Front page: Cincy weekend moves to Lexington, attracts 1,800

By Janet Treadway

LEXINGTON, Ky.--This year the Winter Family Tournament weekend that's usually in Cincinnati, Ohio, moved to Lexington, Ky., because of the record number of people who were expected to attend.

The Cincinnati North and Lexington congregations of the United Church of God sponsored the sixth annual event Dec. 25-28 in a Marriott hotel. About 1,800 attended.

They came from all over the United States and as far away as Canada, Mexico and France.

Jim O'Brien, tournament coordinator and pastor of the two congregations, considered why people--many of whom are not members of the United Church of God--are willing to travel so far, take time off from work and pay airfare and other costs to come to the activity.

"I've asked myself the same question several times," he said. "Members of the church have a deep desire to connect with each other, and this activity provides a rare opportunity for a large number of members to make that connection."

Mr. O'Brien and other organizers look for ways to provide something for every age level of Church of God member, from athletics to education for every member of the family.

"We want to treat members as customers, asking them for suggestions on ways we can better meet their needs."

Sabbath activities

Mr. O'Brien considers the most important aspect of the tournament weekend to be the Sabbath activities.

"We built the tournament around the Sabbath," he said. "What is unique to us is not basketball or volleyball but our faith in God."

He likes to refer to the December events as a "mini-Feast."

The activities kicked off with the traditional pizza party and get-acquainted dance Thursday evening, along with a pool party for families.

The weekend activities included basketball, soccer, volleyball, flag football, ice skating, swimming, Ping-Pong, a tour of Shaker Town, dances for all ages and "congresses" for youths, adults and teens, along with 14 seminars.

Activities accommodated tiny tots, the elderly and folks in between.

Sabbath services began with UCG president Roy Holladay of Cincinnati welcoming the visitors and expressing appreciation to the organizers.

He invited everyone to visit the UCG's home office, in Milford, Ohio, a Cincinnati suburb, and said most home-office staffers were present at the activity.

Clyde Kilough of Antelope, Calif., chairman of the UCG's council of elders, said he was impressed enough with everything to want to return next year.

Laboring for love

How does such an activity happen?

It's a labor of love for a lot of people, say the organizers. Ministers and other church members work shoulder to shoulder to create a harmonious environment.

A case in point was the Friday-night "adult congress." Wendy Pack of Bluefield, Va., commented on the opportunity she had to be a small-group facilitator along with Mr. Holladay, the UCG president.

"Where else does a church member have the opportunity to work at the grass-roots level with the president of the church to understand the needs of members?" she asked.

Many Church of God members contribute hundreds of hours working as well as financial sacrifices to make these activities happen each year. Often they are so busy working to serve the brethren that they miss the opportunity to participate in the activities themselves.

For example, the concessions coordinator spent about 300 volunteer hours preparing ahead of time, during and just after the family tournament.

Rebecca Hollon of Hamilton, Ohio, was asked why does she do it.

"It's God's way to give," she said. "I also thoroughly enjoy the camaraderie of the work."

After working year round in a family business, she could use this time to rest, but service has its rewards, she says. "It is exhausting, but I have made friends and formed deeper relationships with people because of it."

Bill Venneman, who assists Mr. O'Brien in organizing the activities, said the event is "a great family-oriented activity that offers something for everyone. That is why I enjoy serving and giving to the project."

So what has made this activity grow from a little more than 450 people in attendance the first year to 1,800 this year?

It is obviously the service and sacrifice of many people to make this once-a-year activity work, said one participant. It is people sharing a faith, coming together to worship God, having fun, working and serving one another.

It is sacrificing by all involved so that the weekend will be one remembered and one that people will want to come back to year after year.

This issue of The Journal includes many photos and several other graphics, besides the Connections advertising section. Don't forget to subscribe to the print version of The Journal to read all the news and features previewed here.

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