Tyler conference.

Mr. Dick's idea was to include several members of the board for the q-and-a and panel discussion. On the stage with him were Roy Holladay of Fort Myers, Fla., David Hulme of Arcadia, church president; Dennis Luker of Seattle; and Peter Nathan of West Sussex, England.

Three other council members--Burk McNair of San Antonio, Texas; Leon Walker of Big Sandy; and Donald Ward of Hawkins, Texas--sat in the audience but did not participate in the questions or answers. These three did not sit on the panel because they chair no committees on the council.

"I thought it made more sense for the chairmen of the committees that would essentially be in the areas of people's questions to be there," Mr. Dick later told In Transition. "So I took the strategic-planning chairman, the financial-committee chairman, the roles-and-responsibilities chairman and then, of course, the president--and I said to Dave that it made more sense to put the experts up there in areas where the questions would come from."

Mr. Havir introduced Mr. Hulme as chairman of the rules committee, Mr. Holladay as chairman of the home-office-location committee, Mr. Luker as chairman the roles-and-responsibilities committee and Mr. Nathan as chairman of the financial committee.

The four other council members in the area for the conference attended services in outlying areas on the Sabbath and were not present for the q-and-a.

Gary Antion of Toronto, Ont., Canada, traveled to Fort Worth for services; Jim Franks of Houston, Texas, and Doug Horchak of Denver, Colo., both went to Monroe and Shreveport, La.; Victor Kubik of Indianapolis, Ind., traveled to the Dallas area.

Also in the audience from the home-office staff were Steve Andrews, church treasurer; Charles Melear, travel coordinator; Connie Seelig, office employee (who was here to visit relatives); Gerald Seelig, husband of Connie and secretary to the council; and Steve Sidars, whom Mr. Dick called "our resident expert on strategic planning."

Mr. Dick announced that the councilors would answer 20 written questions, along with live questions from the congregation. Some of the 20 queries remained unanswered, but only, said Mr. Dick, because the open microphone in the audience inspired so many live questions that eventually time ran out.

The questions, please

"I am a generalist," Mr. Dick said, "but Mr. Nathan will specialize in the questions of finance, Mr. Hulme on those things that deal with home-office administration, Mr. Holladay with issues of strategic planning and home-office location and Mr. Luker on job descriptions of all of the individuals: president, chairman, council and staff members."

Mr. Dick read the first question, from an unnamed Big Sandy member: "When our pastor [Mr. Havir] proposed an amendment and the council of elders opposed it, who really opposed it? Did any of you read it and contact the home office that you opposed, or were there just one or two who opposed it?"

(Mr. Havir's amendment would prohibit the president from being a member of the council of elders. The amendment is set to come up for a vote at the general conference.)

Mr. Dick explained that the amendment process used by the United Church of God includes the "need to create a statement of opposition to any amendment." He said he wasn't happy with the word opposition, and the council has considered calling the process by another name, because that word "has an adversarial feel to it."

"No matter what the amendment is," Mr. Dick said, "somebody must draft what is currently called a statement of opposition. The council then creates a statement to say to the conference of elders, 'Gentlemen, here's the other side of the coin.'

"It isn't a matter of whether the amendment is good or bad; the amendment committee, which is a body of men from the general conference of elders, is required to put together a statement of opposition from somebody, even if the council doesn't."

That said, Mr. Dick restated and answered the question: "Who really opposed it? We all opposed it. When 12 men discuss what should we do, from that 12 men comes a majority vote. I couldn't tell you who said yes and who said no. I can tell you only that, when the council opposed it, more than 50 percent voted to do so."

Mr. Dick's comments on the anonymity of council votes was in line with recent reports that the actual council votes are kept secret for "ethical" reasons, that the names of individual voters are not recorded in minutes of the council, and council members are required not to divulge to anyone outside the council how anyone of their number voted.

Mr. Dick told In Transition that the council decided not to divulge how members vote because the "standard procedure" advocated by the National Center for Nonprofit Boards was that "the only votes that are recorded by name are abstentions."

When the council was "developing protocols," he said, "I simply drew the council's attention to that particular protocol and said that standard convention does not record aye and nay votes, but they do record by name abstention votes. So that has been the way the secretary has recorded the balloting."

Mr. Franks commented during the Tyler conference that this policy should be altered to allow the reporting and discussion of individual voters and votes.

What budget?

Mr. Nathan read a question: "Are we adhering to the budget that was ratified in Cincinnati? Why have one if it's not being followed?"

