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WCG Church official discusses future role of the church
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WCG Church official discusses future role of the church
By Bill Stough

LONEDELL, Mo.--The Worldwide Church of God continues to make changes in line with the new direction it took beginning in the early '90s. The Journal spoke with financial controller Ronald Kelly on Sept. 13 about changes in its headquarters' relationship with its congregations around the world.

The interview included questions about the WCG's plan to decentralize its financial structure and procedures, the size of the WCG, the church's plan to move its home office out of Pasadena, Calif., the pension fund for former employees, and the sale of its headquarters property, which for years served as the first of three campuses of Ambassador College.

Ron Kelly
Ron Kelly
(photo by Mac Overton)

The WCG is phasing in a plan in which its 389 U.S. congregations will collect donations and pay their own pastors' salaries and expenses if they have a salaried pastor.

Sixty-six-year-old Mr. Kelly, who lives in Pasadena, said headquarters will ask each congregation to send 20 percent of its donations--tithes and offerings--to headquarters during the first year of the program. The amount sent in will decrease in successive years in a continuing program of decentralization.

The donations to headquarters will be for "denominational support" and "congregational support," he said.




A death wish?

Mr. Kelly said the WCG has about 130 salaried pastors in 389 congregations in the United States and elsewhere. Many of these serve two or more congregations.

"Bivocational pastors" also serve the church, he said. These are men who are not church employees. They earn their income from another job.

The Journal asked Mr. Kelly what is to prevent congregations from seceding from the WCG and not sending in the 20 percent? Won't cutting off the present dependence on a centrally controlled financial system lead to that?

"Does the WCG have a death wish?" The Journal asked.

Mr. Kelly said a congregation is and always has been free to disassociate if it wishes, but he didn't think any would, certainly not many. He said he thinks congregations like being a part of the WCG.

What about the WCG's plan to move its headquarters? The church is evaluating a building at 2001 E. Financial Way in Glendora, about 20 miles east of Pasadena.

Mr. Kelly said no sales agreement is in place at this time with the owners of that building. In fact, he said, the church looked at another building Sept. 10. He did not want to identify the location of that building.

"Due diligence is a long process," he explained.

Will the present administration building be demolished and replaced by something else as The Journal has heard?

"I've heard about it and it might be true," Mr. Kelly said.

But he doesn't know since the WCG doesn't own the building the college called the Hall of Administration anymore.

The WCG leases space in the building from Maranatha High School. Maranatha and Harvest Rock Church were the buyers of the recently sold "lower campus" in Pasadena.

See The Journal's article on the sale of the WCG Campus titled
Elder with Harvest Rock Church tells why they need Ambassador Auditorium

"The current owners are certainly free to place any portion of their property on the market for sale at any time they wish," Mr. Kelly said.

He said he was not personally aware of any public announcement to sell any of the lower campus.

He said surveyors had recently visited the administration building to determine property lines, but considered that routine. He noted that Maranatha High School and Harvest Rock Church jointly purchased the lower campus but that they are separate organizations and need to determine the property boundaries.

Mr. Kelly said interested parties continue to contact the WCG and check out the remaining "upper campus" (still owned by the church) for possible purchase.

He said potential buyers look it over "almost every week." But there is no buyer yet.

Selling price

The Journal spent time accessing public records and speaking to Los Angeles County officials to try to find out what the "east campus" and the "lower campus" have sold for but has come up empty in this search.

The Journal told Mr. Kelly about this search and the dead ends.

Why all this secrecy? Doesn't secrecy make people suspicious?

Mr. Kelly said much legal work has been done by the WCG and the buyers to prevent this information from being known. In the sales process, all parties signed confidentiality agreements. In the case of the east campus, the buyer (Sares-Regis Corp.) is a developer. The buyer needs to recover his investment, and such confidentiality agreements are common to protect the business interests of all parties.

Besides, he said, both Maranatha High School and Harvest Rock Church chose to maintain confidentiality regarding the sale prices.

He also said it would be illegal for a WCG official to disclose the selling prices since legal arrangements have been made with the buyers and the WCG to keep the amounts confidential.

A source has informed The Journal that the WCG administration told him the average weekly attendance at U.S. congregations is about 13,500. Is that accurate?

"I don't keep up-to-date attendance figures, but my guess is that individuals who regularly attend church--at least a few times a year--is closer to 25,000, with an average attendance, of course, lower than that," said Mr. Kelly.

Pension plan

He said that, including U.S. and non-U.S. membership, 58,000 people remain on the membership rolls of the WCG, but he realizes many of them do not attend.

What is to be the status of former employees who were in effect "retired" by putting them on the "discretionary assistance fund" before the church formed a formal pension fund?

(The church created the pension fund after it sold the east campus. Current employees are covered by that plan as of Feb. 23 of this year.)

How many former employees can the church add to that plan, and what are the standards for doing so?

For example, what if a former long-term employee who is supported by discretionary assistance decides to join the United Church of God? Will he still be eligible? What if he joins a Baptist church?

Mr. Kelly said he would like to think more about this question and later sent this writer a reply by E-mail.

"The WCG has maintained the discretionary assistance program for all former employees who were enrolled in the program," he wrote. "The pension plan for current employees, by pension law and the WCG pension-plan requirements, could not include former employees.

"Therefore the church has maintained the discretionary assistance program out of member donations.

"Until all the campus sale is completed, there is no way to know what funds will, or will not, be available to provide a benefit for former employees.

"The church board of directors has made no determination regarding future funding and/or eligibility regarding church membership, but will thoroughly address these issues at an appropriate time after the campus sale is complete."

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