Seven Local UCG-AIA Congregations Yield Lessons

The following accounts are factual to the best of our knowledge, but we do not have the space to include the dozens of pages of letters or conversation transcripts to prove the issues. We encourage anyone who doubts any of these stories to talk to the people involved. The person listed under "Info" after each story can help you obtain documents or contact any of the people involved. We think you will find them friendly and helpful. You may contact the UCG-AIA by calling 818-294-0800. After each story, we give lessons that we hope will be helpful to ministers and members.

We believe most of the UCG-AIA difficulties are due to a vast difference in opinion as to what the Eternal wants. The home office staff, and to a lesser degree, the ministry tend to believe that "God has put them in their position and that whatever they do must be in accordance with His will because He is not stopping them from doing it." Almost any action—including lying—can be justified from this theory. On the other hand, the membership, and to a lesser degree the ministry, see the example of the Worldwide Church of God as proof that God does not always correct the ministry. We try to avoid condemning individuals, but sometimes the facts speak so strongly that it just happens. —NSE

UCG Accidentally Creates Home Fellowship in Minneapolis

Apparently, it all started when a mother brought her pre-kindergarten boy to a Sabbath-school class and asked if she could remain in the class with him to give him confidence. The teacher told the mother that if the child was not ready to stay in class without his mother, that he could not be in class. Devastated, the mother sought the help of a member of the Minneapolis congregationís board and advisory council, Tim Lindholm. Later on, the local minister, Jim Servidio, told Tim Lindholm that his attempt to intercede for the mother was a sin.

Clashes continued on other issues such as "are members allowed to sit in and listen to board meetings," and "can members attend Bible studies not sponsored by UCG-AIA." Later, the churchís local board was dissolved without the knowledge of some of the board members. Finally, on June 4, 1997 Jim Servidio wrote a letter to four families telling them that they either had to promise to abide by 8 points in the letter or leave the congregation. These points essentially stated that the UCG-AIA hierarchy is Godís way of dealing with His people, and anyone having any disagreements with anything done there may not speak to anyone about it but the minister or his superiors. The letter clearly stated that many of the changes that these families desired would probably never be implemented.

The four families never expected to be "kicked out" in this fashion; none of them intended to start their own group. Later, they asked Jim Servidio if they could appeal the decision, but he declined to meet with them. As this goes to press, a meeting is scheduled with two UCG-AIA headquarters representatives.

A few weeks after the letter was sent, the four families began meeting each Sabbath, rotating homes and responsibilities. There were 23 attending regularly; upon seeing Servidioís letter, several others decided to leave UCG-AIA. Each week, a different family was the facilitator—responsible for selecting a sermon tape or guest speaker, selecting songs, planning a potluck, etc. After four months, there are over 40 regularly attending, and they have had to find a hall. As many as 70 have attended, coming from UCG-AIA, CGI, WCG, and other groups. This small fellowship is now thinking about what they can do to reach out to serve and/or teach others During the same time, the UCG-AIA congregation has dropped from 140 down to about 110.

Lesson for ministry: If a ministerís goal is a congregation that is obedient to the home office, writing an ultimatum to "independently thinking members" is probably a favor to everyone involved. Each group can then go about the business of doing what they believe is right. If a minister is interested in keeping his congregation intact, ultimatums are probably not a good idea.

Lesson for members: We attribute the success of this new group to the humble, but capable people who needed a place to fellowship. There was no one who wanted to "lead a group." Others need to realize that they do not need a dynamic leader or a powerful speaker to start a local fellowship, but only a desire to serve the Eternal and the faith to act on that desire.

Info: Tim Lindholm, 612-525-5012.

Elkhart Congregation Splits Up

As new and often unwelcome doctrines were being dispensed from the WCG in 1994, many members in the Elkhart, Indiana congregation realized that they could not continue there. Steve Shepherd had already resigned from the full-time WCG ministry and was intending to move to Oregon for business interests. Many of the Elkhart brethren formed an independent congregation (before UCG-AIA), asked Steve Shepherd to pastor it, and then asked him to represent them at the Indianapolis UCG-founding conference. He produced tapes of his sermons, many of which are still sought out and heard by hundreds of people far away from Indiana. He gained a reputation as a strong Bible teacher.

