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Deed transfer in 2008 means United Church
of God owns Big Sandy church building

Encouraging Communication among the Churches of God

Deed transfer in 2008 means United Church
of God owns Big Sandy church building

by Dixon Cartwright

BIG SANDY, Texas--When a church splits, the biggest side in the split customarily gets the building. That's because the majority of the congregation's trustees, or members of its board, normally reflect the majority of the congregation.

That's not the way things worked out in Big Sandy recently with the split of the United Church of God.

When the majority of members here left the UCG and joined the new Church of God a Worldwide Association (CGWA), they suddenly found themselves without a building to meet in.

Meeting in Gladewater

Exiting Big Sandy members, including Pastor Ken Treybig, met for the first time on Jan. 1, 2011, in a crowded rented hall in nearby Gladewater.

How could that happen when most local members decided to drop their UCG affiliation?

It could happen because the Big Sandy church in 2008 decided to turn ownership of its building over to the headquarters of the parent organization, the United Church of God an International Association (UCGIA).

In this case, no matter which side of the split is larger or smaller, the building stays with the United Church of God, which holds the deed at its headquarters in Milford, Ohio, and is therefore legal owner of the structure.

The UCG in this area, technically known as the United Church of God East Texas, or UCGET, began meeting in the building in December 2007.

Almost a year later, on Nov. 12, 2008, the congregation voted to transfer ownership of the building from the congregation to the UCGIA's headquarters.


The brethren vote

The Journal, in issue No. 131, reported at the time on the November 2008 meeting, which was scheduled specifically to talk about who should own the almost-new facility.

The UCGET, in Texas, voted almost unanimously to transfer ownership to the UCGIA, in Ohio.

The vote came as a show of hands with 42 adult members of the congregation present.

Pastor Treybig announced that the vote was unanimous, although that was "not quite accurate," The Journal reported.

At least one adult member of the congregation abstained from voting, although no one voted against the ownership transfer.

Mr. Treybig had called the meeting on short notice by E-mail, so many of the congregation's members were not present.

The congregation, during the years of the building's construction, had planned eventually to turn ownership over to the church's headquarters.

But a former treasurer of the UCGIA, Tom Kirkpatrick of the Cincinnati area, had directed that as long as the building was being financed its ownership should remain local, with the Big Sandy group making promissory-note payments to a bank or banks.

By November 2008 Mr. Kirkpatrick was no longer treasurer, and Jason Lovelady had assumed that post. Mr. Lovelady was of the opinion that headquarters should own the building right away, Mr. Treybig informed the congregation.

A few reservations

Although most members were in favor of the transfer, some few expressed reservations.

One man with reservations was longtime Church of God member and elder Jack Elliott, who remarked from the audience after viewing copies of the paperwork that Mr. Treybig projected onto a screen that "this seems to me to be pretty much a one-sided contract."

"We raised locally over $250,000," Mr. Elliott said, "and, as I see this, it's all protecting the UCGIA council of elders . . . I think we ought to discuss that aspect more before we go on record as saying that this document is going to hold feet to the fire from now on."

Mr. Treybig responded to Mr. Elliott's concern.

"Our intention from the beginning, when we paid [the building] off," Mr. Treybig explained, "was that we would deed it to the UCGIA when it was completed."

The pastor described the vote to turn ownership over sooner rather than later as simply a "speeding up of the process."

Pastor Treybig continued: "We're letting them [the UCGIA] take over the financing, the permanent financing, rather than having to take care of it locally."

If the ownership had remained local, the UCGIA would have continued to make regular subsidy payments to the UCGET that, in more-usual circumstances, would go toward the congregation's payments to rent Sabbath-meeting space from someone else.

In this case, however, as of late 2008 there was no longer any local responsibility for making payments.

Accountant's comments

The Journal quoted Steve McNeely, a UCGET member and certified public accountant, as he made several comments in defense of the move to transfer the building's ownership.

"When we made application for permission to build this building," Mr. McNeely said, "we sort of agreed how to do it. Originally the title was to be transferred when it was paid off, so in essence the spirit of the agreement is exactly the same. The money's still coming from the same place."

Unusual arbitration

Mr. Treybig explained an unusual provision the transfer paperwork allowed for.

The provision specified that, if there were ever a disagreement about the use of the building by either the congregation or the church's headquarters, the dispute would go into arbitration.

Significantly, the arbiter would not be a neutral party. Rather, it would be the UCGIA's own Ohio-based 12-man council of elders.

This writer for The Journal asked from the audience on that day in 2008 about that provision of the arrangement.

Dixon Cartwright's question: Since the document acknowledges that two parties are making a legally binding agreement, isn't it unusual and even unwise for one of the parties to agree that in a dispute the other party will have final, binding power to decide how the dispute will be settled?

From the audience Mr. McNeely responded a few minutes later to the question.

"Dixon's right," Mr. McNeely said. "You don't have agreements where one side is the arbitrator. But I have no problem with that in this instance. This is a spiritual organization, and God places people in positions of authority."

Prevailing perspective

At the Nov. 12, 2008, meeting of 42 adult members of the United Church of God East Texas, Mr. McNeely summarized the prevailing perspective that a few minutes later resulted in an almost-unanimous decision to turn the ownership of the building over to the church's headquarters.

"From the beginning of the UCGIA," said Mr. McNeely, "we've kind of agreed on how we're going to do it. We're going to be on the team, and the same principle applies with our building . . .

"I think one of the unintended consequences of what everybody went through 12 or 15 years ago [a reference to the breakup of the Worldwide Church of God] is that, it seems to me, we've gone beyond prudent to really wanting to watch out for our own so much . . .

"On the other hand, I think there is an opportunity to walk in faith, not by being stupid but by saying that, if people just want to run away with this thing [the building] and take it, then so be it. God can look out for us.

"If we're always trying to protect ourselves in every little way, it's endless, and I see that attitude in the greater patchwork-quilt Church of God."

The irony

The way things have turned out, many of the people who supported the deed transfer as essentially an act of worship have left the UCGET and helped start a new church.

Besides Mr. Treybig and Mr. McNeely, long-time ministers who include Les McCullough and Leon Walker were reportedly in favor of handing the title of the building over to the UCGIA. Now they have left the UCGET and UCGIA.

At the time, in 2008, these men supported the administration of UCGIA leaders who included Clyde Kilough and Jim Franks.

When the council of elders recently removed Mr. Kilough and Mr. Franks from their administrative duties, Dennis Luker as president and his team of administrators materialized in the UCGIA's home office.

Mr. Treybig, Mr. McNeely and others who helped influence the transfer of the deed from the UCGET to the UCGIA had no way of knowing at the time that they would leave the United Church of God in a couple of years and would be reduced to looking for places to rent for Sabbath services.

Mr. Elliott, one of the people who questioned the wisdom of the transfer decision, likewise could not have realized that the congregation's decision in November 2008 would help the UCGET retain use of building.

Mr. Elliott and his wife, Anne, are still members of the UCGET, although at least eight of Mr. Elliott's 12 former fellow UCGET elders have moved to the new group.

Contact information

The United Church of God East Texas meets every Sabbath at 2:30 p.m. at 1007 N. Tyler St. (Highway 155 North) in Big Sandy. See also

For information about the Church of God a Worldwide Association and its congregations go to Or write CGWA, P.O. Box 781885, Orlando, Fla. 32878, U.S.A.


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