Cincinnati, Ohio—Council of Elders chairman Robin Webber called the 20th anniversary meeting of the General Conference of Elders (GCE) to session Sunday, May 3. The theme of the conference—“Labor in the Word”—guided the presentations, workshops and discussions and even the split sermons on the Sabbath the day before. Balloting took place Sunday morning, resulting in approval of the 2015 Strategic Plan, Operation Plan, and Budget, various amendments, and the selection of four Council seats. Operation managers Roy Holladay (Ministerial and Member Services), Peter Eddington (Media and Communication Services) and Rick Shabi (Financial Services) gave updates on the work of the Church in those areas, as did president Victor Kubik on the overall direction of the administration. Donald Ward gave the keynote address, reiterating the importance of clinging to our understanding of the doctrinal “trunk of the tree.”
Below is a brief summary of the proceedings of the conference.
Recognition of Employees, Retired Ministry and New Elders
Victor Kubik led a recognition of Church retirees and employees who have reached significant employment anniversaries. Retirees are Steve and Evelyn Shafer and Noel and Becky Hornor. Those honored for significant work anniversaries include John Elliott, Alec Surratt, Jim Tuck, Randy D’Alessandro, Joe Dobson and John Labissoniere for 40 years of service; Gary Petty and Connie Seelig for 30 years; Barbara Antion for 20 years; and Dan Dowd, Linda Wasilkoff and Moise Mabout for 10 years.
Balloting took place after this for the business items on the agenda as well as for Council seats. After the ballot was taken Mr. Webber began his chairman’s address.
Chairman’s address—Robin Webber
Mr. Webber stressed that the Church needs to continue to develop our positive environment of love and mutual respect so that we may continue to grow in the Spirit of God. He said the Church needs to be looking up and leaning forward. We have a chance now to look back at the past 20 years and learn lessons that we can take forward into the future. We celebrated the weekend, but it wasn’t a celebration of ourselves. We celebrated the love, patience and blessing of God and Jesus Christ that have brought us this far.
Mr. Webber pointed out that we continue the work of examining ourselves in the mirror of Scripture to ensure that our hearts are aligned with God’s plan for our lives.
He said that unity is not just superficial conformity, it’s something that comes from spiritual maturity. It’s a characteristic of a godly heart. Those who are growing in this Church and those who are coming to us for guidance deserve our best effort in walking “according to the calling of which you were called” (Ephesians 4:1 Ephesians 4:1I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation with which you are called,
American King James Version×). The apostle Paul made sure that we knew there is one calling, one Lord, one hope, one faith and one baptism that we hold to. We dedicate ourselves to that God and to that calling.
He exhorted the assembly that as we move forward we need to look above and keep our eyes and hearts focused on our God, who tells us, “Follow me.”
President’s Address—Victor Kubik
Mr. Kubik began by thanking everyone for their service in making the GCE happen. He also expressed his appreciation that he has such a good working relationship with the Council of Elders and the various operation managers in managing the daily work of the Church.
He expressed excitement about new opportunities in both media proclamation and ministerial service that will propel the Church forward into the future. We want to make certain that the Church and Beyond Today as its media arm are recognizable to the general public as we preach the gospel. We are in the process of consolidating our media presence under the Beyond Today identity, with print, television and Web content to be presented as Beyond Today content.
We’re in a place where we have the chance to make some very positive and forward-looking changes. We will be adding ministerial support for our congregations and developing new ministerial trainees who will be hired in the future. We’ll have opportunities for those who may be ordained in the future to serve in a training capacity. Ambassador Bible College will be further developed as a place of biblical learning and training in service and leadership. We’re looking into it being accredited for international students to be able to more easily come and learn as well.
We’re truly an international association. He encouraged us to pray for God’s blessing and continue His work in preaching the gospel and preparing a people.
Treasurer’s Address—Rick Shabi
Mr. Shabi began by expressing that we need to be deeply thankful to God for His sustaining blessings. We’re in an excellent place financially, and we should be thankful for times of abundance. He referenced 2 Chronicles 26:5 2 Chronicles 26:5And he sought God in the days of Zechariah, who had understanding in the visions of God: and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him to prosper.
American King James Version×, which holds great instruction for us in making sure that we are seeking God’s will and obeying Him in all we do. That’s the best practice in ensuring financial stability.
