Mr. Stewart was surprised that so much time was
spent in revising and correcting wording.
"There was so much time spent in editing documents
that I wondered if a lot of that could have been done by professional writers
ahead of time. I know they need to be sure of content and clarity, but it
seemed like time could have been better spent in some ways."
The budget took up Friday
Closely related to the strategic and operating
plans is the church budget, which has created quite a stir lately in the
United Church of God because the money spent in the current fiscal year
is several million dollars more than the last general conference of elders,
back in December of 1995, had planned for.
"The budget talks took up all day Friday,"
said Mr. Stewart. "The chairman of the financial committee was Peter
Nathan. Helping him on that committee were Dennis Luker, Burk McNair, Leon
Walker, Les McCullough and Tom Kirkpatrick. Mr. McCullough and Mr. Kirkpatrick
are not actually on the committee or the council. They are advisers to the
Mr. McCullough, of Big Sandy, is a retired on-site
administrator of Ambassador College, and Mr. Kirkpatrick, an accountant,
is pastor of the North Houston church. Mr. Luker is a pastor from Seattle,
Wash. Mr. Nathan is a regional director from West Sussex, England. Mr. Walker,
from Big Sandy, is director of Spanish operations. Mr. McNair is a pastor
from San Antonio.
Speaking of budgets, how did the church get off
budget? And exactly how far off budget is United?
"We're not at the end of the year yet,"
said Mr. Stewart. "The fiscal year ends March 31. Mr. Kirkpatrick,
one of the advisers, talked about the current budget that was approved at
Cincinnati. Projected income for this current year was $15.2 million. The
operating plan for this year provided for almost $12 million, which would
normally leave $3.2 million in reserves.
"It's not that not as much money is coming
in as was expected. As far as I could tell from those dealing with finances,
we will probably receive what was projected, very close. They seemed to
think we're right on target."
So the problem was simply that somebody spent more
than the church had planned to spend?
"Tom Kirkpatrick asked Steve Andrews [church
treasurer]: `Steve, what do you think the income will be by the time we
get to the end of the year?' Then Tom mentioned that on Jan. 1 our net assets
were $315,000. Tom asked Steve, `Do you think that the reserves would be
built back up by the end of the fiscal year to what was projected, a little
over $3 million in reserves?'
"Steve said, `Well, since the 1st we have
received $1.1 million in income.' But he said he doubted that the reserves
would build up to that much."
Then what were the bottom-line reasons for the
"They listed a whole bunch of reasons.
Peter had some good comments in his opening remarks. He said we need to
address a cash-flow policy, and we need to address the 1997-98 budget, and
the council itself needs a budget. Apparently they have not had a budget.
"Peter said something like this: `There's
not been any malicious attempt to overspend money in the home office. It's
easy to assign blame, to point a finger, but it's hard to control costs
at the home office and hard to estimate a budget like we had at the general
conference in Cincinnati.' "
Mr. Stewart said Mr. Hulme, in explaining expenditures,
pointed to the difficulty of sticking to a budget when no strategic plan
and no working plan exist.
"Mr. Hulme said the church had a budget so
to speak, but it was a strategic, wild-guess budget, not a real budget."
Mr. Hulme, president of the church, asked Mr. Andrews
to give to the council reasons for the shortfall, which Mr. Stewart remembers
as including home-office subsidies of local churches.
Also, between August 1996 and the present United
has gone from 15,500 members to 20,300 members, and more members means more
money needs to be spent, Mr. Stewart understood the council members to say.
"During that time member assistance, people
who are looking to the church for subsistence, went from 18 to 69,"
Mr. Stewart heard. "Mr. Hulme explained to the council that the cost
of administering the churches today is quite different from before. Because
we have so many small churches, one of the examples on a chart that was
handed out was that 63 congregations in the United Church of God have fewer
than 25 people each.
"Mr. Hulme said it's not good business practice
to have such small congregations, but our mission is to stabilize the church
and provide a home for them to come to."
