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The United Church of God turns 10: It's now or never
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The United Church of God turns 10: It's now or never

The writer, a former member of the Worldwide Church of God, founded and operates the Ambassador Watch Web site,

By Gavin Rumney

AUCKLAND, New Zealand--The United Church of God hasn't exactly been lucky in its choice of presidents: one now running his own rival sect, and two cast down after serving just a single term. But, then, luck has little to do with it.

In the early days it appeared that the United Church of God might reach a critical mass, with 20,000 members behind it, to survive and thrive--more so because this wasn't to be just another sect built around a single personality, but a genuine team effort.

Significant cost

But no church, and in particular a small denomination, can prosper with the kind of hemorrhaging the United Church of God has experienced in its first decade. No church can take root when its best and brightest are sidelined, then marginalized and all too often purged and vilified.

No church can survive when the real agenda seems to be keeping control in the hands of a few tightfisted mandarins at any cost.

And the cost has been extraordinarily high: whole congregations peeling away, taking talented and committed members with them. Static growth. A rapidly graying constituency.

As the United Church of God prepares to mark its first 10 years, the organization seems to have reached a watershed. Another president has been given his marching orders, and observers both within and outside wonder just which way the largest Church of God grouping will next lurch.

The majority view seems to be that the control freaks are in the ascendancy. The United Church of God may be heading for the edge of the cliff, but this faction proposes to simply ram the throttle down all the way. Perhaps the Edsel is supposed to fly? Power needs to be concentrated in even fewer hands--for the good of the majority, of course.

The season for reason

A second view is that reason is about to finally prevail. The United Church of God will become a more open organization, in tune with the assurances made when it was founded. Independent congregations will be welcome to affiliate with Cincinnati but manage their own affairs through local boards. Perhaps some of the lost sheep might return.

Which of these outcomes is most likely? The smart money is on the first, but only if United Church of God stakeholders shrug their shoulders, sit on their hands and determine to just let it happen.

After 10 long years you have to wonder where is the ginger group, the loyal opposition, that is advocating a return to principles on which the United Church of God was established?

Granted, some have been locked out of the process, but many more remain. Why aren't their voices raised?

Step right up

The reality seems to be that Church of God members are frozen by their own sense of powerlessness. They see themselves not as active participants but passive recipients, victims of the fickleness of their leaders. They may have opinions, but they know deep down those opinions don't count.

And they couldn't be more wrong.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that the United Church of God's new president will need to be a healer, an individual less concerned about who is in charge of what and more concerned with bringing people together.

Not just the elders, and certainly not just the retreaded WCG administrators with their corporate mentality and failed agendas: This time it must be everyone, and especially the people who make it all possible through their participation and support.

This is the time for ordinary members to step up and take the initiative. In the few precious weeks before irreversible decisions are made, there is a window of opportunity. It's a time to speak out about a vision for the church, to make time to clearly tell ministers and administrators what needs to be said.

Those few men privileged under the constitution to select the next president need to hear that clear message from those at the grassroots. This is their church, not the sole property of those on the council of elders (legal documents that say otherwise notwithstanding, an ongoing scandal in itself).

Nervously ticking

Make no mistake. The new leadership will set the tone for the years ahead, and every United Church of God member has a huge stake in that. Even without a vote they have a voice, and a responsibility to now make it heard.

As stated by council reporter Doug Johnson: "The entire process is intended to culminate with the Council's selection of the president on May 12, just prior to the annual meeting of the General Conference of Elders, in May 14-16, 2005."

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