As the months moved on, the UCG-AIA and the Elkhart congregation had disagreements. Near the end of 1996, Steve Shepherd resigned from the full-time UCG ministry, never spoke strongly for or against UCG-AIA, continued to serve locally, but also made it clear that he would eventually move to Oregon. The Elkhart group became quite divided. Some wanted to completely unite with UCG-AIA, others wanted to become totally independent, and some were "in the middle." During the spring of 1997, the congregation broke up. People scattered in several directions. A considerable amount of "hard-feelings" still exist within each group and between the groups. Steve Shepherd preached Holy Day sermons for the new independent groups and speaks at Sabbath services sometimes—but is still planning to move to Oregon.

Lessons for ministry: 1) Once you are not dependent on a church organization for a paycheck, you are free to serve any brethren in any way you believe the Eternal wants. 2) Be definite in how you will serve brethren. If job duties or other things greatly limit your service, make a clean break and encourage members to establish leadership in addition to your own.

Lessons for members: 1) A very gifted leader that is not strongly committed to a local group may be worse than a less-skilled leader or no leader at all. 2) Even if you do not agree on organization, do not loose your love for the brethren.

Info: John Davis, 219-267-7519.

Pastor Fired, Keeps on Serving Florida Congregations

Ron Smith was the UCG-AIA pastor in Miami and West Palm Beach Florida. These congregations had 40 and 120 people at their highest points. He knew that many in his congregation had suffered from heavy-handed leadership before, and was determined not to let it happen again. When he refused to promote the home office over the individual needs of the members, he fell into disfavor with the "home office." In November, 1996, a visiting minister discredited him in his congregation and the next day his termination letter was read to him over the phone (he never received a copy). However, he continued to attend UCG-AIA services and attempted to use the UCG-AIA "appeal process," but nothing was done for six months. When the home office discovered that Ron Smith had kept Passover at a different time than UCG-AIA prescribes, they told him he was being removed from the general conference of elders for violating the constitution. (Do the home office staff remove themselves when they violate the constitution?)

Ron Smith now earns a living from construction contracting, and serves a congregation of about 28. Sometimes he speaks, but they play a variety of tapes. They always have discussions and interactive Bible study. Most of them went to the Feast this year with Christian Educational Ministries. In August, the UCG-AIA assigned these two congregations to Richard Rand to pastor— now about 30 people in each. About 50 people have been "lost" from the area.

Lessons for ministry: 1) Same as previous story. 2) If you know that you are going to separate from Arcadia, do it quickly. Prolonged periods of disagreement just tend to scatter a group.

Lesson for members: Even former "hierarchical ministers" can learn to run services on a more Biblical basis.

Info: Ron Smith, 561-642-8953.

Pastor Resigns, Keeps Serving in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania

In January of this year, Ron Weinland sent a letter to the UCG-AIA elders showing how the home office staff was not attempting to run the organization by the constitution and bylaws, but was ignoring them or manipulating them on numerous occasions in order to run the organization the way they wanted to. We cannot list all of the difficulties, but the main one was $3,000,000 that was supposed to be in reserves at the end of 1996, but had been spent. While there may have been good reasons to spend some of that money, the home office made no apparent effort to have the general conference of elders approve an updated budget (the constitution provides a way to "vote from home" without a big meeting). In almost any other corporation, leaders responsible for such overspending would probably be fired. Ron Weinland thought that something might be done at the Louisville conference but nothing was. He formally requested that the UCG-AIACouncil of Elders ask the president and treasurer to step down, but he was ignored.

On May 26th, he wrote a resignation letter expressing these and other difficulties and sent it to his congregation. Most of the 70-member Toledo, Ohio congregation continues to meet with him (a few sought out other UCG-AIA congregations). About 35 members of the Detroit congregation meet with him every other week (60 remained in a UCG-AIA congregation now run by Randy DelAssandro). Ron also serves a 7-member group in Meadville, Penn. and about 25 in Cincinnati, Ohio. These congregations are able to financially support Ron Weinland, though at a lower level than the UCG-AIA. The format of services is still the traditional form. The brethren attended this past Feast with a variety of groups.

Lessons for ministry: 1) When you perceive difficulty, clearly state your case to everyone involved. Give them time to understand it, think about it and change their minds. But if they have thought about it and have not changed their minds, do not wait around hoping that they still might. Take action! 2) If you hope to be supported by an independent group, be prepared to work hard and accept what the Eternal provides for you.

Lesson for members: You may not agree with everything that a group is doing when it splits away. However, be patient and wait. Now, at least, there is someone locally who can hear you and make changes if you can show him from the scriptures. This is a vast improvement over sending a paper to a home office doctrinal team and waiting for numerous years for a reply.

Info: Ron Weinland, 419-872-2444.