Mr. Stewart listened to Mr. Andrews comment on
the difficulty of budgeting when international offices that had not been
planned for spring up, "yet you've got to reach out to people and help
them," said Mr. Stewart. "I think in most of the foreign countries
the subsidy comes totally from the United States, but there are areas that
have hardly anything.
"I think Mr. Kirkpatrick had an interesting
question when he asked about local members sending their donations in to
the home office. When Steve Andrews said that when the church first started
60 percent of the members sent their money in to the home office, but now
there's 84 percent who do so, Tom asked, `So doesn't that mean that more
money should be coming in instead of less?' "
Mr. Andrews answered: "There is definitely
more coming in, although it's tapered off in local congregations. More is
coming in to the home office now."
So what was Mr. Andrews' conclusion?
"I don't remember," said Mr. Stewart.
Other spending considerations
During the budget discussions, Mr. Antion
brought up the subject of a trip Mr. Hulme and a camera crew took to the
Middle East for three weeks to record scenes and sounds for possible future
"Gary Antion said because there had been so
much concern about this trip that he wanted to know exactly what the trip
cost," said Mr. Stewart. "Mr. Hulme said $92,000 covered the trip,
but that figure did not include later editing of the films."
Some of the other spending beyond the budget went
for summer camps, ministerial travel, regional conferences and new employees.
"Mr. Hulme commented at one point that `I
was crazy in Cincinnati when I asked for only two employees. I can't believe
I did that."
Is the council determined to stop spending beyond
the church's means?
"In all the sessions that covered the financial
situation that I was in," said Mr. Stewart, "the council and the
financial committee were very determined that this type of thing would never
happen again, and in one of the Friday sessions Peter referred to the need
for the church to be open and above board, especially when it comes to spending
"In a teleconference scheduled for Jan. 23,
they were to review and approve the operational plan, a U.S. budget, international
budgets, the general-conference budget and council budget for next year.
"Resolutions that were passed [at the Tyler
conference] were passed so that this would not happen again. There was even
a comment I heard that these resolutions will hold the church's feet to
the fire when it comes to spending."
Four kinds of education
Four men made presentations in Tyler about
the church's educational plans. Council member Jim Franks of Houston made
a presentation on general education, pastor Dick Thompson of Atlanta, Ga.,
on ministerial education, council member Doug Horchak of Denver, Colo.,
on education for youth and ministerial-services director Richard Pinelli
of Arcadia on "focused" education.
These four men make up United's ministerial-services
"The evening session on education, Thursday
night, was given by the ministerial-services team," according to Mr.
Stewart. "The four educational programs include general education,
youth education, focused education and ministerial education.
"I felt like there were many good programs,
but I had heard almost everything that they presented several months ago
at a conference for elders of congregations in Dallas.
"I did think a youth program that was given
by Mr. Horchak was interesting, and he talked about possibly having a youth
corps similar to what Ambassador College used to have as projects overseas,
having to do with archaeological digs and teaching underprivileged kids
in other countries.
"I also thought an interesting point he made
had to do with certifying camp directors as professionals. This is not only
good for them and the campers, but, when they are certified, certain public
camping areas will be open to the church that otherwise would not be.
"Mr. Pinelli said that there were 225 church-member
volunteers who had signed up to help work with the four educational programs.
The coordinators and committees are working with ideas and talents from
the membership. I think getting the local churches involved in this program
"One outstanding example that was brought
out was Roger Foster and his congregation in Arizona, who are putting together
a correspondence course.
"One of the things presented in the ministerial-education
part was something that I feel is greatly needed, that the ministry needs
to be reeducated because of the nature of today's church. That would go
for both members and ministers.
"They need to be reeducated because we're
in a totally different church from what we had eight or 10 years ago. The
structure, environment, everything is different."
What does focused education mean?
"Focused education is where the church will
zero in on various problems that plague our society. God calls people into
the church who have problems, and they need help. What are some of the problems?
Drug and alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, homosexuality, dysfunctional behavior.
