United Church of God, an International Association
Council of Elders Meeting Report
Monday, September 18, 2000 – Cincinnati, Ohio
The Council of Elders concluded its current round of meetings today. The group first addressed two governance questions and heard presentations from the Ethical Review/Roles and Process and Doctrine committees. The treasurer returned to complete some items of unfinished business from last week and to answer some operational and financial questions from the Council. Other miscellaneous items of business completed the half-day schedule.
Constitution and Bylaws
Two topics relating to church governance were dealt with early in the day. Leon Walker raised an issue of concern to him dealing with section 5.1.1 of the Constitution of the Church. This is the portion of the Constitution that requires a ¾ majority vote of all the elders of the United Church of God to approve any change in the Fundamental Beliefs of the Church. Our history to date shows a real difficulty in getting ¾ of the elders to participate in balloting. Mr. Walker wondered if the Constitution should be amended to require a ¾ majority of those balloting, rather than ¾ of all elders.
Robert Dick acknowledged that this has been a long-standing problem for the Church. But he is concerned about any move that would in effect "disenfranchise a significant body of elders" – namely those who choose not to participate in balloting. If we move this way, are we telling those elders "we don’t care what you think?" He suggested we must first find a way to determine why these men don’t participate in this aspect of the church governance. Donald Ward commented that it is his understanding that two main issues are involved: some have a conscience problem with the act of balloting or voting itself, and some simply do not see the importance of participating. All agreed that we have rightly stressed the importance of this doctrinal safeguard in our governing documents, but none wants to see the Church put into a position where changing when proven wrong would become procedurally difficult just because not enough elders give their input.
After further discussion, the Council delegated the task of surveying the elders to find out why so many do not participate. Gary Antion, as chairman of the Ethical Review/Roles and Process committee (this is a question of process) will work on a survey, and ask pastors to follow up with elders in their areas.
Another item of governance arose with the passage of an amendment to the Bylaws at the May 2000 General Conference of Elders. Section 9.1 now requires that the service of all officers of the corporation be reaffirmed every three years. Secretary Gerald Seelig’s service had not yet been so reaffirmed (the president and treasurer have served fewer than three years to date). The only question brought up was whether any action taken by the Council today would commence a new three-year term for Mr. Seelig, or simply ratify him as being in the middle of his second three year term. This question was resolved by ballot: by a vote of nine for (Messrs. Antion, Holladay, Jewell, McCullough, McNair, Seiglie, Thompson, Walker, and Ward) and two against (Messrs. Dean and Dick), the Council indicated it felt Mr. Seelig would be starting a new three-year term at this point. Victor Kubik was not present. The eleven members present then unanimously balloted to reaffirm Gerald Seelig as Secretary of the United Church of God.
Gary Antion asked the Council for suggestions on the best way to inform elders of their right of appeal, following a request from a U.S. church pastor for more information. Mr. Antion noted that the procedure is outlined in the Bylaws. In addition, a letter was sent to all ministers announcing the names of the elders on the Expelled Elder Appeal Committee (presently Robert Fahey – chairman, John Bald, Robert Berendt, Ellis LaRavia, Dan Salcedo, Anthony Wasilkoff, and William Winner; with Roy Demarest as alternate). John Jewell, Mario Seiglie, and Richard Thompson have served on the committee, but no longer do so since they are current members of the Council of Elders. The Council felt letters could be sent to all elders announcing new members to the committee, but that this report of the Council meetings would serve as sufficient information for now.
Mr. Walker outlined a revision of the article review process for the Council. What should be done if a writer or member of the Editorial Review team believes the Church’s teaching is not correct on a particular issue? What if the Doctrine Committee agrees? How should the process then be handled? In order to deal with such a case, the Council quorum present (Victor Kubik absent) unanimously approved a change in the review process. From this point forward, if any member of the Editorial Review team or the Doctrine Committee believes that the Church’s teaching on a particular matter is incorrect, the entire Doctrine Committee of the Council must review the matter. If they unanimously conclude, upon review, that the Church position is in fact correct, any article reflecting that position can be published. If any member of the Doctrine Committee believes that the Church’s teaching is incorrect, the matter must be forwarded to the entire Council of Elders for review. If the Council, by a simple majority, believes that Church teaching is incorrect on a subject, the doctrinal matter must be submitted to the General Conference of Elders, which requires a ¾ majority approval of any doctrinal change.
In a related matter, the Strategic Planning/Finance Committee informed the Council that it has chosen Aaron Dean to serve as its chairman.
