The 2018 meeting of the General Conference of Elders convened in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Conference was called to order by chairman Don Ward at 9:00 a.m., Sunday, May 6.
The opening prayer was offered by Brady Veller of Florida.
Dr. Ward then called on the General Conference to approve the minutes of the 2017 business meeting. No corrections to the minutes were offered, and the minutes were approved.
He then introduced secretary Gerald Seelig to lead the balloting portion of the meeting.
Dr. Ward then took the stage again after the ballot to introduce Church president Victor Kubik.
President's Address - Victor Kubik
Mr. Kubik mentioned the theme of the 2018 meeting, "Iron That Sharpens Iron," and said the weekend represents a good chance for people with different responsibilities and duties to work together and sharpen one another in their individual work.
The Strategic Plan, Operation Plan and Budget document for the upcoming year has been revamped to a large degree this year, with more concrete ways to assess our work in accomplishing the year's goals. These indicators are based on a timeline for achieving the goals and desired outcomes. One concern is that we've reduced the number of Beyond Today magazine subscribers expected for the coming year. We can put more resources into sowing seed in that medium as we move forward. The convicting work of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God are the most important factors, but we are also to do what we can in sowing seed to hopefully reap a good harvest.
Mr. Kubik says he would like to be able to compare how we handle revenue streams and our resources with how other non-profits and similar organizations do it and achieve their goals successfully. We have plans in place to better track and manage our various revenue streams, and there are also plans to appoint a director of development who will act as a point person in tracking and accomplishing these goals.
The 19th year of Ambassador Bible College is near its end. This particular class has a large international contingent, with about half a dozen different countries represented. It's been encouraging to see how many different roles and positions former students have taken on in the Church since they graduated.
U.S. Sabbath attendance has averaged around 7,000. We have nearly 400 elders, with approximately three quarters in the U.S. Currently we have four active ministerial trainees. Dan Dowd has been working on a training manual for pastors in working with ministerial trainees. There is a ministerial education team that's been assembled to help in the filling of this important need for the Church's future. Much of the work takes place in the Pastoral Development Program, where newer pastors and trainees go to Cincinnati for in-depth training for about two weeks. This supplements an online PDP component, which is a longer-term training program for much of the ministry.
Mr. Kubik prays frequently that God's will be done and the direction He desires be where we go. Ministerial training has risen to the top as a goal that we feel God is leading us to accomplish. We are rich in good, capable and faithful elders who serve the Church, and now is the time to use their experience and insight in training new pastors to care for the future of the Church. There are many examples of people stepping up and doing good, difficult work in challenging areas of the world to further the work of the Church and establish it for the future.
Mr. Kubik called on chairman Don Ward to retake the stage for his chairman's address.
Chairman's Address - Don Ward
Dr. Ward began by addressing the topic of Christian orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is the main concern of theologians, scholars and clergy. Those who profess orthodoxy will always return to trinitarian theology as the main determination of what constitutes orthodox Christian theology. Orthodoxy also holds that humanity has an immortal soul that will live on forever disembodied in heaven or hell. What's true is that faith is inextricably linked to obedience. Orthodoxy maintains that today is the only day of salvation. We know that God is not calling everyone to salvation at this time.
The Church understands and maintains that the hope of Christians is to be resurrected into God's family to be members of that very family. It understands and maintains that the wicked are destroyed in the lake of fire. Is the Holy Spirit teaching you? What does that question mean? Jesus tried to get His disciples to think first in spiritual, not physical, terms. God must be worshiped in spirit and in truth. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would teach His disciples all things and bring to their remembrance all things.
So the question remains: Is the Holy Spirit teaching us as a Church?
Scripture shows that the Holy Spirit doesn't speak of its own, but reveals truths about God and what God wants us to know as we accomplish His will. Most people are not consciously aware that the Holy Spirit guides us into truth. How does it work? One way the Spirit guides us is through our reading and study of Scripture. That is why the Spirit of God and the Word of God are both convicting agents.
We need to ask ourselves: Is the Holy Spirit abiding in us? If so, we have the opportunity to be taught by the Spirit and led into the truth of God. Elders should be apt to teach to others the truths that they are led to by the Holy Spirit. This is all predicated on having meek, teachable hearts so that we can accurately divide the Word of truth and be effective teachers of the brethren.
Practically speaking there are several ways to develop habits that help in being teachable and helping to teach others. One way is by reading every scripture on a certain subject. Threads will begin to develop in your mind, and you then verify your conclusions on the Word of God that you're reading. No single verse can be dismissed, but no single verse can be solely relied upon for doctrinal conclusions. This process allows the Spirit to work in your mind and distill down to the truth of the Scriptures.