"Cincinnati" refers to the second general conference of elders, in Ohio in December 1995.

"Cincinnati occurred in the beginning of December 1995," Mr. Nathan said. "It established a budget for April 1, 1996, to March 31, 1997. We are approaching the end of that budget, and when we came to Cincinnati, we were in a very dynamic state of development."

Mr. Nathan cited the example of two elders who were not expected to attend but who did end up attending the Ohio conference.

"We were in a very fluid situation. We had, for instance, two ministers already in Germany who at that time were being paid by a subsidy from Arcadia [the home office]. The intention was that they continue to be paid from Arcadia until they were able to be self-financing in Germany.

"Now, in Germany you cannot do what you can do in the United States. You can't do anything in Germany until you have a formally established legal entity to which to send the money. At this point in time all the brethren in Germany are still collecting their tithes, waiting on the final incorporation of the church in Germany."

Only after the German brethren incorporate will they be able to collect tithes as a church, said Mr. Nathan.

"When the budget was drawn up in late 1995, nobody had any idea how long it would take to do that in Germany."

Mr. Nathan cited a similar situation in Britain: "I went to England in September 1995. The church had been established as a voluntary association--literally like a little club--in Scotland. The form of the structure was entirely inappropriate, even at that size and time. We had to apply through the charity commission in Britain" for legal status as a church.

It took a year to set up in Britain, but "we can now start to increase our income by the order of, say, 15 to 20 percent based upon the taxes that church members have been paying."

Mr. Nathan explained that, in Britain, donations to churches are not tax-deductible, but the government pays the taxes collected from donors to the recipient churches.

Mr. Nathan quoted church attorney and treasurer Steve Andrews of Arcadia as saying of the budget at the Cincinnati conference that "this was very much a budget of estimation."

He quoted Mr. Andrews: "We don't have a strategic plan. We don't have an operation plan. What am I doing here trying to present a budget? I'm presenting a blue-sky budget because you've demanded one."

One expense that was apparently inadvertently left out of the budget, Mr. Nathan said, was for health care for employees. The church to date has spent $650,000 on health care, which was not provided for in the budget.

"What do we do? Do we tell everybody we're not going to take care of your health?"

Strictly speaking, he said, the health-care situation should have been discussed and decided upon by the general conference, but it wasn't.

"So mistakes were made. But, if you look at the expenses for the past 12 months, you'll find the principal overruns occur in three areas."

The three areas, he said, are salaries, principally those paid to overseas employees; subsidies to international areas; and health care.

Who decides?

John Warren, a Big Sandy deacon, walked to the microphone and asked: "As far as money spent, budget earmarked for another area, who makes that decision? Or is there a budget-amendment process to go through to change money from one area to another?"

Mr. Nathan replied that the constitution and bylaws of the church provide "no means for a budget process." The budget, he said, must be approved by the council, then ratified by the general conference of elders.

If funds can be taken from reserves without impacting budgets of future years, then the president can make the decision to spend funds a certain way.

However, said Mr. Nathan, if an expenditure would have a long-term impact, such as the hiring of staff members, "then that will have to go back to the general conference for ratification because they will have to ratify next year's budget. The council shouldn't be in a situation to organize the budget ahead of time."

Mr. Nathan defended spending beyond the budget by saying that "every item that has been overspent this year has been spent in pursuit of the original objective of United: to stabilize the people and take care of the people."

Middle Eastern trip

Next in line was Big Sandy member Paul Jarboe, who stated: "I understand that Mr. Hulme and his staff were going overseas to do some filming and there was a vote taken that said that you guys [on the council] did not agree with this trip."

Mr. Jarboe asked if that were true.

Mr. Nathan asked Mr. Holladay to answer the question.

"It [the trip Mr. Hulme and a camera crew took to the Middle East] was something that we did discuss among ourselves," said Mr. Holladay. "Now, whether every last one of the council members then knew specifically about it, I don't know, but we knew that it would be planned. The difficulty may be that maybe not everybody knew."

Mr. Nathan said that, in planning the best course for the church in respect to television broadcasting, which he characterized as "in this fluid state," the least-expensive option considered by council members "was a three-week trip to the Middle East."

Mr. Dick interrupted, offering to respond to the question, saying he would "put this in a pre-Cincinnati context."

"I'm in a unique position to know," he said. "We had a finance committee that was a part of our transitional-board meeting, and at that point we put out a finance survey to four of the largest regions in the United States, and we were trying to get a feel for their priorities.

"In other words, what do you feel the priorities of the United Church of God should be?

