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General Conference of Elders Annual Meeting

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General Conference of Elders Annual Meeting

GCE Meeting Report

After greeting those listening online and making some opening comments, Council Secretary Frank Dunkle introduced Council Chairman Dr. Donald Ward. Dr. Ward’s prerecorded address covered the Church’s raison d’être, our reason for being. He noted that this is equivalent to asking, “Why were you born?” He spoke about the purpose of God, to bring sons and daughters into His family. Dr. Ward urged elders to strive to encourage each member to take his or her ownership of the truth and become a dispenser—one who is ready and willing with his or her feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.

UCG President Victor Kubik then welcomed everyone and remarked that the theme of the 2020 GCE meeting, “Moving Forward with Conviction, Commitment and Courage,” is a perfect theme for the 25th anniversary of UCG, despite the current health crisis that prevented us from holding it in person this year.

He did not believe it was a mistake—God allowed us to have this kind of meeting for the 25th anniversary for a reason, as we commemorate our commitment, convictions and the ability to show courage to the world. He noted that going forward, while we may be redefining and reinventing ourselves, certain things will not change. Doctrinal integrity will always be vital. Mr. Kubik also covered the strategic plan for 2020-2021, spending time on each of the three sections: congregational care, organizational stewardship and public proclamation.

Ministerial and Member Services Operation Manager Mark Welch then gave his address. He thanked the ministers and their wives for their cooperation and wonderful service, hard work and being willing to adapt and be flexible during these difficult times. With Sabbath services temporarily moving to an online format, pastors and elders in various areas have had to adjust to this change while leading their congregations. Mr. Welch mentioned the average U.S. attendance, which was hovering around 6,800 so far in 2020 at the time of the meeting. He noted 36 baptisms so far in 2020, two new ordinations since the February Council meeting and one new recredentialed elder, with two full-time ministerial trainees. He also gave updates to the nine goals presented at the GCE meeting last year.

Media and Communication Services Operation Manager Peter Eddington gave the next address, in which he began with updates on the employees involved with mail processing, print, web and video. He mentioned that responses from programs recorded in the new studio continue to be above what we received with the old studio—we had a record high of 690 total responses to the TV program, “Easter: The Rest of the Story,” which ran April 12-18, 2020. Plans for 2020-2021 include increasing subscribers to Beyond Today, increasing ads in print and digital domains, and ensuring that our message of the gospel is always relevant, compelling and motivational. He also covered results from the recent Beyond Today survey. He asked for prayers that we will be truly effective going into all the world to preach the gospel and that we will be about our Father’s business, preaching the gospel and making disciples.

We have negotiated a price cut with WGN-America, which will take effect on July 5 and drive down the cost-per-response considerably, although it does put us at risk of being replaced. Mr. Eddington also covered Roku app results, which showed an increase in channel installs, videos watched and average minutes on a channel since last April. The Beyond Today YouTube channel has had 12.34 million video views since launching the channel, with 55,300 subscribers and hosting 2,195 videos.

Our website received over 12.65 million unique visitors last year, which is a 20% increase from the year before. Visits were mostly from non-UCG members.

Treasurer Rick Shabi’s address was pre-recorded from Florida. He noted that the current health crisis became a financial crisis very quickly for much of the world. Yet we continue to rely on God to provide. Mr. Shabi addressed a few anticipated questions about the annual budget in light of the crisis, including the effect it could have on our finances. As February (the 8th month of our fiscal year) drew to a close, we were running 3-4% above budget and the same amount above the prior year. We submitted the budget that we did based on these results.

March was very strong financially with general contributions, and we finished the month over both the budget and prior year. As the crisis begins to tighten its grip on America, we recognized that April may have been different. We knew to trust God whether the income was good or poor, and by the morning of Mr. Shabi’s recording (April 27) we had surpassed our budget for April in virtually every category of income.

Mr. Shabi also gave a brief history of UCG’s income over the past 20 fiscal years and presented a slide explaining cash balances as of April 27, 2020. He noted the balanced budget presented to the Council, the external audit, publication of the audit in the January-February 2020 issue of United News and discussed salary ranges of UCG employees.

Following Mr. Shabi’s address, Greg Thomas gave a tribute presentation to the elders and wives who have died in the faith in the past year. Dr. Dunkle then presented the ballot results. He noted that we have had more ballot participation this year than in past years.

The ballot results, which are tabulated by the accounting firm of Clark, Shafer and Hackett, can be found in the table on the top right corner of this page.

The results of the general balloting by the GCE are as follows:

• John Elliott, International representative on the Council

• Aaron Dean, Dan Dowd, and John Miller, U.S. representatives on the Council

Dan Dowd and Aaron Dean were reelected to the Council. John Elliott and John Miller were added. John Elliott pastors congregations in southern British Columbia, Canada and Sedro-Woolley, Washington. He also assists with the Church’s operations in East Africa. John Miller is an elder serving in North Canton, Ohio. He pastored the North Canton congregation and has served in the German work of the Church, both at Ambassador University and in Germany during the formation of UCG.

