Ambassador Watch The Missing Dimension e-zine / 28





Sunday November 17 2002 / Next issue due November 24


Christian Compassion - Flurry Style: "There was a man whose wife was dying several years ago and they had four kids... [the minister] suspended the kids one by one for staying home with her in her final days for missing church. This is truly one sick organization." From PCG Yahoo group

New Poll: The MD poll is back after a long absence. We ask, will the Plain Truth still be around this time next year? Take the poll.

HWA vs. Norman Vincent Peale: The Power of Positive Thinking vs.The Folly of Excessive Drinking perhaps? The Whistler has hit a surprising note by contrasting Herb with Norman Vincent Peale in his latest column. The result is a fascinating article. Does he have a point? You be the judge.

MD interview with Jim Baldwin: Our first interview, with Pam Dewey, appeared earlier this year. In our second interview we feature Jim Baldwin, a man who has distinctly different views to Pam's. Prepare to be challenged!

Don Waterhouse heart attack: UCG minister Don Waterhouse, brother of the late Gerald, has suffered a heart attack. There is an update on the Kubik website.

In the latest mailbag: Richard Burkard's new URL, Gary Scott provides a link to his article on the Pack sect, a Spanky story from the year of rebellion (1974), the ESN webmaster sets the record straight, Douglas Becker takes issue with an article on mental health in the latest Good News and a Nigerian reader seems rather confused. Check it out.

COG7 directory online: The Church of God (Seventh Day) has produced a new online directory of congregations in the US and Canada.

Monty Python Meets the WCG: From the latest Pastors Weekly Update, and apparently told with a straight face:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I am delighted to report that we have received an award from the Christian Stewardship Association. The following is quoted from their letter advising me of their decision.

Worldwide Church of God is unanimously voted to receive the year 2003 CSA “Outstanding Church/Denomination Ministry Award.” This, our highest service to the association award will be presented Saturday, January 25, at the evening plenary session beginning at 5:00 pm at the upcoming CSA conference.

If you would like to contact the CSA to express a view about the appropriateness of this award, their email address is

Disestablished in Modesto: It's happened again. One of the splinter groups has re-splintered. This time it's the Church of God - Established In Modesto led by longtime minister Alton "Don" Billingsley. Here's what Bob Thiel had to say on November 6:

COG-EIM's website states, "For information regarding Mr. Alton Billingsley's church services for the COG-FF, please contact him directly. He can be reached at (209) 772-0737." So this morning I called Alton Billingsley and found out that there has been a split. Alton Billingsley is now head of the Church of God, Faithful Flock. Three COG-EIM elders, Dave O'Malley, Steve LeBlanc, and Wayne Carlson are no longer associated with him. He disfellowshipped Dave O'Malley and some others associated with COG-EIM.

Most of the COG-EIM site appeared to have been pulled down, apart from the home page, when we checked it. Meantime a new site for the COG-FF has been hurriedly launched, apparently cloned from the Modesto one.

Billingsley begins his "Pastor's Comments" letter on the new web site with the words "GOOD NEWS TO SHARE WITH ALL OF YOU!!!"  Hoo-boy, just how would he go about sharing bad news. Later he writes:

For some time Satan has been attacking our home area here by trying to destroy our base of operations!  [MD comment: it wasn't Don's fault, honest! It was the devil!] His strategy has always been to divide and conquer! And this is what he has been trying to do to us by dividing and splitting the home Church membership.  He has only been successful in part. 

Though we have lost the Fresno Church for the most part (around 20), and a very few here in Modesto, we remain strong here as does the Wagoner, Oklahoma Church!

 God has enabled us to remain intact, and with His good blessings, we will be all the more stronger because of it.  

Exactly who threw the hissy-fit that scuttled the sect isn't apparent. You have to admire Billingsley, though, for managing to find an unused variation on the name Church of God: there can't be too many more options left. Presumably O'Malley disfellowshipped Billingsley in turn (will he call his ministry the Church of God, Faithless Flock? or maybe the Church of God Disestablished In Modesto?) It seems the COG will never just fade quietly away... there will always be a bun fight in the offing where two or three are gathered in Herb's name. 

Bob Thiel also reports:

... I spoke with one who had been with Don Billingsley, but left that affiliation about a week ago. He says that the basic cause of this split was that he and others felt that Don Billingsley made some very bad decisions and ignored reasonable council (sic). He said the fact that Don Billingsley was against closer ties with CEG also played a role, but that other issues were much more important.

But let's see now. By our count Don (perhaps best remembered for the tragic incident many years ago when he survived the same road accident that took the life of Richard Armstrong while on a baptizing tour) has outdone CEG. He has now represented no less than 5 consecutive COG groups, each one smaller than the last: WCG, UCG, CG-AIC (Hulme), COG-EIM and now COG-FF. 

