A previous article on this group (SN May/June 2001, p. 5) was over-summarized and contained some errors. This article is much better and more accurately describes this interesting study group.
The Long Island COG Fellowship has been meeting since the early nineties. Most of the 10–14 people attending have no previous Church of God background. Yet, they have been observing the Sabbath and Holy days faithfully now, for sometime, as well as learning other new Bible truths. In fact, a couple of members are currently being counseled for baptism (two of the hosts of the group, baptized one of the members a few years back).
Two of the three current hosts of the group go back to the origins of the group, which started in 1993. (They had met at work and when they both discovered each were subscribers to the Plain Truth magazine, they began to study together.) They are Nick Viola and Cathy DeLyra.
In 1997, the group added a third host, named John Marmero, Jr., and this has been the core of the group ever since. John and Nick also both share a corporate/hierarchal Church of God background, having both been members of the WCG, GCG, and CGI respectively (John had also attended CGI’s Imperial Academy back in the mid 90’s, as well as worked for Ron Dart’s CEM). After having gone through the inherent problems of corporate organizations and their stifling politics, they felt it was time they devote their full energies to the COGF and towards focusing on teaching and local evangelism (1Cor 12).
Nick Viola in the early stages of the group, faithfully taught Mrs. DeLyra and her family (including her daughter Louise) the many truths of the Bible as he understood them. Louise had been taking an interest in the studies, since she was 10 years old and now on the verge of her 21st birthday, she is currently counseling for baptism. When asked how the fellowship has been able to reach and attract so many people without a COG background, Nick replied that it was personal contacts and evangelism—“people reaching out to other people”.
Back in the early 90’s, Nick and John were also involved in the beginnings of what would eventually evolve into a local congregation of Rod Meredith’s Global Church of God. This small group had been meeting in a former WCG member’s home, in Babylon, NY, and had been exclusively showing GCG videos each Sabbath, beginning in August 1993.
Nick, while being involved with these two groups (LICOGF & GCG) was also busy at the time, with a third study group, which he helped organize at a local college. Nick had asked Rod Meredith at the time whether he could send out a GCG representative to meet with this college group (as well as the GCG video group in Babylon).
Dave Pack was the minister assigned to come for the visit and he did visit with the GCG group, but not with the college group. He discussed with Nick his feelings on the college group and it was clear that neither the independent study format at the college, nor the T-shirt and jeans Nick wore at the time (Nick had been having financial difficulties at the time) fitted the GCG’s image. Dave Pack told Nick that it was best if he quit the local evangelism he had been doing at the time (which involved about 32 members who attended the college group) and that he should disband the group and tell them that he (Nick) had no authority to preach, because he had no authority or credentials from Global to do so.
[I was working for the GCG headquarters at this time and remember hearing about this from the office—I thought it was sad that the GCG could not work with Nick Viola, but I had no idea that the group broke up. — NSE]
Before leaving to fly home, Dave Pack hugged Nick and told him to just hand out GCG literature to the college group and have them send their tithes and offerings to the GCG headquarters. After having been built from the ground up through Nick and then having been rejected by Global, the group became disheartened, and Nick says they gradually dispersed. The irony of all this is that Rod Meredith instructed Dave Pack to directly meet with this college study group, but instead, Pack took it upon himself to judge the group according to Nick’s appearance and never met with them.
Comment: This writer recalls Ron Dart of Christian Educational Ministries mentioning several times, that even though the WCG spent hundreds of millions of dollars on TV, radio and advertising, nevertheless about one half of new members came as a result of personal evangelism, a member bringing someone else into the church.
The Long Island Fellowship study is completely interactive, anyone is free to speak on a pre-determined broad subject. The members feel very strongly that “iron does sharpen iron”. The group also believes in testimonies and prayer requests from its members, showing that we are living epistles of Christ and that much of biblical Christianity is “showing by example”. Nick also mentioned that he feels it is important to establish in prospective members, why God is there, before getting into a lot of “do’s and don’ts”.
Their meetings start with group prayer (and this includes women praying as well). The group feels that this is an important and especially rewarding part of their study. The group prayers can sometimes last as long as 15 minutes and it brings a welcome feeling of peace to start the meeting.
The fellowship is currently working on the finances to develop and support its own website. It also has plans to advertise Tom Justus’ old WCG booklets (these are no longer under copyright and hence available for any group to use) in local papers and circulars on Long Island, e.g. The Pennysaver.
Visitors (space permitting) are welcome and Nick has stated he is open to visiting people in their homes, or public places, if they so choose. He even said he would be willing to travel as far away as 200 miles, if someone requested it.
The LICOGF can be contacted via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing: LICOGF, P.O. Box 396, N. Massapequa, NY 11758-0396.
— John Marmero, Jr