Small Charleston Group Thinks Big

The United Church of God, Southern West Virginia began before the UCG-AIA, with about 30 people. One of the members, Gary McClure, was anxious for the end of the lease of the 400-person-capacity room he owned as a part of his office space. He wanted to drop the lease with the WCG and begin it with the UCG-AIA. But before that could happen, they ran into trouble over the issue of governance. George Hampton made some proposals for changes to the local bylaws, and immediately was suspended from all congregational duties. Apparently, there was no room to discuss things. So 9 people decided to continue as an independent congregation—meeting in the 400-person facility.

But they are not letting the room go to waste. They are organizing special Sabbaths: inviting guest speakers and all of the Sabbath-keepers they know from surrounding states. Even some UCG-AIA brethren come. It is the only time they get to see some of their old friends. They are discussing public evangelism as well.

Lesson for everybody: Whatever gifts or capabilities you have, use them!

Info: George Hampton, 304-586-3070

Waco Group Gradually Separates

The Waco, Texas congregation was largely happy with their full-time pastor, Mark Gully, though a few complained to Arcadia about him because they felt he was not loyal enough to Arcadia. Several members of the congregation obtained assurance from UCG-AIA management that they would be consulted before any replacement was chosen. Several weeks later, with no consultation, the UCG-AIA announced that Don Hooser would become the new Waco pastor (adding it to his Dallas congregations) and Mark Gully would become unpaid (since he turned down an offer to transfer to El Paso).

Ben Mauldin, a local elder, proposed to the local board that they keep Mark Gully on as an unpaid pastor, thus saving UCG some expense. The Waco board agreed, and the congregation voted 38 to 18 to accept this proposal. The UCG-AIA refused to accept any of these proposals, so those interested in retaining Mark Gully began to hold services at a different time in the same building. The UCG-AIA removed Ben Mauldinís "eldership," but he is appealing that decision. One UCG-AIA administrator sent him a document describing the appeal process, another told him that no such document existed.

The five local board members and families continue to attend both services, hoping that a means of keeping the congregation together could be found. Don Hooser continued to give sermons based around the theme "good fences make good neighbors." As we go to press, the UCG-AIA group found another hall to meet in, so the groups will divide up the sound system and other equipment and become separate: about 25 with UCG-AIA and 50 (including the Gully family) with the independent group.

Lesson for everyone: The pastor did not play the main role in this situation, but rather the local board and the whole congregation, which was informed every step of the way. Most of the neutral people (those who were neither pro-UCG-AIA nor pro-independent) decided to attend the independent congregation after seeing how UCG-AIA management dealt with them.

Info: Ben Mauldin, 254-982-4500.

Kansas City Restarts 3rd Time

For many years, the four Kansas City WCG congregations were close-knit, participating in many combined activities. As new doctrines came rolling out of WCG headquarters, two congregations pushed to accept them, two disagreed. Over 300 brethren left to start an independent congregation. A WCG minister agreed to become the pastor of the group and promised that he not join any other group without discussions with the board. However, one Sabbath early in 1995, the pastor simply announced that they were now a Global Church of God congregation. About 100 members, including most of the groupís organizers, found this and other decisions unacceptable, and started a new independent congregation. The newly formed United Church of God agreed to provide a pastor to handle spiritual issues, and agreed to let their board handle the physical issues. Two years later, the new UCG-AIA pastor insisted "If he does not have the right to over-rule any decision of the board, he cannot pastor the church."

Because of this and other issues, the same organizers have started an independent congregation for the third time—this one will stay independent. About 40 members are attending. They used their new freedom to combine Feast of Trumpets services with a Church of God Outreach Ministries group—70 people attended. They are planning more combined activities with other Sabbath-keeping groups—even the ones from which they split away. A great effort is being made to avoid grudges over past problems.

A combination of live messages and tapes are used in their services. A community outreach ministry is being planned.

Lesson for ministry: Ministers should be prepared to keep promises made to individuals and organizations, or else they should not make them. How can a group of people sit and learn righteousness from someone who, in their view, does not always practice it?

Lesson for members: You can still maintain friendships with other Sabbath-keepers even though you are in different groups. It may not always be easy-going, but do not give up.

Info: Leonard Cacchio, 816-524-2442.

&


A Sure Way to Help the UCG-AIA move to Cincinnati.

