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GCE 2015 Live Blog

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At 9:02 a.m. Eastern, Council of Elders chairman Robin Webber called the 20th meeting of the General Conference of Elders to session. After a few introductory welcome comments, He called upon Phil Aust, an elder from Georgia, to open the session in prayer.

The 2014 meeting minutes were approved. The first item on the agenda was a presentation honoring Bob and Evelyn Fahey of Chicago, Illinois, for their 50 years of faithful service to God and His Church.

Next newly ordained elders and wives were introduced to the assembly. New elders include Tom and Jody Adams, Vivien and Cathy Botha, Graham and Heather Cowley, Rod and Tammy Foster, Gabriel and Andrea Garcia, Todd and Susie Herridge, Benjamin and Shannon Light, Arlindo and Iracema Lima, David and Kimberly Nunn, Alfred and Edith Siame, John and Peggy Yule, and Jerry and Ellie Zemlicka. 

Mr. Webber then called upon Victor Kubik, president of UCG, to honor Church retirees and employees who have reached significant employment anniversaries. Retirees are Steve and Evelyn Shafer and Noel and Becky Horner. Those honored for significant work anniversaries include John Elliott, Alec Surratt and Jim Tuck, Randy D'Alessandro, Joe Dobson and John Labissoniere, for 40 years of service; Gary Petty and Connie Seelig, for 30 years; Barbara Antion for 20 years; and Dan Dowd, Linda Wasilkoff and Moise Mabout, for 10 years.

At 9:22 a.m. the ballot for Council of Elders selections was taken. This was followed by the ballot on the various business items at 9:26. After the ballot was taken Mr. Webber began his chairman's address.

Chairman's address—Robin Webber

Council chairman Robin Webber stressed that we need to continue to develop the positive environment of love and mutual respect so that we may continue to grow in the Spirit of God. He said the Church needs to be looking up and leaning forward. We have a chance now to look back at the past 20 years and learn lessons that we can take forward into the future. We are celebrating this weekend, but we're not celebrating ourselves. We're celebrating the love, patience and blessing of God and Jesus Christ that have brought us this far.

When UCG was founded we were looking to Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church—not to any man—to lead us forward. He alone paved the way for everything we have done in 20 years. He provided the hope we needed at that time. We are His servants, and as God has provided we have continued to serve in His name. We continue to provide service and leadership for congregations across the world. We continue to provide Feast sites where people can convene to worship God. We have continued to provide opportunities for our youth in the camp program. We have continued to do these things only because of God's blessing.

Twenty years ago we were only beginning this journey in the United Church of God. We codified a set of beliefs and created a governance structure to safeguard those beliefs and our community. But those things weren't an end to themselves. They were just the beginning of the work of the Church.

Robin Webber

Mr. Webber points out that those things are of no value if our hearts are not surrendered to God's Word and His Spirit. We continue the work of examining ourselves in the mirror of Scripture to ensure that our hearts are aligned with God's plan for our lives.

He says that unity is not just superficial conformity, it's something that comes from spiritual maturity. It's a characteristic of a godly heart. Those who are growing in this Church and those who are coming to us for guidance deserve our best effort in walking "according to the calling of which you were called" (Ephesians 4:1). The apostle Paul made sure that we knew there is one calling, one Lord, one hope, one faith and one baptism that we hold to. We dedicate ourselves to that God and to that calling.

He exhorts the assembly that as we move forward we need to look above and keep our eyes and hearts focused on our God. He tells us, "Follow me."

Church president Victor Kubik then took the stage for his address.

President's address—Victor Kubik

Mr. Kubik begins by thanking everyone for their service in making this event happen. He also expresses his appreciation that he has such a good working relationship with the Council of Elders and the various operation managers in managing the daily work of the Church.

He expresses excitement about new opportunities in both media proclamation and ministerial service that will propel the Church forward into the future. We want to make certain that the Church and Beyond Today as its media arm are recognizable to the general public as we preach the gospel. We are in the process of consolidating our media presence under the Beyond Today identity, with print, television and Web content to be presented as Beyond Today content.

Our media is very balanced and spread across many different technologies and platforms to be most easily accessible to the greatest number of people. We're very excited about our new website, which just recently launched. UCG.org is now mobile friendly, which is an absolute necessity in taking the gospel message to the largest number of people possible. We want to continue making UCG and Beyond Today the go-to place for biblical answers.

Victor Kubik

We're in a place where we have the chance to make some very positive and forward-looking changes. We will be adding ministerial support for our congregations and developing new ministerial trainees who will be hired in the future. We'll have opportunities for those who may be ordained in the future to serve in a training capacity. Ambassador Bible College will be further developed as a place of biblical learning and training in service and leadership. We're looking into it being accredited for international students to be able to more easily come and learn as well.