Scripture shows that we ask for the Spirit, we study in the Spirit and we obey the Word of God we receive. The Spirit abides in those who obey the Word of God. So who is our teacher? It should be the Word of God and the Spirit of God.
After Dr. Ward's address, the Conference recessed for a short break at 10:23 a.m.
The meeting reconvened at 10:45 a.m.
Dr. Ward introduced treasurer Rick Shabi.
Treasurer's Report - Rick Shabi
Mr. Shabi began by announcing that the yearly audit yielded no proposed adjustments or suggestions for improved internal controls.
The fund for the video recording studio stands at $870,000, with projected construction and outfitting costs at $950,000.
Income has exceeded budget so far for the year in nearly every area, reversing trends of the last several years. In all but one month of the 2018 fiscal year so far we have exceeded budgeted income. Budgeted revenue for 2018 was $18.375 million, and our projected revenue for the end of 2018 is $19 million.
We're in a good financial position overall as we are heavy on assets and short on liabilities. Our mandated eight-week reserve stands at over $2.8 million, which is an excellent amount.
We face several challenges moving forward. Currently we are in a vibrant but uncertain economy. Things can change rapidly and drastically as we have seen in the past. We're still uncertain of the effect of the new tax law on our non-member donors. Time will tell what long-term effect it will have. We have an aging ministry and membership, which will have an unquantifiable effect on future revenue streams. We also face continually rising expenses, including healthcare and retirement benefits.
There are variables moving forward that will determine our long-term financial situation. One is healthcare costs, which reliably increase by 10-12 percent per year. Salary and retirement obligations will increase by $900,000 by 2021.
Mr. Shabi then thanked the Financial Services staff before providing salary ranges and other technical aspects of Financial Services information.
Chairman Don Ward then called on Peter Eddington to take the stage to deliver his report.
Media and Communication Services Operation Manager Report - Peter Eddington
Mr. Eddington began by thanking the media team for their parts in doing the work of God at this time in human history.
Jesus gave His disciples a great commission, and we are a part of that commission today. It is what we get up every day and work on.
There are a few components of our daily work today that take center stage. First, the new video recording studio is nearing completion. It is on schedule for a June-July finish in the actual construction. It will then take an additional three months to outfit the studio with a set, lighting, cameras and other technical needs.
There are a lot of avenues we can get our media productions through to reach the world with the message of the gospel of the Kingdom of God. We have big plans both for our studio and for different streams through which we can push out the message.
In the new studio we can work with several different formats, such as dailies, four-minute short films, the 20-30 minute main program, and we're experimenting with 50-minute religious documentaries. We're currently in the early stages of developing a documentary on the biblical festivals. Our current studio does not allow the flexibility for these different productions, but the new studio will.
Much of what we do today is accomplished through online video, through YouTube, streaming platforms and other means. Nearly 4 billion people use the Internet regularly, 48 percent of people on earth. Over 30 percent of Internet users recently named a streaming service like Netflix as their primary method of consuming video content. That's why we're focusing on streaming as a primary focus. Cable-first viewers are only at 35 percent. Soon we will see streaming eclipse cable as the primary method of watching video content.
We recently concluded a four-city Beyond Today Live campaign in Southern California. For the entire campaign country-wide we've had 705 guests—people who probably would not have walked in the door otherwise. We've reached 52,000 subscribers with invitations to come and see us live, which means that 52,000 people were engaged in a more direct way and have an idea of where to find us if they wish.
We believe the seeds we're sowing in media will grow and bear fruit at the appropriate time moving forward. UCG.org received more than 8 million unique visitors last year, and we're currently ranked #15 among religious denominational websites by Alexa. We're on track to reach 10 million unique visitors for 2018.
Dr. Ward announced that Greg Thomas, pastor of Cleveland, Ohio, would then take the stage to lead the GCE in a tribute to the past year's deceased elders and wives.
Elders and wives honored were:
- Jessie Barr of Southern California (1932-2017)
- Maurice Benson of Wisconsin (1926-2017)
- John Cafourek of Oregon (1947-2017)
- Richard Eckman of Alaska (1940-2017)
- Peggy Good of North Carolina (1947-2017)
- John Hull of Nevada (1925-2017)
- Lucretia Kellers of Tennessee (1942-2017)
- Steve Kirk, Jr. of Oklahoma (1920-2018)
- Al and Joey Levitt of Saskatchewan (1936-2017)
- H. Burk McNair of Colorado (1931-2017)
- Delores Petty of Pennsylvania (1932-2017)
- Mark Rorem of California (1948-2017)
- Louise Ashley Smith of Alabama (1928-2017)
- Dick Stitt of Oregon (1929-2018)
The meeting recessed for lunch at 12:02 p.m. Chairman Don Ward called on Bill Robinson from Columbia, Maryland, to ask a blessing on the noon meal.