On an unrelated trivia note, Dave O'Malley is the only cult representative to have ever demanded the removal of his sect's URL from the MD links page (hopefully he hasn't been holding his breath.)

Dumping the Great Commission and Shuffling the Dollars: In his November 6 Pastors' Update, Joseph Tkach announced a partial implementation of the proposed financial model. He also seemed to be signaling further changes in the church's evangelism strategy.

It should not come as a surprise that the most potent agent of church growth is the people who are already members. It is not as a result of wonderful preaching, the personality of the pastor or conducting  evangelistic campaigns. While these may be contributing factors... new members come as a result of other church members befriending and inviting others to attend church with them.

Tkach cites a survey from the Institute for American Church Growth in support of his statement. While these observations may be very true of mainstream churches, it hardly explains the growth of the WCG from the 1930s till the mid-80s. After all, inviting friends and family along was frowned on for most of the church's history, including its greatest periods of growth.

Could it be that the real point of the remarks is to prepare the membership for further scaling back of the sect's already ailing media ministry?

Tkach also revealed significant changes to the way money will be allocated to congregations.

Your pastor now has received a spreadsheet from his district superintendent showing the new fiscal base for 2003. It also shows expense projections such as hall rent, the pastor's pay package and ministerial expenses.

The step we are implementing, although small, certainly has the potential to be quite encouraging...

Here's an example of how it will work. Let's say the annual contribution for the previous fiscal year is $108,000. Divide that number by 12 to determine the average monthly donation - in this case $9,000 per month. As a "phase in" to the new model, every month in which donations exceed $9,000, 80 percent will be returned to the local account. Let's say in January donations are $8,000. That does not meet the fiscal base, so there will be no return. In February, though, the contributions are $10, 000. That's $1,000 above base, so $800 will be returned. If July donations are $12,000, then $2,400 will be returned... In other words, every month that shows an increase over the fiscal base results in 80 percent of the increase of that month being returned to the local church.

... our experience with the pilot program congregations shows an average increase in donations of 15 percent...

Of course the denomination benefits as well, because 20% of the increase  assists the international administrative work of the church. That's about as near a win-win situation as I can imagine under our current circumstances. Sometimes members ask why we can't implement the new financial model now. We have been unable to move more rapidly in that direction because implementation of the new model is dependent on the successful sale of the Pasadena property.

The Pastor General also comments on the way money from the sale of the campus will be used when the property finally sells.

The church has two major financial responsibilities that will no longer be required after the property sale. The first responsibility is the maintenance of the Pasadena property itself. After the sale, headquarters will be relocated into a facility smaller than even the current administration building, ending the expense of maintaining the 50-acre campus. The second financial expense is Discretionary Assistance that cares for more than 230 former employees who faithfully served the church, but are now in their retirement years. Discretionary Assistance will be fully funded with a portion of the proceeds from the campus sale and will thereafter not require funding from general contributions. Until we no longer have these responsibilities, we have no capacity to implement our newfinancial model... A downsized headquarters will then be properly positioned to provide a variety of services that will benefit the work of local congregations and international missions.

The full text is available on the MD Yahoo group (posted November 9.)


PCG decline: From the PCG Yahoo group.

... the DFW [Dallas/Fort Worth] and Houston [PCG] churches are down to a dozen each. That is confirmed. Also the San Antonio church is down to around a dozen. Texas used to be the fastest growing area for the PCG overall. The DFW church alone was almost 70 at it's peak under Ron King. The Houston church was around 60 at it's peak under Jim Mortensen. And the San Antonio Church was around 50 at its peak, also under Jim Mortensen. Of course these nice guys were driven out several years ago...  More news: Gary Rethford no longer pastors the DFW church, he now teaches history at [Imperial College]... Brian Davis is now Regional Director over the Region that Ron Fraser "the razor" had.

Will they sing a Dwight Armstrong medley?

But setbacks like these can't, it seems, derail Gerry's lavish agenda. Dateline Pasadena reports:

In yet another attempt to duplicate the legacy of Herbert Armstrong, Gerald Flurry is now sponsoring concerts in the John Amos Field House [at the cult compound in Edmond.]  The question that will be interesting to ask is, "Will Flurry tell the Vienna Boys Choir that they CANNOT sing Christmas carols when they perform in his building in November?"

Here's how the tour is promoted on the Visit Edmond website.

11/16/02 Vienna Boys Choir in Concert From the time of their first visit to the U.S. in 1932, this choir-over five centuries old-has given thousands of concerts and become the most popular choir ever to tour North America. This November, they return to Edmond, Okla., as they tour the U.S. this fall! Tickets range from $17 - $23 per person. . Phone: 405-285-1010 Location: John Amos Field House, Imperial College

flakeyflurry2.JPG (148553 bytes)Flurry on cults: Click on the thumbnail and check out Gerry's column in the latest Royal Vision. The cultmeister gives his profound views on, among other things, 1975 in Prophecy. According to Gerry, Herb never said those embarrassing things about 1972, 19 year time cycles and 1975 (despite the title of the booklet apparently.) And then the Great Helmsman states:

According to the religious world's definitions of a cult, JESUS CHRIST WAS A CULT LEADER.