Women’s Discussion

The annual women’s discusion for the elders’ wives present at the GCE meeting was also held virtually this year.

In an updated online format, the seminars were split into three separate events that were held over Zoom  over the course of three non-consecutive days. The first began on the evening of May 3 with a seminar given by Carol Szymkowiak titled, “Commitment to Our Faith.”

Each discussion began with opening comments from Barb Welch and an introduction of the speaker. The second discussion was on May 11 and delivered by Joy Jones, titled, “Courage to Face Our Doubts.” After the seminar, the Zoom call was broken up into smaller groups for a discussion.

On May 18, Whitney Creech spoke about the “Conviction to Forgive,” followed by another fruitful small group discussion. This format, although different in nature from past GCE weekend workshops, enabled the women to still engage in break-out sessions to brainstorm and discuss before coming back together for some closing remarks from the speaker.

Special thanks to the women’s discussion planning team and Matt Hernandez for designing the discussion sheets.

Council of Elders Meeting: Monday, May 4

Chairman Donald Ward called the session to order and welcomed new Council members John Elliott and John Miller. Council minutes from February were approved, as well as the agenda for this week’s meeting. The president’s report from Victor Kubik covered UCG’s response to coronavirus, noting that we need to be prepared for economic consequences in the future and other scenarios that may occur. There were updates from the Education, Ethics, Roles and Rules, Doctrine, Strategic Planning and Finance committees. Rainer Salomaa presented the Review of Current Council Guidelines, Criteria to be an International Nominee or Representative for the Council and Amendment Committee vacancies. Mario Seiglie led the Doctrine Committee update and Chris Rowland gave an update on Human Resources Policy 2.14.

Council of Elders Meeting: Tuesday, May 5

Chairman Don Ward called the session to order, followed by an executive session with legal updates from Larry Darden. Coming into open session, a presentation facilitated by Bob Dick honored outgoing Council member Rainer Salomaa and outgoing chairman Don Ward for their service while in office. After the presentation to the outgoing elders, the new Council was called to order with John Elliott and John Miller added to the roster. The Council Chairman who has been selected for 2020-2022 is Len Martin. The Deputy Chairman for 2020-2022 is Aaron Dean.

Presentation To the Outgoing Council Members

Bob Dick began and moderated the presentation to the outgoing Council members, Rainer Salomaa and Chairman Donald Ward. He noted that as the international representative, some on the Council may not know Rainer Salomaa as well as Dr. Ward, so he gave a short bio on Mr. Salomaa’s calling and background. He noted that Mr. Salomaa has pastored many churches in Canada, served as a camp coordinator for four years in British Columbia and has spent over 20 years as a festival coordinator in various sites around Canada.

He was also the first editor of what became the United News—Canada at the beginning of UCG. He has been on the National Council since its formation in January 1996 and also served as chairman of the National Council from December 1999 until 2019. He has continued as a Festival coordinator and church pastor. He currently coordinates the Canadian ministerial services team and is coming up with new ideas to better serve the Canadian ministry and members. He has also been the go-to member for Roles and Rules while on the Council of Elders. Diane Bailey, on behalf of the Council of Elders, sent Rainer and Claudia Salomaa a gift card to assist them in enjoying recreational outdoor activities in their retirement.

Mr. Dick noted that normally during this portion of the GCE meeting, the presenter would stand up in front of the hall and present the gift. But with the extraordinary circumstances, via this Zoom call all of the Council members were able to make a comment in more of a conversational style. The men reminisced on some of their experiences with Rainer Salomaa and thanked him for his hard work and service to the Church for so many years.

Mr. Dick then began the presentation to outgoing chairman Dr. Don Ward. He noted that when studying nonprofit boards, a healthy board of directors or administration for nonprofit organizations all have a strong president and a strong chairman.

Those strengths aren’t ones that they pit against each other, but strengths they use in the spirit of iron sharpening iron. He noted that Dr. Ward brought strength to the chairmanship, and the weekly phone call conversation between Dr. Ward and President Victor Kubik has contributed greatly to the spirit and attitude of the Council this year. Dr. Ward’s experience, wisdom and depth of passion will be missed on the Council of Elders. Diane Bailey, on behalf of the Council, commissioned the creation of crystal bookends engraved with the UCG seal as a gift honoring Dr. Ward and his wife, Wanda, for their years of service.

Dr. Ward thanked Mr. Dick and the Council, and commented, “As was mentioned yesterday, the Church, the Council and whole administration has matured quite a bit in many aspects, but we still have a long ways to go and are in the midst of a great trial at this present time. We’ll need all hands on deck and strong leadership from the home office president, ministerial and member services and all down through the various offices that people fulfill.”

Others thanked Dr. Ward for his service, leadership and example over the years, noting that he’s had an impact on them individually as a mentor, and collectively in other aspects of the Church.