We're truly an international association. The room today is filled with people from all over the world, all dedicated to the same purpose of service to God and one another. We can have hope in that purpose despite the headlines that fill the news every day. He encouraged us to pray for God's blessing and continue His work in preaching the gospel and preparing a people.

After the president's address Robin Webber took the stage again to dismiss the assembly for a short break.

Robin Webber reconvened the meeting at 10:46 a.m. He introduced Church treasurer Rick Shabi for his address.

Treasurer's address—Rick Shabi

Mr. Shabi begins by expressing that we need to be deeply thankful to God for His sustaining blessings. We're in an excellent place financially, and we should be thankful for times of abundance. He references 2 Chronicles 26:5. The verse holds great instruction for us in making sure that we are seeking God's will and obeying Him in all we do. That's the best practice in assuring financial stability.

Our internal audit showed no internal deficiencies in practice, meaning that the Church is well run, with everyone doing their job properly. This assures financial transparency and wise use of God's blessings. We consider our funds to be God's money, so we make sure that we are using what He gives us and allows us to use in the best possible way to serve Him and His people

Overall our cash balances are doing very well, with strong increases across the board. Our good financial position enables us to better fulfill our mission, which is to preach the gospel, prepare a people for God and care for the disciples that He calls. 

He thanks the rest of the financial services staff for their quality work and dependability. They work well as a team and together assure the proper use of God's funds.

At 11:13 a.m. Roy Holladay took the stage for his address.

Ministerial and Member Services address—Roy Holladay

Mr. Holladay says that the ministry have been called to a unique responsibility in the Church. They are called to be helpers and servants of the membership and those whom God calls. There are 366 elders in the United Church of God, with 283 in the United States and 83 in international areas. There are 87 U.S. congregation pastors. We see a larger number this year due to the newly ordained men we introduced earlier.

There are 196 congregations in the U.S, and we had 131 baptisms in the past year. We are planting the seeds of growth through our gospel proclamation efforts and our work to provide good service and leadership for our congregations across the world. We are working to be ready for a greater response to God's message in the future.

Mr. Holladay emphasizes the work that is underway in the leadership training and development department. We are at a confluence of three major trends in the Church: retirement, education and leadership development. There is a continual need to train and develop new ministers, refresh current ministers and train new leaders. A new training plan is being started, in which men will be pastors-in-training, with the eventual goal of being used as church pastors. We have great opportunities ahead of us as we work to fulfill God's commission to make disciples and care for those disciples.

Media and Communication Services address—Peter Eddington

Mr. Eddington begins by playing a short video that introduces the new site and describes the major changes from the last version. Highlights are the mobile-friendly, adaptive design that scales to any size screen, from smart phone to tablet to desktop monitor.

Mr. Eddington says that we're much better positioned for the future with the launch of the new, mobile-friendly UCG.org. In addition, we're working hard to get on as many streaming platforms as possible in the coming year. We've heard stories of users finding the gospel truth almost accidentally by coming across our content on streaming platforms. There are many opportunitities in streaming services that can get Beyond Today content into many more households across the world than ever before possible.

We have the most coworkers on file that we've ever had in UCG's history, showing that people are able to connect with our message and are looking for ways to become a part of the mission of the Church. We pray for God's continued blessing in taking His Word to a world that so desperately needs it.

Mr. Webber called on Shannon Lucas to dismiss the assembly for the lunch break.

The meeting reconvened at 1:30 p.m., with Council chairman Robin Webber calling upon Jorge DeCampos of Cincinnati, Ohio, to open the afternoon session in prayer. He then introduces Ken Martin of Georgia to lead a presentation to honor recently deceased elders and wives.

Those honored include Angie Erickson, Robert Happel, Al Mischnick, Primrose Mukarati, Norm Myers, Francis Northrip, Paula Olson, Tom Peine, Rita Stitt, and Ron Woodbridge.

Mr. Webber then took the stage to introduce 

International reports

Canada—Rainer Salomaa

The Canadian national office of UCG has eight total employees, two full-time and six part-time. Anthony Wasilkoff is the director of operations, Edwin van Pelt is the treasurer, and Dale van Zant is the HR manager.

Average church attendance is 525 for the past four years, and there are over 20,000 Canadian Good News subscribers. There have been over 40,000 responses to Beyond Today TV over the past 10 years.

Ghana and Nigeria—Paul Moody

Paul Moody from Spokane, Washington, followed with the report on the Church in Ghana and Nigeria. Mark Mickelson, a Council of Elders member from Washington, is the senior pastor of the region, and Benjamin Agyapong of Ghana is the pastor for several of the Ghanaian congregations.