Chairman Don Ward reconvened the meeting at 1:18 following an opening prayer from Andy Diemer of New England.
Dr. Ward then introduced various representatives of international areas to present their reports.
Marcos Rosales of the Netherlands presented first. There is finally a hymnal in Dutch for the Dutch-speaking region. There are two newly baptized members in the Netherlands as well. There are other Dutch-language areas of the world as well, such as part of Belgium, parts of Africa, Suriname in South America, Aruba in the Carribbean and parts of Indonesia.There are an average of 40 people in attendance weekly in the Netherlands, with 26 baptized members. It is a balanced group age-wise.
The Netherlands is linked to Germany administratively but is financially self-supported. The pastor is Paul Kieffer, and there are two elders, a deacon and a deaconess. There are approximately 1,000 readers of Beyond Today in the region, and there are booklets in Dutch, as well as the Bible Correspondence Course. Dutch subtitles are supplied for the Beyond Today TV show.
Next was David Dobson, senior pastor for the Philippines. The Philippines is a diverse country of approximately 7,000 islands and 100 million people. About 510 people attended the Feast in the various sites in the country last year, with another 50 in a Filipino-majority area of Malaysia.
There is a well equipped and effective ministry all over the Philippines, and there is a business office that handles the work. There is stability, unity and good work being done in the Philippines.
Next was a video from Carmelo Anastasi, pastor and administrator of the Church in Italy. There are 50 brethren scattered across the nation of Italy. The Church in Italy, though small, is stable and united in purpose. There have been 11 baptisms in the last five years. There are over 500 magazine subscribers for the Italian-language version. The Church has a YouTube channel with many Italian sermons and presentations.
The Italian Church is conducting a leadership development program to ensure the continued effectiveness of the work there.
This was followed by another video, this time from Roy Demont, senior pastor in South Africa. Since 2011 the Church has been gaining strength following difficult times. Only a small handful of members were left after 2011, but the numbers have been increasing since then, including baptisms. We anticipate 150 attendees for the upcoming Feast of Tabernacles. Beyond Today magazine is currently in a resubscription cycle, which will reduce subscribers for now. There was a very successful combined youth program, leadership training and Ambassador Bible College sampler conducted this past year.
There is a Feast site on the east coast of South Africa on the Indian Ocean, in the city of Margate.
Finally, Doug Gray, of Australia, provided the final international report. There are 20 congregations with 738 people in attendance served by five pastors and 11 elders. Most congregations are along the southern and eastern coasts, with one in Tasmania and one in the west. The Australian church hosted a well attended leadership conference in 2016, so there is some development in that area as well. Australia also serves Church work in the Pacific islands off of Australia, such as Tonga and Vanuatu, where there are congregations.
Recently the Australian church has restructured to better align with the structure of UCGIA. Previously there was no executive position in the Australian church, but there is now a director of operations position that allows the church to function more efficiently. They use bibleanswers.study to position the church as an authority on biblical topics for Web searches.
The meeting was recessed at 2:22 p.m. for a short break.
The meeting reconvened at 3:00 p.m. Chairman Don Ward introduced Tim Pebworth of Oakland, California, and Ben Light of Salem, Oregon, to conduct an interactive presentation called "Engaging Our Youth Through Effective Relationships."
At 4:38 p.m. chairman Don Ward announced the ballot results.
Council of Elders seats:
- Anthony Wasilkoff, international
- Scott Ashley
- Robert Dick
- Len Martin
- Approve the 2018-2019 Strategic Plan - Approved, 238 for; 12 against
- Approve the 2018-2019 Operation Plan - Approved, 231 for; 19 against
- Approve the 2018-2019 Budget - Approved, 228 for; 23 against
- Approve adding Rule 5 Asset Protection to the Rules of Association - Approved, 224 for; 19 against
(This amendment assures that building and land assets are held in the name of UCGIA or an equivalent international associated body.)
- Approve Procedure for Amending the Fundamental Beliefs - Approved, 192 for; 42 against
- Approve amendment to Bylaw 8.4.1 Number of Council Members - Approved, 226 for; 14 against
(This amendment assures that, when a Council member is elected to the Council they retain their domestic or international status through the duration of their term, regardless of relocation or adjustment of duties.)
After the ballot results were announced, Wim Dekker of the Netherlands led the Conference in the closing prayer.