"It was obvious from the survey that the No. 1 priority was to stabilize the church, but statistically very close behind that was this more-difficult-to-quantify term 'do a work.' So it was obvious to all of the transitional board that the two highest priorities, literally head and shoulders ahead of all of the other priorities, were stabilize the church and do a work."

Unfortunately, Mr. Dick said, some questions arise "in a vacuum."

"It has been fascinating to see the sensitivity to the executive travel budget. But I have made two trips. Mr. Hulme and I went to the Philippines to respond to their plea to please come down and help us. And I have been to Australia to meet with the founders of the Australian national committee. And I have been to England for their annual European and African conference."

When the brethren beckon council members to come see them to help them to gain official recognition in their countries, "there aren't a lot of choices," he said. "You either say no, or you go over and help them get organized. To Africa, that's expensive, and there's no way around that."

Ministerial housing

Sharon Bettes asked: "If money is an issue when you look at having the general-conference meeting, would you consider having that meeting in a location like Big Sandy and allowing brethren to house all of the elders, including yourselves, and let us find homes for you to meet in so that you can have the conference? Everyone can participate, and the funding can be greatly reduced as far as hotel costs and the feeding of the brethren."

"That is a very generous offer," responded Mr. Dick, "but our difficulty is that the largest single expense for a body of people who are located in every corner of the globe is the airfare to get them to the location, not the location itself. The thing that skyrocketed the cost of the Cincinnati conference was airfare. It is still the largest element in putting together a conference."

Subsidies from foreign offices?

The next question came from Mrs. Bettes's husband, Brian:

"Will some of the international offices--for instance, Australia--help to fund some of their people to come to the conference? Or does the United States have to subsidize the entirety of travel expenses?"

Chairman Dick said that, because no "free-standing international areas" exist in United, any funds from foreign offices would be funds that had originated in the United States.

Mr. Bettes continued with another question, wondering if the council would be open to the brethren determining when they are "comfortable and ready to move on and do a work."

"We're very well aware that stabilization is a long-term, ongoing situation," replied Mr. Dick. "It's difficult that there is no one constituency. We do have both [some who want to fund a 'work,' others whose priority is local preaching of the gospel] in the church at the same time. We're not insensitive to either one of them."

Mr. Dick said UCG congregations began with the concept of providing ministerial care for congregations.

Remember local boards

The next question was from Big Sandy member Bernie Monsalvo:

"I was wondering if you have tapped the resources of local boards. We're here to help you. There are certainly things that we can help with. In your scheme of things, have you pondered how we can help you?"

Mr. Dick, as part of his answer, said he finds it "frustrating" that "good ideas and good people" must be put on the shelf for a time.

"I think for right now it's fair to say we have understood that local boards and their help to the pastor in the service of that particular congregation is for the time being probably fundamentally the greatest service that can be rendered.

"And, until we get the international level of organization established within this church, we will probably not have the luxury of being able to sit back and ask ourselves: How can you help us, and what interface can we have so that we accomplish as much as possible by working together as a team?"

Commented Mr. Luker: "I know you're expecting a lot, and we're wanting to do a good job. Please be patient with us. We've just gone through our first year from Cincinnati. We've had one year of experience, and I think you'll see that this next year will be much better. I'm learning how to be a good council member and how to do my job. It's taken this first year or so to learn to do that."

Is the president the pastor general?

Mr. Luker tackled a written question: "Please explain the difference between the office of president and pastor general."

"We all know that Mr. Armstrong was pastor general," began Mr. Luker, "and nobody questioned that. We know how God used him. He had the authority to make the final decision on any matter, and he did."

Mr. Luker said Mr. Armstrong passed the pastor-generalship on to Joseph Tkach, "and Mr. Tkach had the same authority and powers that Mr. Armstrong did."

But "then all of this [the WCG's change of doctrines and its subsequent splits] happened. Over 100 of us got together, as we were being terminated, and were told to accept the other beliefs or get out. So we did.

"We went to Indianapolis. As some of us sat there, we were nobody. We were flattened. No one was saying I'm the new pastor general.

"The way we began in United was not with one minister leaving and beginning a new church. We all know that. There could be no pastor general unless God wanted one. If God wants a pastor general, I want a pastor general. But He's going to have to show that in His own way and in His own time.

"The chairman chairs the meetings of the council of elders. He'll chair the meetings of the general conference of elders. The president's responsibilities would be to manage the day-to-day affairs of the work and the church."