And of course these relate to marriages and families. The church needs to
focus on these particular problems."
Was anything discussed about encouraging
and supporting congregations' responsibility in preaching the gospel, "doing
the work," as was originally talked about in May 1995 at the founding
conference in Indianapolis, Ind.?
"Well," said Mr. Stewart, "an interesting
discussion was started by Mr. Walker. Leon brought the whole thing up, the
topic of local evangelism. Leon's point was that provisions for local evangelism
should be specifically allowed for in the strategic plan.
"Burk McNair also made a comment along those
lines. Mr. McNair said: `There are some out there who feel like these programs,
the programs to actually do the work, should come only from the home office.
But others feel it is totally the local congregations' jobs. This is something
we have to address. If we do not address this, we risk losing the assets
of the church.' "
Losing the assets of the church?
"He didn't explain that. I would assume that
he means that if the local people are spending money locally they may not
send it to a central place, to the home office. Or he might have meant that
if we don't address these issues it's going to split the church, and then
we're going to lose a lot of supporters and talented people."
Mr. Stewart said Dr. Ward joined in the discussion
and insisted that wording concerning the encouraging of preaching the gospel
by local means be included in the plan. Dr. Ward also wanted references
to and plans for church buildings to be included.
"Dr. Ward mentioned that local-church initiatives,
such as evangelism, church buildings, waiting-room programs, public lectures
and newsstands are something that we've always done and should be provided
for by United.
"There was also discussion about the term
local evangelism. Some people don't like that term; they would prefer
to use another."
What term would they prefer?
"Doing the work, preaching the gospel. I don't
really like the term, either. I know the Bible speaks about evangelists,
but you don't really see `local evangelism' in the Bible. I would prefer
to use biblical wording such as `preaching the gospel.'think `local evangelism'
sounds too Protestant."
Victor Kubik said that, whatever wording is used,
"it should indicate working together," Mr. Stewart quoted Mr.
Kubik as saying. "We need to use language that soothes instead of language
"In other words," said Mr. Stewart, "Victor
was saying you don't dictate to local congregations."
One day vs. three
Discussion among United elders via E-mail
lately has centered on whether the March conference of almost 450 elders
should be three days, as originally planned, or only one day, which was
recently recommenced by a majority of the council to save money. Did the
council members talk about that?
"Not really," said Mr. Stewart. "It
was discussed during a discussion with the local elders and their wives
Sunday afternoon when they visited the conference. In fact, that was the
main topic of discussion. But I don't remember it being discussed during
the regular meetings of the conference."
Apparently the council has decided that the conference
should be two and one-half days, including the Sabbath. During the discussion
Sunday afternoon, Mr. Stewart's wife, Pat, pointed out to council members
that the three-day conference had been approved by the general conference
of elders in December 1995.
"We're discussing the pros and cons of a conference,
and I want a conference too," said Mrs. Stewart. "But the bigger
issue that concerns me is the perceived involvement of the general conference
of elders. At the conference the elders voted to have a conference, and
I see that decision being changed. That concerns me in reference to future
issues on which they ballot."
Dael Baughman, a nonpaid elder from Longview, Texas,
commented on the value of an annual general conference.
"It's good that we have them, especially in
the infancy of the church, because they provide checks and balances,"
Mr. Stewart quoted Mr. Baughman as saying. "It's kind of like you're
playing ball. If the catcher misses the ball, we act as the backstop."
Mr. Stewart said Mr. Andrews discussed the logistics
of letting a lot of people speak at a large conference.
"He said if we give two- or three-minute comments
to everyone, as happened in Cincinnati, the conference would grind to a
halt. How do we marry the two [corporate business and discussions from the
delegates]? We can't just have an open forum; we still have to do corporate
"After two hours of discussion, the council
decided to go ahead and have scheduled breakaway discussions [in Louisville]
on Saturday evening, Sunday morning and then following the three-hour business
session Sunday afternoon and then Monday for those who want to stay over."
