Ron Smith update
As reported in In Transition's Dec.
16 issue, members in Miami and West Palm Beach, Fla., were concerned over
what they viewed as the arbitrary termination of local pastor Ron Smith
by Mr. Hulme and the home office.
On Jan. 11 Richard Pinelli, UCG director of ministerial
services, flew to Florida at the request of at least one member there for
a follow-up visit with the two congregations.
After his visit Phil Garland, an elder in the Miami
congregation, said: "The church here has been through question-and-answer
sessions [like the one Mr. Pinelli conducted] a number of times already.
We still don't have the answers. Everybody stands behind legal issues and
Mr. Garland said that "Ron Smith has been
beaten to death. As a pastor he had a unique way of allowing people to grow
spiritually. We had freedom of expression. He never put himself on a pedestal.
He was never bossy or authoritarian. I think the UCG has a box a minister
has to fit into. Ron is not in that box, and that's a shame for us."
Mr. Garland observed that, even if the home office
would now tell the reasons for Mr. Smith's termination, "in Miami and
West Palm Beach the damage has been done. It's too late to salvage much."
He said 55 to 60 members had been attending in
Miami, but the week after Mr. Pinelli's Jan. 11 visit only 16 people came
John Rodberg of West Palm Beach said the congregation
there lost "25 or 30" members out of about 105 from April to October.
"The Smith situation is over and done with," he said. "I
don't wish to comment further."
Another member with ties to the area who did not
wish to be identified talked of "a spiritual battle" taking place.
"Ron is a pawn. United is doing their best to handle it and doesn't
know how. We are hoping for a Matthew 18 thing to handle this situation."
The former pastor, Mr. Smith, said in a mid-January
interview: "I've basically been eliminated from the loop [of information
supplied to UCG ministers], but I am still an elder."
Mr. Smith said he had "verbally resigned"
around April 1 last year when he was told he would receive only a $278-per-month
raise to to go full time from part-time status.
"I needed $800 a month to pay my bills,"
"Around May 1 I resigned [after they made
a second offer]. For three weeks they searched for a replacement but couldn't
find someone who wanted to move to South Florida.
"I resigned, not because I didn't want to
be in the ministry, but because I couldn't accept their offer and pay my
bills. After [another elder] gave a strong recommendation to rehire me,
I was granted five months to work at my own [side] business and pay off
Mr. Smith said was grossing $1,000 per week from
the UCG at the time of his termination. He said he still worked for the
church more than 40 hours a week and worked at his own business a total
of five or six days a month.
He said he had been asked to speak by some independent
groups, by the Friends of the Sabbath for a conference in Florida Feb. 21-22
and by members who no longer attend the two UCG congregations.
Mr. Smith summed up the situation in South Florida:
"Many people are hanging in there to see what happens at the UCG's
conference of elders in March. I still want to work with United, and I'm
not against United. I just will not work for them."
Ron Weinland's letters
Also Ron Weinland, pastor of United Church
of God congregations in Toledo, Ohio, and Detroit, Mich., has reported wide-scale
reaction, both positive and negative, to a letter he sent to the entire UCG conference of elders Dec. 27 about his concerns regarding due-process
procedures, open communication and governance issues within the United Church
of God, an International Association.
When asked about the letter Jan. 14, UCG council
member Jim Franks said: "I'm not saying that some of his concerns aren't
legitimate, but I don't agree with the manner in which they were expressed.
I don't think Mr. Weinland should have sent his letter to all elders. He
should have gone directly to those involved."
In his letter, sent to the elders via the church's
private E-mail network, Mr. Weinland wrote:
"What I as a pastor am concerned about at
this time, is not doctrine. What I am concerned about is the lack of evidence
of God's Spirit at work in people's lives. Are people being consistently
treated in a Godly way? Is all the ministry, Council of Elders, and H.O.
[the home office] reflecting the fruit of the weightier matters of the lawjudgment,
mercy, and faith?"
He continued: "Too many people have been deeply
hurt because of an intolerance to different ideas, programs, and plans of
local congregations. There is the distinct feeling from many in the church
that [the home office] is pushing and pulling for more control over everything.
This discourages and limits personal opportunities for growth, training,
and education within the membership."