In the past with the Worldwide Church of God, said Mr. Luker, "the pastor general had absolute authority to make all decisions, to make them himself, if he chose to do so. The president has the authority to make the day-to-day decisions in the work, within the policies set by the council of elders and within the strategic operating plan and budget approved by the entire conference of elders."

Would UCG accept pastor general?

The next question was a written one: "Do you think the membership of the United Church of God would tolerate the reinstitution of the office of pastor general?"

"I've had a few, to be honest," said Mr. Luker, "who have said that's what they would prefer. But I don't think the majority at this point feel that way. They want checks and balances. I think, if there ever were a pastor general again, it would have to be the direct hand of God Almighty. I wouldn't then resist it. Would you?

"At Indianapolis we all agreed that none of us wanted to be pastor general. Unless God Himself or Jesus Christ, the head of the church, were to make it very clear, then we would not have a pastor general."

Who governs whom?

A written question read: "Who is the primary governing body of the church: the president, the council of elders or the general conference of elders?"

"The way we began," answered Mr. Luker, "the president is accountable to the council of elders. The council of elders is accountable to the general conference of elders. We each have different functions. We are in the process right now of working together to develop job descriptions between these bodies among ourselves to clarify all of this.

"We all look to Jesus Christ as the one ultimately responsible. It is the conference's responsibility to elect members of the council of elders, and the general conference is to approve, to ratify, the overall plan of the church, the operating plan and the budget."

Mr. Hulme interjected: "There have been many demands on us that were unanticipated. The three mandates from Indianapolis [at the founding conference in May 1995] were to stabilize and take care of the church, No. 2 to provide for the festivals and their observance, and No. 3 to begin to preach the gospel again."

Mistakes have been made, Mr. Hulme commented, but "the mistakes have not been malicious or deliberate. We've tried to take care of God's people.

"In anything that has been done, there has not been the intention to waste money. There has never been any intention to do anything other than those three mandates that we were given."

The church, said the president, has taken over the responsibility of paying retirement benefits to elders when those benefits were terminated by the Worldwide Church of God.

"We've taken care of people's medical situations. Anybody who's come to us we have taken care of."

Silly thing to say

Some have questioned the number of people on the paid staff of the home office. Mr. Hulme commented on the number of employees and the number of people being financially assisted by the church.

"When we began the year I think we had 18 on church assistance," Mr. Hulme said. "As we ended the year it was something like 69.

"When we began the year we thought we would hire two new people in the home office. That was a silly thing to say. As Steve Andrews said at the time, this budget was put together on the strategic, wild-guess method.

"We said we would hire 12 ministers during the year. We ended up with a net increase of seven.

"One can look at numbers in different ways. When you get into the details, some of the generalizations that are made are proven to be not quite the way they seem. This is a complex matter in some ways. Have we spent more than we anticipated? Yes. Has as much money come in as we thought? No, in some ways no."

Mr. Hulme brought back up the discussion about his trip to the Middle East.

"The thinking behind that particular program is that before I left our former affiliation some of the most successful things we did in television were those trips to the Middle East, to Greece and so forth, where people who watched those programs felt that they were on location with you, and they would write and say this is the way it should be done.

"I got a letter from PBS [the Public Broadcasting Service] in New York from an associate director who said, 'Send me a tape of your program from Ephesus.' He said, 'This is the way religious programming should be done.'

"I have similar letters from people in various walks of life, etc."

In explaining the message of the New Testament, on-location television "to me is a logical and powerful and effective way to do it, and I hope we will continue with it.

"Do we have the money this year to continue it? Probably not."

Hiring and firing

Mr. Hulme fielded a question about whether he, as president, has the right to hire and fire elders.

"The constitution and bylaws make it clear that ultimate authority in this area rests with the policy-making body of the church. The policy-making body has primacy in this policy, and that is the conference of elders. The conference of elders can also redefine certain aspects of the bylaws. It can choose to give to the home office the authority to hire and fire."

But what about an elder?

"Can I remove a minister from the general conference? No, I cannot. Can I remove a minister in consultation with my colleagues from a job or from pastoral responsibility? If there appears to be the need to do so, yes, I can."

Mr. Hulme noted the availability of an appeal process for anyone who is removed from the general conference by the conference itself--in other words, anyone whose elders' credentials are revoked.

"That man can appeal then."

The general conference, said Mr. Hulme, has "primacy" in certain areas, including doctrine, the budget, strategic planning, the operating plan, but "it does not have primacy in creating policy. That is something over which the council of elders has primacy.