Treasurer’s Q & A
Treasurer Tom Kirkpatrick returned to complete discussion on some matters that were not covered in his presentation last week and to answer questions that had been posed earlier in the meetings. He first received clarification from the Council regarding a suggestion on investment procedure arising from the annual audit earlier this year. Council gave its consent to current administration investment policy. He then sought and obtained permission from the Council to include language in the minutes that addressed comments made by the Church’s auditors in their "management letter." This letter commented on ways to improve the Church’s already strong systems of internal controls. In response to questions posed earlier in the week, Mr. Kirkpatrick also commented on the challenge of budget reporting on expenses for two major programs that do not fit neatly into one budget year – Ambassador Bible Center and United Youth Camps. Both programs operate in a manner that means expenses fall across two budget years for a year of operation.
The treasurer next addressed questions previously submitted by members of the Council. Some of them dealt with three recommendations from the report by the Task Force on Ministerial Workload and Remuneration.
The first was to reconfigure our personnel, their responsibilities and their remuneration in line with the specific recommendations of the report. Mr. Kirkpatrick pointed out that not all of the recommendations were given as Council mandates for action, nor are all of them affordable. He did ask for Council clarification on which hires, for example, need to be given Council approval, and which do not. For example, the home office hires some part-time help on occasion. Does this type of employment need to come before the Council? Chairman Roy Holladay stated that his understanding is that the Council wants to review any decision that will affect future budgets. If it’s a matter of replacing one employee with another, or if it is a temporary expense covered in the current year’s executive budget, prior approval is not necessary. Council concurred.
The second recommendation was to establish a bona fide policy statement outlining the Administration’s philosophical approach toward employee retirement and implement a practical program. Mr. Kirkpatrick rehearsed for the Council the extensive nature of the Church’s defined contribution plan (the matching 403b program), which is in its second year. He also pointed out that the Church cannot afford a "defined benefit program" for retirement and that our auditors agree with this position. He stated that he plans to make a fuller presentation on this and related matters in December at the Council meetings in Tyler, TX.
The third recommendation was to develop a strategy to deal with future financial crises that will distribute any necessary salary reductions among all employees in a fair and equitable manner on a graduated scale. Mr. Kirkpatrick stressed, as he does often, that we are totally dependent on God for His provision of financial resources and other blessings. He expressed his belief that following five principles of sound financial management in the Church would minimize the likelihood of having to respond to some future financial crisis in a way that would lead to personnel cuts. He noted that there is nothing we can do that absolutely guarantees that the Church will not face such a situation in the future, but that following these principles would minimize the likelihood. Following them will allow the Church to "manage" temporary downturns.
Those five principles are (1) adopting conservative income budgets, (2) adhering to expense budgets, once adopted, (3) identifying expenses other than payroll costs that are variable and discretionary in the short run, (4) maintenance of sufficient operating reserves, and (5) being vigilant not to succumb to the historical tendency in the Church to overstaff.
He also pointed out the current Administration’s practice of closely monitoring financial conditions so that we have enough "lead time" to deal with crises as they develop, and avoid having them crash down on us suddenly. If something such as a general economic downturn occurs, negatively affecting the income of the Church, he believes our first step (until God were to reverse the trend, which of course He could do at any time of His choosing) should be to cut down on non-payroll discretionary spending, such as travel or some promotional expenses. If additional actions become warranted, personnel/payroll costs would need to be looked at, since they are such a significant portion of our total budget. It is at this point, he stated, that he believes the Council would have to become involved, as it has in the past.
If that action became necessary, the options that would present themselves would be, not necessarily in order of priority, (1) across-the-board cuts for all employees; (2) scaled reductions (highest paid employees having their salaries cut the most); (3) reductions in the work force. Mr. Kirkpatrick concluded by asking Council members if they wished at this time to publish a detailed plan of action to take in such a case? Richard Thompson, as chairman of the Task Force, commented that he was completely satisfied with the treasurer’s answer as given in this general form. He stated that he thought it unwise to give specifics ahead of time, as it could limit flexibility that might be needed in any crisis. Mr. Antion agreed. Visitor John Elliott asked that the Council share this general approach and plan with all the employees.
One more question was asked regarding the cost of the Youth Corps project to the Church. The total cost to the Church for this first year was $7,500. That reflects travel and onsite costs for the project coordinators (Dave Baker and Joel Meeker). Most of the other costs of the program were covered by participants paying their own expenses.
Mr. Holladay confirmed to the Council that planning is going ahead for the General Conference of Elders to be held at the Holiday Inn Eastgate (site of the 1999 GCE) on May 6-7, 2001. Necessary meeting rooms have been reserved. In that light, the question of photographs and information sheets on elders to be considered for selection to the Council of Elders came up, but it was felt that lead time was too short to enable this to be done at the Feast of Tabernacles, as had been suggested.
Council unanimously passed an amended Housing Allowance policy for employees, incorporating changes in federal law and corporate policy. The meetings adjourned at noon on Monday. The next Council meetings will take place in Tyler, Texas, starting December 6, 2000.
Ó2000 United Church of God, an International Association