Three hours? "They've got to have a three-hour
window because of time zones to conduct business in Australia and South
Africa and other parts of the world at the same time we're voting. But I
think we should have a three-day conference.
"Am I happy with it? No. What I would like
to see is a conference. The word conference means a meeting for discussing
matters of common concern, and with a conference we should have an open
forum to discuss matters of concern, propose new ideas and make real decisions
after much discussion.
"I really want a conference, not just a polling
place. One way to help implement this would be an amendment directing us
to adhere to Robert's Rules of Order. Robert's, which is plain old parliamentary
procedure like we learned in high school, would promote an exchange of ideas
and give us a vehicle to bring them up and discuss them. We simply do not
have that now.
"I would like to see what we call a general
conference transformed into an open forum instead of just mechanically attending
a seminar to make us feel good about what has already been decided for us.
"The conference should be a place where iron
sharpens iron and people discuss business issues. If everyone would come,
we would have 400-some-odd elders who, with God's Spirit, would have some
great ideas to discuss. But there's not an adequate forum for that where
you can see and hear them speaking from their heart on the issues."
Reasons for executive session
Do you have any idea of what went on in
the executive sessions?
"Well, I had assumed that executive sessions
were for the purpose of discussing personnel matters or maybe ministerial
credentialing or something like that. But during the home-office-location
session Mr. Hulme requested an executive session. Mr. Dick asked the visitors
to leave, and they closed the doors."
But the home-office location isn't exactly a personnel
matter, and it has nothing to do with ministerial credentialing.
"Yes, but later I checked the bylaws of the
United Church of God and found that the wording doesn't say anything about
personnel matters or ministerial credentialing for executive sessions. It
says that any council member can request an executive session for any reason.
So apparently it's legal to call an executive session to discuss the home-office
location or anything."
How long did this session last?
"It lasted from, say, 10 o'clock in the morning
until late in the evening. There was an executive session already scheduled
for 3:30 on the agenda, and there were items that were supposed to be discussed
there that never got discussed, such as ministerial credentialing. I think
there were specific ministerial candidates who were to be discussed, but
it didn't happen."
Personalities at work
Did you notice different personality types
at work in the sessions? For example, were some of the votes close? Was
there spirited discussion?
"These people all are individuals," said
Mr. Stewart. "I think some of the jobs they have are very awkward.
When you have two board members working for ministerial services, which
works for the president, who's also a council member, to me that complicated
chain of command makes a strained situation, because you want to be loyal
to your boss. To have board members working for someone that the board has
put there tends to, I think, put a strain on people. Is that what you're
Not exactly, but that's interesting.
"I do feel," said Mr. Stewart, "that
people in this meeting spoke up from their hearts a lot more than I expected.
Peter Nathan, in laying the financial ground rules, didn't mince words.
Tom Kirkpatrick asked hard questions. Gary Antion asked hard questions.
Horchak asked hard questions."
Were the votes all unanimous?
"No, and some did abstain."
Do you think it would be a good idea for the brethren,
or at least the elders, to know how their council members vote for or against
"I think it would be good, and I think they
will eventually come to see that, and it will happen. Right now they have
what they call an ethics situation with voting. They told me that ethical
considerations determine that they record only names of a person who abstains,
and they do not record the names of voters and how they vote. I've seen
the minutes [of the council meetings], and they'll say the resolution carried
with, like, seven for and four against and one abstained."
What was your overall impression of the time you
spent with the council?
"I felt like they got a lot of work done,
and I heard that this was the most productive session they ever had.
"But I believe that, if the council of elders
keeps working like they have been, I'm afraid they're going to experience
a burnout, if they haven't already, if they don't find a way to delegate
many of the basic, routine aspects of their job.
"I wonder if all the committees really need
to be council members. I am pleased that they are beginning to use some
of the church's talents as advisers to the committees. I've heard that,
if you're a nonprofit corporation in California, all committee members have
to be part of the board. I wonder if this would be true in other states."