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General Conference of Elders Returns to Form With In-Person Meetings

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General Conference of Elders Returns to Form With In-Person Meetings

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Eastgate, Ohio—On May 14-16, 2022, United Church of God held its annual meeting of the General Conference of Elders at the Holiday Inn Eastgate. After being held virtually for two years due to the pandemic, the more than 250 elders, wives and home office support staff in attendance appreciated the opportunity to spend time together and attend the meetings in person this year.

After a dessert reception on Friday night, May 13, members of the GCE attended a Sabbath morning elders’ study given by Gary Petty. Afternoon Sabbath services were held at the Holiday Inn and brethren from the Cincinnati area joined members of the GCE to worship.

The GCE meeting proper began with a dinner on Saturday evening attended by elders, wives and some home office support staff, after which Council of Elders Chairman Len Martin opened the night by introducing the ministerial recognitions. Elders who had been ordained since the last GCE meeting were announced along with their wives. This was followed by the ministerial recognition for those who had been ordained for 25 years, 40 years and 50 years. The honorees received gifts of appreciation on behalf of the GCE, and a floral arrangement was also delivered to those who were unable to physically be in attendance.

For those who were ordained 50 years, Len Martin took several minutes for a brief presentation, which included ordination date and reflective comments from those who were honored. Photos of the couple throughout the years were shown on a slideshow as Mr. Martin read comments and background history. Also honored at this ceremony were those who had retired in the past year, and those who received recognitions for being employed 10, 20, and 40 years.

After the recognition, the couples who were honored for 50 years of ordination joined the stage where a group photo was taken with  Council Chairman Len Martin and Ministerial and Member Services Operations Manager Mark Welch.

Sunday reports, Balloting and Keynote Address

On Sunday morning Council Chairman Len Martin took the stage to confirm the meetings from the last Council of Elders session before Council Secretary Frank Dunkle began the balloting process. Then-treasurer Rick Shabi presented the financial report from the fiscal year 2021-2022. He commented that God had richly blessed us even through difficult times with COVID-19. He also shared that 45% of our funds so far go towards congregational care, 25% towards preaching the gospel, 9% towards international support, and 21% towards administrative support.

Len Martin returned for his Chairman’s address, and noted that the GCE planning committee, which had been formed in December of 2020, had developed activities for the weekend. A change this year was the elimination of a formal Question & Answer session, replaced by an interactive option within many of the seminars using the Kahoot! app.

Truth in Love and the Ephesians Framework

After a break, Council Members Brian Shaw and Aaron Dean gave a seminar about speaking the truth in love. Mr. Shaw noted that people were looking for truth, lovingly applied. Paul helped the Ephesians see how they were part of the Church even though they weren’t Jews. Mr. Shaw quoted retired pastor Bob Dick, saying, “We have to become a work before we can do a work.” He posed a question to the audience: How can this concept help us find a path towards maturity as an organization? The word for truth used in Ephesians 4:15 includes a sense of action—living the truth, or “truthing.” He noted that the mission and vision of UCG haven’t changed, but we’re working on understanding how to navigate the path, how to provide the best spiritual nourishment to members. They asked questions of the audience throughout the presentation and used the Kahoot! app to receive input from the audience in real time and generate a graph of the results.

After a short break, Scott McKeon took the stage with Darris McNeely and Dan Dowd to introduce the review of the strategic plan, which had been informed by the Ephesians Framework.

Mr. McNeely emphasized that we must be a work before we can do a work and paraphrased Ephesians 2:10. He said, “We want to see fruit being born in the lives of our people, and at various stages of development with people on this ladder of engagement.”

Scott McKeon provided some background about the strategic plan, which helps measure how we can best use time and resources.

Dan Dowd commented on the fact that all Christian denominations currently struggle with retention. We try to ground our young people by showing them that God’s way of life works. The retention rate of youth in UCG is currently 78%, which is relatively high, but we want to improve and further refine and maximize this number.

After another break, attendees had the choice to attend three interactive seminars. Philip Aust’s media seminar covered how elders, members and new or potential members use UCG media. He discussed how content can be improved to more effectively preach the gospel. Mark Welch spoke on congregational care. A major emphasis revolved around mentoring people in congregations to be leaders and possibly future pastors. Ben Light presented a list of five questions that all revolved around identifying and preparing the next generation of the ministry. They noted that due to planned retirements in the next four years there will be 20 pastoral vacancies, so preparing men for the future of the ministry is imperative. The third seminar, focused on UCG governance, was presented by Keith Wilson. The interactive session discussed unity and governance, touching on how Church leadership handled COVID-19 restrictions and varying requirements. Various people offered thoughts and reflections for a beneficial discussion on navigating different situations as leaders.

After another break, everyone gathered back in the main hall for the Tribute to Deceased Elders and Wives, which was presented by Greg Thomas. He ended by saying, “Let us, the living, never forget their self-sacrifice, and follow their examples of loyalty and faith.”

Ballot Results

After the presentation, Council Secretary Frank Dunkle reported the results of the balloting.

International—Jorge de Campos

U.S.—Darris McNeely, Mario Seiglie, Rex Sexton

Strategic Plan—Approved (165 yes, 95 no)

Operation plan—Passed (210 yes, 57 no)

Fiscal budget—Passed (237 yes, 31 no)

Constitutional amendment 5.1.1—Passed (207 yes, 59 no)

Chairman Len Martin gave concluding comments and announcements before Ken Skorseth closed the day in prayer.

Monday’s Breakout Sessions and Discussions

On Monday, media presentations were provided by Dr. Philip Aust and virtually by Dr. Steven Britt, in which they presented the quantitative data from the Kahoot! session the day before. Dr. Britt noted that the vast majority agreed that the Internet was an effective way to reach people, perhaps more than radio and even TV. Dr. Aust presented word clouds based on the frequency of specific results. He noted that in our Ted Talk world, many members wanted content that was shorter and more bite-sized.

Overall, the 2022 meeting of the General Conference of Elders provided a weekend of connection, growth and cooperation. A spirit of unity was evident and attendees left with a renewed zeal to go forward, preaching the gospel and preparing a people.