Our internal audit showed no internal deficiencies in practice, meaning that the Church is well run, with everyone doing their job properly. This assures financial transparency and wise use of God’s blessings. We consider our funds to be God’s money, so we make sure that we are using what He gives us and allows us to use in the best possible way to serve Him and His people.
Overall our cash balances are doing well, with strong increases across the board. Our good financial position enables us to better fulfill our mission, which is to preach the gospel, prepare a people for God and care for the disciples that He calls.
He thanked the rest of the Financial Services staff for their quality work and dependability. They work well as a team and together assure the proper use of God’s funds.
Ministerial and Member Services Address—Roy Holladay
Mr. Holladay started by saying that the ministry has been called to a unique responsibility in the Church. They are called to be helpers and servants of the membership and those whom God calls. There are 366 elders in the United Church of God, with 283 in the United States and 83 in international areas. There are 87 U.S. congregation pastors. We see a larger number this year due to the newly ordained men introduced earlier.
There are 196 congregations in the U.S, and we had 131 baptisms in the past year. We are planting the seeds of growth through our gospel proclamation efforts and our work to provide good service and leadership for our congregations across the world. We are working to be ready for a greater response to God’s message in the future.
Mr. Holladay emphasized the work that is underway in the leadership training and development department. The Church is at a confluence of three major trends: retirement, education and leadership development. There is a continual need to train and develop new ministers, refresh current ministers and train new leaders. A new training plan is being started, in which men will be pastors-in-training, with the eventual goal of being used as church pastors. We have great opportunities ahead of us as we work to fulfill God’s commission to make disciples and care for those disciples.
Media and Communication Services Address—Peter Eddington
Mr. Eddington began by playing a short video introducing the new website that describes the major changes from the last version. Highlights are the mobile-friendly, adaptive design that scales to any size screen, from smartphone to tablet to desktop monitor.
Mr. Eddington said that we’re much better positioned for the future with the launch of the new, mobile-friendly UCG.org. In addition, we’re working hard to get our video content (Beyond Today television, Bible studies, short films and others) on as many streaming platforms as possible in the coming year. We’ve heard stories of users finding the gospel truth almost accidentally by coming across our content on streaming platforms. There are many opportunities in streaming services that can get Beyond Today content into many more households across the world than ever before possible.
We have the most coworkers on file that we’ve ever had in UCG’s history, showing that people are able to connect with our message and are looking for ways to become a part of the mission of the Church. We pray for God’s continued blessing in taking His Word to a world that so desperately needs it.
After a lunch break, Ken Martin led the tribute to deceased elders and wives.
Canada—Rainer Salomaa. The Canadian national office of UCG has eight total employees, two full-time and six part-time. Anthony Wasilkoff is the director of operations, Edwin van Pelt is the treasurer, and Dale van Zant is the HR manager. Average church attendance is 525 for the past four years, and there are over 20,000 Canadian Good News subscribers. There have been more than 40,000 responses to Beyond Today TV over the past 10 years.
Ghana and Nigeria—Paul Moody. Paul Moody from Spokane, Washington, followed with the report on the Church in Ghana and Nigeria. Mark Mickelson, a Council of Elders member from Washington, is the senior pastor of the region, and Benjamin Agyapong of Ghana is the pastor for several of the Ghanaian congregations.
The United Youth Camps program in Ghana and Nigeria is very successful and gives Church youth in those areas opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise be able to have.
Brazil—Jorge DeCampos. Jorge DeCampos pointed out that it is not the Portuguese language work, it is God’s work in Portuguese. The vast majority of the Portuguese work takes place in Brazil. There is currently a religious revival of a type in Brazil, with many different types of religions, including outright paganism, becoming very popular. This is both an opportunity and a challenge in preaching the gospel message.
French Language—Tim Pebworth. Tim Pebworth of San Jose, California, along with his wife Maryse, serve in the French-speaking areas. There are 5,500 Bonnes Nouvelles subscriptions sent to individuals in 51 countries. There are 180 French-speaking brethren in Africa, along with several in Quebec, Canada, as well. We just recently have congregations in Cote D’Ivoire, where there are 70 members.
British Isles—David Fenney. United Church of God in the British Isles operates on its own national council with five executive members and three non-executive advisors. The council serves eight congregations across the British Isles, with an additional congregation that meets every other Sabbath. The Church in Britain is looking to develop more helpers to serve the membership and preach the gospel more effectively.
