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2016 General Conference of Elders

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2016 General Conference of Elders

The theme was “Live the Word.” Church elders approved the 2016-2017 Strategic Plan, Operation Plan and Budget put forth by the Council of Elders, in addition to choosing four Council seats. Various procedural and technical process changes and amendments to the Constitution and Bylaws of the Church were also balloted on. Most notably, a statement defining the marriage relationship as being between one man and one woman was ratified by the GCE. Mario Seiglie, Rex Sexton and John Elliott were each re-elected for another three-year term on the Council, with Jorge de Campos taking the international seat previously held by Rainer Salomaa. A brief description of the other ballot results follows at the end of the article.

The keynote address was given by Mark Welch, pastor of the Lawton, Oklahoma, and Dallas, Texas, congregations. He reminded the GCE members to walk worthy of their calling, live a repentant life in humility, and submit to the will of God.

The meeting began Sunday, May 15, with a session honoring ministers and employees for milestone achievements of service to the Church—10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 years of living the Word. New elders were recognized as well. Addresses given by Council chairman Robin Webber, president Victor Kubik and operation managers Peter Eddington and Rick Shabi, each reflected this theme, describing the status and progress made by the Church in its mission, while also emphasizing the need for continued perseverance in doing that work.

A series of international reports given by ministers from across the world shared a major theme: God is working in these areas, and the growth is palpable, both spiritually speaking and in numerical terms. The international presenters were Daniel Porteous from New Zealand; Johnnie Lambert, who serves the Baltic and Nordic countries; Chuck Smith, who serves the Caribbean; John Elliott, who serves East Africa; and Mario Seiglie, who oversees the Latin American region.

Other sessions at the conference’s first day included a presentation on the features of the new UCG.org website and current development of local congregation pages, a presentation on the potential dangers young people face with technology and a women’s round table discussion in the evening on the theme of the conference.

Monday at the conference saw what was widely held to be one of the best sessions at any GCE meeting in recent memory: a series of four half-hour round table discussions for the entire conference in attendance. Eight to 10 ministers and wives sat at two dozen or more tables (with at least one member of the Council or administration at each table) and chose questions from a mug in the center for discussion. The questions originated from actual correspondence received by the personal correspondence team, dealing with difficult, hard-hitting and very real subjects.

Monday saw more presentations by Jorge de Campos on international perspectives on living the Word, Gary Smith on marriage counseling and Donald Ward on living the weightier matters of the law.

Robin Webber concluded the meeting in prayer, and Steve Myers led a closing hymn.

  • Process for the GCE Submitting an Agenda Item—Pass (Yes—239; No—15)
  • Process for the GCE to Submit an Agenda Without a Meeting—Pass (Yes—223; No—31)

These two ballot items were simple technical changes to these two processes—each made references to Bylaw 7.9, which was updated last year and its number changed to 7.8. The ballot this year was simply to update the references in each process to be the correct, updated number of the bylaw referenced.

  • Technical Amendment to GCE Rules of Order—Pass (Yes—243; No—11)

The GCE Rules of Order document referenced bylaw 7.9.2, which was amended last year and its number changed to 7.8.2. This ballot changed the reference to the new number.

  • Process for Calling GCE Special Meetings—Pass (Yes—238; No—18)

The Bylaws declare that the GCE has the power to call a special meeting, but the process by which that could be done had never been established. This process was drawn up by the Council and was approved by the GCE.

  • Amendment to Constitution 5.1.1 and Bylaws 7.6.1—Fail (Yes—171; No—90)

Constitution 5.1.1 defines (and bylaw 7.6.1 restates) that to change any part of the Fundamental Beliefs of the Church (which are listed in article 2 of the Constitution), a ¾ majority of the number of elders in the United Church of God have to vote yes. However, approximately 20 percent of the elders in UCG do not cast ballots. Effectively, this means nearly 100 percent of those who actually participate by casting ballots would have to vote yes on any updates to the Fundamental Beliefs for them to pass. This amendment sought to change Constitution 5.1.1 and Bylaws 7.6.1 to mean that a ¾ majority of valid ballots actually cast is all that’s required to alter the Fundamental Beliefs.

  • Amendment to Bylaws 8.7.2—Pass (Yes—231; No—25)

This bylaw amendment strengthens and clarifies the authority of the Council over hiring, firing, setting pay, or altering responsibilities for any position in the employment of the Church, if it so chooses.

  • Defining the Marriage Relationship—Pass (Yes—229; No—32)

This statement is the first of its kind, being an official statement that’s not on the same level as a fundamental belief, but which still makes a formal declaration of belief of the Church about marriage, ratified by the highest governing body of the organization, the GCE (this statement is reproduced in full on page 20).

  • Interpretation of Majorities Required to Amend Constitution 5.1.1(1)—⅔ majority pass

The Constitution specifies how a change to the Constitution can be passed—whether by a simple majority, a ⅔ majority, or a ¾ majority. The Fundamental Beliefs (which are in article 2 of the Constitution) require a ¾ majority to be changed—and it is article 5.1.1 that specifies that. But to change article 5.1.1 itself, which is not a fundamental belief, there was difference of opinion whether a ⅔ majority to change would suffice or a ¾ majority, since it spells out the prescription for changing the Fundamental Beliefs. In differences of opinion of interpretation of the Bylaws, the Council holds authority to interpret. But interpretation of the Constitution requires GCE approval. Therefore, this ballot was a binary choice put to the GCE to interpret which it felt made most sense—⅔, or ¾. The GCE chose ⅔ by a simple majority.