The United Youth Camps program in Ghana and Nigeria are very successful and gives Church youth there opportunities they wouldn't otherwise be able to have.

Brazil—Jorge DeCampos

Jorge DeCampos points out that it is not the Portuguese language work, it is God's work in Portuguese. The vast majority of the Portuguese work takes place in Brazil. There is currently a religious revival of a type in Brazil, with many different types of religions, including outright paganism, becoming very popular. This is both an opportunity and a challenge in preaching the gospel message.

French language—Tim Pebworth

Tim Pebworth of San Jose, California, along with his wife Maryse, serve in the French-speaking areas. There are 5,500 Bonnes Nouvelles subscriptions sent to individuals in 51 countries. There are 180 French-speaking brethren in Africa, along with several in Quebec, Canada, as well. We just recently have congregations in Cote D'Ivoire as well, where there are 70 members.

British Isles—David Fenney

United Church of God in the British Isles operates on its own national council with five executive members and three non-executive advisors. The council serves eight congregations across the British Isles, with an additional congregation that meets every other Sabbath. The Church in Britain is looking to develop more helpers to serve the membership and preach the gospel more effectively.

After a short break Robin Webber introduced the keynote speaker Don Ward.

Keynote: "The Trunk of the Tree"—Don Ward

Dr. Ward begins by commenting that the spirit and conversation at this year's meeting is one of the best he's seen in his years in the Church. He says that we who have been given the precious gift of God's Word must struggle for the truth.

The purpose of this conference is to stir us up to labor in the Word and stay close to the "trunk of the tree." The trunk of the tree is the set of beliefs that is necessary and essential for salvation. That is what must be clung to at all costs. We must struggle for that truth.

The first article of faith is in Hebrews 11:6—We must believe that God is. He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. This is the first great truth. Other great truths: Who is God? What is God? What is God's purpose? Who is man? What is man's purpose? What must one do to inherit the Kingdom of God? The answers to these questions are available in God's Word, which we hold dear and precious.

Don Ward

Our great future is to be part of God's family along with God the Father and Jesus Christ. God is love, and love is His motivation in sharing Himself and His nature with mankind.

The ministry has a God-given responsibility to read the Bible and teach the brethren sound doctrine. We must not be thrown around by every wind of doctrine. We must cling to and be willing to give our lives for the trunk of the tree.

Mr. Webber took the stage at 4:03 p.m. to introduce Roy Holladay once again.

Laboring in the Word—Roy Holladay

Mr. Holladay said that it is the responsibility of Ministerial and Member Services to make sure that the theme and focus of the General Conference of Elders meeting doesn't get forgotten moving forward. We have the responsibility of preaching the Word. Our preaching needs to be true and accurate—exactly what the Scripture says.

We also have a responsibility to provide good spiritual food to the Church and to the world. It should be a balanced biblical diet that nourishes their spiritual lives.

Mr. Holladay reintroduces Dr. Ward to finish up the discussion, since he is heading up the educational initiative.

Dr. Ward says that we have the challenge of helping the Church accomplish its vision and mission. There are four basic areas to the initiative. There will be a series of courses on biblical topics available for the ministry. This will act as a "refresher" program to establish sound biblical teachings. There will also be classes available about pastoral care.

He hopes we will all read the Bible afresh and read it for what it says and preach the pure truth of God's Word.

Robin Webber took the floor once more to announce the ballot results.

Ballot results—Robin Webber

Approve 2015 Strategic Plan—Yes 229-14

Approve 2015 Operation Plan—Yes 220-22

Approve 2015-2016 Fiscal Budget—Yes 219-24

Approve Proposed Amended Bylaws—Yes 169-49

Approve Proposed Amended Bylaw Article 12.0: Amendments—Yes 180-31

Procedure for Amending Constitution, Bylaws and Rules of Association—Yes 184-31

Approve Amendment Constitution Section 1.2.4: General Conference of Elders—Yes 204-22

Approve Amendment Constitution Section 3.2: Functions Within the Church—Yes 199-24

Approve Amendment Constitution Section 3.2.2: The Local Congregation—Yes 197-29

Approve Amendment Constitution Section 4.10: Attendance at Meetings of the General Conference—Yes 207-15

Approve Procedure for Appealing Suspension or Expulsion From the General Conference of Elders—Yes 200-21

Council of Elders Seats

International representative—Anthony Wasilkoff

United States representatives—Bob Dick, Mark Mickelson, Scott Ashley

The meeting recessed for the day at 4:40 p.m.