"The council of elders doesn't have primacy in running day-to-day operations. The home office and the management team have primacy in day-to-day operations. Some books put it this way: Boards have ultimate authority; operations have immediate authority."

Term limits

Mr. Hulme read another question: "Does the office of president have a term limit?"

The president noted that "they [the council] can get rid of me any time they like, so do I have a term limit in the sense of a number of years? No, I do not. But, if they are displeased with me, the council can remove me. I am annually to be reviewed.

"I don't even review Mr. Havir annually, at the moment anyway. When we began we thought that was not necessary because of the way things were structured. There were checks and balances in place."

Those elusive rules

Mr. Hulme read another question: "Whatever happened to United's rules of association?"

The rules of association were to appear and go into effect shortly after the founding of the church. They would govern the relationship of congregations to the home office, specifically stating the forms of congregational structure that could legally exist within the "international association" of the United Church of God.

The rules "are still where they were," said Mr. Hulme. "They're still where they always have been. There are four of them, if I recall."

Without stating any specifics about the rules (which Mr. Dick told In Transition are not available for publication), Mr. Hulme said they are "general enough for everyone to accept," and "they're rather general and spiritual in nature."

Their release and adoption have been delayed because of "peculiarities" in some parts of the world regarding national councils and boards. "International legal processes raise some concerns about whether they [non-U.S. congregations and offices] could accept them."

Pattern of activity

A Big Sandy member, Dean Newcomb, asked about United's policy of ministerial transfers. Referring to Mr. Hulme's earlier statements about his right to hire and fire ministers, Mr. Newcomb commented:

"When I hear 'I have the authority to fire the ministry because the board has delegated that responsibility,' flags go up in my mind. I know it's not that simple, but can there be something in the bylaws that keeps that from happening?"

To reassure Mr. Newcomb, Mr. Hulme said that "whenever this kind of situation arises, you can be assured that a decision that is made is not made precipitously. Personally, it's not how I am. Richard Pinelli [director of ministerial services] is not that way.

"I don't act, and Richard doesn't act, on the basis of one item. I act only when I see a pattern of activity or behavior. There is a review of things; there are visits to the area; there is discussion with brethren. So we don't do these things precipitously; that is not the way the system currently works."

A recent firing

Some of the questions on hiring and firing elders could have been prompted by the recent termination from his job of Ron Smith of West Palm Beach, Fla., who was personally relieved of his duties as a pastor by Mr. Hulme (In Transition, Dec. 16).

"But, yes," said Mr. Hulme, "we do listen to the brethren. Yes, we do read letters. Sometimes these issues do arise because of letters from the brethren. We try to resolve the dispute. It's only after much activity that that decision would be made."

Mr. Dick commented that the council felt it the "wisest course of action" to empower the home office and Mr. Hulme with the hiring-and-firing responsibility.

"Understand," said Mr. Dick, "that it is also the responsibility of the council to revoke that power if it felt there was an abuse of that power. This is not an issue of power that has no check and no balance upon it."

Traveling elders

Helen Richards, a former Big Sandy member visiting from Dallas, also asked about ministerial-hiring policies.

"What can we do if, say, we get the word that our minister, X, is going to be transferred to place Z, on the north pole, and we're going to lose our minister who's been serving our needs very, very well?

"Also, how would we let the council know of a minister who's abusing us?"

Mr. Hulme referred to the work of another council member, Doug Horchak of Denver, Colo., one of whose responsibilities is ministerial and council ethics.

"We hope to move towards the evaluation of all the ministry on an annual basis," said Mr. Hulme. "Now, this evaluation is not for the purpose of being punitive towards the ministers. It's for the purpose of helping them develop."

Mrs. Richards also asked about the training of future ministers.

"We don't have AC," she commented. "What are we going to do to provide training? Many of our ministers are older, and in 20 or 25 years they might want to retire. How are we going to go about training new ministers?"

Mr. Hulme acknowledged that the average ministerial age is 50, "so we do need to develop some new blood."

'Can we find out what's going on?'

Another member of the Big Sandy congregation, Tony Blue, also asked about ministerial-employment policies.

"When anyone is fired in the ministry, will the congregation, the layman or even the minister himself have some type of recourse to find out why he was fired so the general congregation will know what's going on, instead of keeping everything in the dark? Will some type of appeal be set up where these things can be addressed?"

Mr. Dick said "frustration" in this area arises because of legalities.

"We see a very stark contrast between the openness and the candor that you can see in a New Testament setting and the fact that today you can be sued blind for many statements, informational statements, that you are not privileged to share. As a council we have found ourselves in that position on more than one occasion."