After a short break Robin Webber introduced the keynote speaker Don Ward.
Keynote: “The Trunk of the Tree”—Don Ward
Dr. Ward began by commenting that the spirit and conversation at this year’s meeting is one of the best he’s seen in his years in the Church. He says that we who have been given the precious gift of God’s Word must struggle for the truth.
The purpose of the conference was to stir us up to labor in the Word and stay close to the “trunk of the tree.” The trunk of the tree is the set of beliefs that is necessary and essential for salvation. That is what must be clung to at all costs. We must struggle for that truth.
The first article of faith is in Hebrews 11:6 Hebrews 11:6But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
American King James Version×—We must believe that God is. He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. This is the first great truth. Other great truths: Who is God? What is God? What is God’s purpose? Who is man? What is man’s purpose? What must one do to inherit the Kingdom of God? The answers to these questions are available in God’s Word, which we hold dear and precious.
Our great future is to be part of God’s family along with God the Father and Jesus Christ. God is love, and love is His motivation in sharing Himself and His nature with mankind.
The ministry has a God-given responsibility to read the Bible and teach the brethren sound doctrine. We must not be thrown around by every wind of doctrine. We must cling to and be willing to give our lives for the trunk of the tree.
Laboring in the Word—Roy Holladay
Mr. Holladay said that it is the responsibility of Ministerial and Member Services to make sure that the theme and focus of the General Conference of Elders meeting doesn’t get forgotten moving forward. We have the responsibility of preaching the Word. Our preaching needs to be true and accurate—exactly what the Scripture says.
We also have a responsibility to provide good spiritual food to the Church and to the world. It should be a balanced biblical diet that nourishes their spiritual lives.
Mr. Holladay reintroduced Dr. Ward to finish up the discussion with an explanation of the educational initiative for the ministry.
Dr. Ward said that we have the challenge of helping the Church accomplish its vision and mission. There are four basic areas to the initiative. There will be a series of courses on biblical topics available for the ministry. This will act as a “refresher” program to establish sound biblical teachings. There will also be classes available about pastoral care.
He hopes we will all read the Bible afresh and read it for what it says and preach the pure truth of God’s Word.
Ballot Results—Robin Webber
Approve 2015 Strategic Plan—Yes 229-14; Approve 2015 Operation Plan—Yes 220-22; Approve 2015-2016 Fiscal Budget—Yes 219-24; Approve Proposed Amended Bylaws—Yes 169-49; Approve Proposed Amended Bylaw Article 12.0: Amendments—Yes 180-31; Procedure for Amending Constitution, Bylaws and Rules of Association—Yes 184-31; Approve Amendment Constitution Section 1.2.4: General Conference of Elders—Yes 204-22; Approve Amendment Constitution Section 3.2: Functions Within the Church—Yes 199-24; Approve Amendment Constitution Section 3.2.2: The Local Congregation—Yes 197-29; Approve Amendment Constitution Section 4.10: Attendance at Meetings of the General Conference—Yes 207-15; Approve Procedure for Appealing Suspension or Expulsion From the General Conference of Elders—Yes 200-21.
Council of Elders Seats
International council seat: Anthony Wasilkoff
United States seats: Bob Dick, Mark Mickelson, Scott Ashley
Monday Workshops and Plenary Sessions
There were a collection of plenary sessions Monday, with workshops following in the afternoon. Rex Sexton gave a presentation titled “Be Prepared for the Coming Emergency,” where he encouraged the conference to have a mental checklist to be prepared for whatever the next crisis may be. Mario Seiglie presented “Seven Key Tools for Biblical Hermeneutics,” explaining tools for ensuring accurate interpretation of the scriptures. Scott Ashley gave a presentation discussing the need to properly understand the context of any given scripture, using three commonly misunderstood examples, then giving resources and tools to turn to to dig out that context. Larry Walker explored the use of reference tools in a presentation titled “What’s in Your Toolbox?” during an afternoon workshop. Pam Kuver led a concurrent ladies workshop titled “Birth Pains of Christian Women,” and John Elliott finished up the afternoon sessions with a presentation titled “How to Labor in the Word Effectively While Shouldering Multiple Responsibilities.”
After concluding remarks by Robin Webber and a final hymn, the conference ended. The Council of Elders convened Tuesday for its quarterly meeting.