Cincinnati, Ohio—The annual meeting of the General Conference of Elders convened May 3-6. Present at the Conference were 144 elders and 125 wives, with many more who watched or listened in remotely. The ministry approved the Council’s Strategic Plan, Operation Plan and Budget for 2019-2020. Four council seats were also chosen.
The Sabbath on May 4 began with two seminars presented by Darris McNeely and Randy Stiver titled “God’s Unfinished Business With Israel” and “The Tribes of Israel: Always Hidden in Plain Sight.” Both focused on the role of the scattered tribes of Israel throughout history and into modern day events. Ministerial and Member Services operations manager Mark Welch gave the first split sermon titled, “The Pearl of Great Price.” Len Martin, pastor in Cambridge, Columbus and Mansfield, Ohio and member of the Council of Elders, gave the second called “Do You Have What It Takes?” During a special dinner, Council Chairman Donald Ward welcomed all guests and a ceremony was held recognizing ministers and employees for their years of service. The day ended with a Question and Answer session with the Council of Elders.
Sunday, May 5
Jerold Aust opened the proceedings with prayer. Council secretary Gerald Seelig announced the ballots for the Council, international nominees, Strategic Plan, Operation Plan and Budget.
Chairman’s Address: Dr. Donald Ward reminded ministers and elders of the important calling to prepare a people for the return of Jesus Christ and for the coming Kingdom of God. He spoke on the importance of bringing into remembrance the “big picture”—the truth of God’s plan that has been committed to the Church—to stir each other up to be more on fire than ever before, especially during these critical times in society. He also stressed courage, conviction and commitment as necessary traits to keep kindled the fiery zeal to do the work of the Church and the will of God.
President’s Address: Victor Kubik focused on the necessity of open doors in order to preach the gospel. God is the one who opens doors through His Spirit (Zechariah 4:6 Zechariah 4:6Then he answered and spoke to me, saying, This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, said the LORD of hosts.
American King James Version×; Isaiah 55:11 Isaiah 55:11So shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
American King James Version×) and calls the people to whom we preach the gospel. He asserted that the future of the work will not involve us battering down walls, but instead walking through doors that God opens for us. Mr. Kubik charged the entire Church, both members and leadership, to get on their knees and ask God to open doors for us.
Ministerial and Member Services: Mark Welch gave some updated numbers and statistics regarding the ministry and attendance. He also shared nine goals for the coming year(s):
1. Develop close relationships with all pastors and elders.
2. Encourage all pastors to be helpers of our members’ joy and to involve all members in service wherever possible. Develop church congregations around the world that are warm and inviting to new attendees.
3. Visit as many church areas as feasible with the intent to meet as many members as possible and to cultivate a relationship of mutual trust and openness.
4. Survey every congregation to determine overall satisfaction level of members and to help pastors and elders improve in their service to our local congregations.
5. Implement annual pastoral and elder self-evaluations, in collaboration with regional pastor and pastors.
6. Improve regional ministerial conferences and ministerial education, leadership workshops, Pastoral Development Program, all programs and online training.
7. Respond to international requests and needs for training and help.
8. Encourage all pastors to mentor others in their congregations to serve in the ministry.
9. Endeavor to head off conflicts in the early stages—point everyone involved to follow Matthew 18.
Address from Treasurer: Rick Shabi’s address covered significant financial events of the past year including the audit, the completion and capitalization of the video recording studio and some property acquisitions. The audit was completed with no proposed adjustments for improved internal controls for the fifth year in a row.
Total studio construction costs, to date, are $1,004,000 and so far we have received $936,000 in restricted fund donations. A building for the Columbus, Ohio congregation was purchased largely by the congregation and a property in Cape Girardeau was donated to UCG this year.
Before April 2019, the income was 3 percent under budget and 8 percent lower than the previous year. After April, however, the income is now on budget, albeit still 3 percent lower than the previous year. The Days of Unleavened Bread and fall Holy Day offerings this year were $100,000 over budget, while general contributions were lower. This is due in part to demographics of the Church; as more people retire, they give offerings but have less titheable income. The income is steadying out in the $18-19 million range, about equal to estimated expenses this year as they have steadily risen in the last five years.
Media and Communications Services: Peter Eddington updated the audience on the new video recording studio and its results. The new studio is about 10 times larger than the old one, and can also be used for photoshoots, reenactments and other projects. Above it is a prop and costume room, sound console and lighting board. Adjoining upstairs is a radio and recording studio for capturing sermons, podcasts and voiceovers.
To date, the media team and presenters have recorded 15 new programs with each one hosting about 50 guests in the audience. Since February 2018, our Roku app has seen a 56 percent increase in channel installs, an 81 percent increase in channel sessions and a 74 percent increase in videos watched. Average watch time is 24.5 minutes of the 28-minute videos. The Beyond Today YouTube channel has gotten 10.48 million video views and hosts over 1,935 videos with 46,685 subscribers. UCG.org is currently ranked by Alexa as the 13th most popular religious denomination website in the world. Last year, the UCG.org website received over 10 million unique visitors and 99.8 percent were non-members.
Keynote Address: Bill Bradford, pastor of six congregations in Queensland, Australia, gave an address entitled “The Compact” in which he explained that God’s plan of salvation for mankind is because of an agreement, or compact, between God the Father and Jesus the Son.
This greatest agreement ever made is still honored and always will be. Understanding this eternal compact allows us to assess where we are on the spiritual spectrum of God’s plan. Are we on it? Is the path ahead clear to us upon whom the ends of the earth have come? When we properly understand the mystery of this great compact, it gives us the capacity to know where we are and who we are in the great plan of God. It is the heart of everything that is.
Following the international reports was a presentation by Greg Thomas honoring the deceased elders and wives of the past year. The proceedings ended with chairman Donald Ward announcing the ballot results.
Monday, May 6
The day began with the ministerial wives’ workshop led by Barb Welch. The theme, “Becoming Resilient Women,” set the tone for an edifying discussion about maintaining and caring for one’s health, relationships and mentoring. At the same time, Steve Myers led the men in an elders workshop called “The Heart of a Shepherd” where he covered a number of practical and relevant scriptures and points about being more effective ministers.
Following the workshops were three seminars: In “LGBTQ & You,” Dan Dowd discussed the “second sexual revolution” that is currently underway and how to counsel with compassion while also maintaining godly standards. In “New and Incredible Discoveries Backing Intelligent Design,” Mario Sieglie covered the amazing new scientific breakthroughs that point to a Creator God, not evolution. In “Artificial Intelligence: Assumptions (Not) Included,” Dr. Steven Britt debunked many of the myths surrounding man’s pursuit of artificial intelligence and showed the natural limitations to creating true intelligence.
The weekend concluded with chairman Donald Ward’s closing comments, in which he encouraged elders to become more passionate in their speaking by giving challenging and convicting messages. Bob Dick ended the weekend with a closing prayer.