Mr. Dick may have been referring again to the Ron Smith case, in Florida. Mr. Smith professed not to know why he was fired, and a council member, Mr. Holladay, told In Transition (Dec. 16 issue) he could not reveal--because of legal considerations--anything about Mr. Smith's record, even though Mr. Smith said he would sign away his right to legal recourse.

"The difficulty," said Mr. Dick, "is that we've had very badly battered trust, and the bodies that must make decisions on hiring and firing are in this situation at the mercy of their own reputations. We have to say you'll have to trust me as credible and decent or not credible and decent, because I cannot share with you the information."

Mr. Blue asked: "What about the appeals process?"

"Ministerial services," said Mr. Dick, "cannot remove an elder's credentials. They can't say you are no longer an elder. Only the council can do that. In the crafting of the constitution, we built into it that, even when 12 men on the council agree with the evidence, that man still has the right to appeal to the general conference of elders.

"We've tried to create layers of protection that would simply remove capriciousness from decisions."

Mr. Blue: "Will there be any forum for the congregation themselves to come before the board of elders? Like if Mr. Havir was removed out of our own midst for some reason, would, besides a team being sent down, the congregation have an open forum like this and ask questions?"

"In our short history," replied Mr. Dick, "we have already been through both sides of that scenario. We have had cases where congregations have said we simply do not want this man coming in as our pastor. We said, fine, let's try someone else."

'Don't take Mr. Havir'

Mr. Bettes, at the mike again, then asked for a clarification:

"I would like to know if there's going to be a way for a ministerial transfer to be discussed with the congregation. If Mr. Havir were to be transferred, I would be very upset, and I don't think I would have a way to come and talk about that.

"I'm wondering if there are some plans being set up to automatically throw it out to the congregation. Not that the congregation decides, but either ministerial services or the conference of elders should have an idea how the congregation feels about this, that their input is actually solicited before the decision is made."

Said Mr. Hulme: "That's a perfectly reasonable request and something we ought to talk about."

Job descriptions for RPs

Asked Big Sandy member Robert Fisk, who is also a member of the board of the Big Sandy congregation: "Do you have a job description written for a regional pastor yet? Will that be made available to the members so we can see what these guys are supposed to be doing? Do we need seven regional pastors?"

The system of regional pastors, answered Mr. Hulme, "is seen as a part of the structure of a team-based concept of management. We've tried to move away from a hierarchical structure. A lot of what is going on in the world now is more of a team-based management, which is more participative than anything we've known before.

"One of the reasons we have these men is to make this work. It's not a hierarchical structure in the way it's been before, so they're part of a whole new way of looking at how we're managed. That's one of the reasons they're in place as they are."

Mr. Hulme said the regional-pastor structure is necessary, and it will "help us have the kind of friendships amongst the ministry that we ought to have."

Asked Big Sandy member Gary Woodring of Tyler: "My understanding is that the home office will be eventually moved. I would like to know how much money has been spent on studies on the possible move of the home office and what possible influence the personal needs of our president and treasurer have made on our decision to move or not move."

Mr. Holladay, chairman of the home-office-relocation study, described his ad-hoc committee to help relocate the office:

The costs of the search so far, said Mr. Holladay, "are probably somewhere in the $5,000 range."

The committee also commissioned a study on the five states that might provide a home for the new office.

Elders' forum

Mr. Holladay read another question: "Please explain why ministers cannot comment to all ministers via cc:Mail [the church's electronic mail system]."

"There is nothing preventing the ministry from communicating via cc:Mail," he said. "Can an elder in the church address a cc:Mail message to the whole mailing list? This has happened a couple of times, but basically we have had a policy asking the ministry not to do that because of the cost factor involved."

UCG elders, for the most part, dial in to cc:Mail headquarters in Arcadia via an 800 number, but the UCG foots the bill for the incoming calls.

Elders with computers could do almost the same thing with commercial Internet providers.

Mr. Dick mentioned that, as part of cc:Mail, elders now have access to what he called an "elders' forum," which is closely monitored but allows United elders to discuss topics with other elders who choose to subscribe to the forum.

What are the rules governing the elders' forum? The forum limits discussion to those who choose to subscribe to the forum; an unnamed moderator oversees the discussions; and elders, by subscribing to the forum, tacitly agree not to discuss its contents with anyone other than their wives.

Even with its limitations, the forum, which started this month, has reportedly already seen some lively discussion.

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