Even though the General Conference voted to move the home office to Cincinnati, the UCG-AIA management seems reluctant to move. They have estimated the cost at $350,000, but have only about $100,000 in the budget (part of which has come from specially designated offerings sent by members). One local UCG-AIA congregation is working on a plan (to be announced) to reduce the cost of the move. Two other local UCG-AIA congregations are independently collecting pledges and funds to pay for the move:

 

United Church of God, Terre Haute

PO Box 476

Greencastle, IN 46135

 

United Church of God, Albuquerque

1031 Coors Rd NW Suite 1-2-713

Albuquerque, NM 87114

 

A pledge made to one of these congregations is a firm promise to contribute money for the move in the Spring of 1998 (provided a definite moving plan is in place). It gives everyone a much better way to estimate how much money will be available for the move without keeping it "tied up." Those wishing to contribute this year should do so directly to the Arcadia office, marking the item: "restricted for home-office relocation." (If you make a pledge and then later decide to send the money, please send it to the same address you made the pledge—otherwise, it will probably be counted twice.) Both of the above organizations can issue tax-deductible receipts for money actually received.

The pledge drive has just begun, and already over $22,000 has been pledged.

 

An old man once said: "ĎChurch of Godí members have always had a vote—their money. They could send it all to the fund or organization of their choice."

That manís son said, "If a Church executive can decide that God approves him spending His tithe on a first-class airline ticket, can a member decide that God approves him sending His tithe to help move an office to a place where it will cost much less to operate?"

—Norman S. Edwards


The Good, the Bad and the Silent

When congregations go through difficulties and split up, many friendships suffer. Here are three true stories of what can happen in these difficult situations.

I was talking to a friend who was a member in a large congregation who left the Worldwide Church of God in early 1995 for doctrinal reasons. This man did much of the accounting and other organizational work to help start this new independent congregation of several hundred people. The pastor told them that they would all discuss options for affiliation with a bigger group, but then one Sabbath, the Pastor announced that they were a Global Church of God (GCG) congregation. About 100 brethren took exception to this and other problems, and formed a new independent congregation. Again, my friend did much work to help form it. They asked the UCG-AIA to provide them a pastor and received certain promises of how the congregation would be run. Later, the UCG-AIA reneged on those promises, and so my friend, again worked to form another independent congregation. When I made a negative comment about the GCG pastor, he corrected me "No, Norm, we are still working hard to maintain friendships with all of these groups. I had lunch with [that pastor] just a few days ago. The members of Sabbath-keeping groups still get together for various activities and we want to keep it that way." My friend was right. Even though he had worked hard and suffered much in the breakup of congregations, he was still trying and succeeding at maintaining friendships in all of the groups.

An older separated lady, whom we will call Priscilla, stopped attending with the Worldwide Church of God in 1983 and the Church of God International in 1995. She attended only with a small independent group, but recently became a Servantsí News subscriber and wrote about eight "scattered brethren contact postcards"—asking us to forward them to readers near her. She made several new friends from her effort, but one recipient, whom we will call Isabel, became very upset. Isabel called me and asked why we sent a postcard "from a single lady to her husband." After a minute of talking, we agreed that Priscillaís writing was not a romantic solicitation and that she had no way of knowing the gender of the people who would receive her cards. I said that if I received a card from a woman, I might give it to my wife and let her respond. Isabel informed me that her husband receives Servantsí News "only to keep up with what is going on," and that the two of them were very involved in the United Church of God and that they did not have time or interest in corresponding with anyone in another group. Isabel was happy to know that we would avoid sending her family any more "Scattered Brethren letters." As far as we know, neither Isabel nor her husband made any effort to let Priscilla know about UCG services or activities. Priscilla had very little knowledge of the congregations in her area, and might have been interested. Are these people the "light of the world" to which our Savior referred?

This final story we have heard hundreds of times. The middle part varies, but the beginning and ending are always the same. A person or family attends a congregation for many years and establishes many friends. Then, they stop attending—maybe due to a minor doctrinal disagreement, an unjust disfellowshipment or some kind of personal problem. And they never hear from any of their close friends again. It is as if they had never attended all of those years. I remember doing this to my friends who left the WCG many years ago. I was afraid to talk to people in other groups because their "bad attitude" might rub off on me. In hind-sight, I now realize that I could not mentally deal with people who continued to have a relationship with the Eternal, whom I believed to be basically righteous, but did not belong to my organization. This destroyed my concept of the "one true church organization" and removed my comfortable feeling that we were special to God because we were members of the "right group." The Bible gives two main reasons for avoiding others: flagrant personal sin and intentional doctrinal error. These are almost never an issue when brethren grow silent toward one another. Remember what our Savior said: "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). —NSE


return to Sept-Oct 97 index