We're pleased he cleared that up for us all. Meantime, the WCG/PCG case scheduled for early November before Judge Snyder has been delayed. This item from Helen on the PCG Yahoo group:

I checked out the docket sheet last night and found out why the case got put off - both WCG and PCG filed a bunch of motions in limine - the legal way to try to exclude evidence from getting in front of a jury.  Just more boring, legal tricks.  The forests that are being decimated for this stupid little case! Lawyers - I just hate them.... wait, my Dad's a lawyer,  hey, so's my husband.... and my great-grandfather. WAIT, I'm a lawyer too. AHHHHHHHHH! the horror! the horror!


Joey - The Lord's Travel Agent: With apologies to Gilbert & Sullivan, "he is the very model of a modern Pastor General." Yeah, okay, we've used that line before, but the provocation this time is pretty extreme. Could someone please tell us what on earth the un-elected, self-crowned president/CEO/grand high poobah of the WCG was thinking when he wrote this lead item for the October 30 Weekly Report?

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

... WCG group tours have long been a great opportunity for spiritual rejuvenation, companionship, education, rest and relaxation as well as a chance to renew old friendships and make new ones.

The 2002 WCG programs were no exception. We’ve had glowing feedback. Our Grand Canyon bus tour, the first group land program we have ever done in the U.S. was very well received. So much so, that we will be offering it again for 2003. Please share this information with the members of your congregations.

Many of the 600 plus people who cruised this year have complimented us on how nice both cruises (to Alaska and the Caribbean) were. Before the cruises were even over people were asking, “What do you have planned for next year?”

"We have arranged an additional early booking discount..."

Next year we will offer two cruises to two different locations. Holland America, which has served the church well since 1994, will once again be the cruise line of choice. Holland America will introduce a new class of ship on the sailing we have chosen to the Eastern Caribbean. The Caribbean has long been a popular and inexpensive cruise destination. Combined with the bonus of a new ship and a new port of call (see itinerary) it promises to be great experience. We have arranged an additional early booking discount for all Caribbean bookings made prior to January 15th.

"Holland America, ... will once again be the cruise line of choice"

The second cruise will be to the Mexican Riviera. It has been more than a decade since we have had a WCG Mexican Riviera cruise. It will be on the MS Ryndam [MD comment: that's the ship in the photograph], the same ship on which members sailed the Caribbean and the Panama Canal in 1997 and 1998. The ship will depart from San Diego. With a Monday departure it affords the option of arriving a day or 2 early to enjoy this beautiful city. With its convenient port it will be a very attractive option for a cruise.

"The all-inclusive seven-night tour is a great bargain"

For members who like something novel and exotic we will also be offering a brand new location for an international tour – Russia. John Halford, who hosted the 1999 China Tour and the 2000 England, Scotland & Ireland Programs, will be leading this tour. Anyone who has been on one of his tours knows they are in for an informative, educational, insightful, inspirational and humor-filled trip. Frank Fish traveled to Russia with John earlier this year finalizing the details for the tour. They were both quite impressed with what they saw. I’m sure any of you who go on this tour will be too.

We had a lot of interest in the Grand Canyon/National Parks bus tour this year. Those that participated were able to visit some of America’s finest National Parks. A number of people who were unable to make it this year said they would be interested in it next year if it were offered again. The tour will be identical to this year’s trip, which included a train ride into Grand Canyon National Park, as well as an evening cruise on the Colorado River. The all-inclusive seven-night tour is a great bargain.

Lastly, we will offer an Alaskan land tour during the summer. It will be a nice complement for those who have cruised Alaska in the past. The itinerary includes cities and destinations not reached by past Alaskan cruises. Participants will get an opportunity to see “the Great Land” from an entirely different perspective – by train. The tour will include Denali National Park – home of Mt. McKinley, Anchorage and Fairbanks. For those that want to see even more of Alaska, there will be options from Anchorage to see Seward, Portage Glacier, the Kenai Peninsula and more.

If you are interested in any of these programs please take the time now to email John Siston at <>. Travel Gallery will also post details and updates for each of the 2003 programs on the internet at <> as they become available.

Hold me down, I wanna sign up! But, um, is this advertorial stuff appropriate for the spiritual leader of a tax exempt Christian denomination? Does the pope do anything as blatantly crass as this? Or the Archbishop of Canterbury? (We use those examples seeing Joey claims "episcopal" precedent for his mandate-free reign.) Perhaps the Pontiff should consider wearing an Alitalia baseball cap next time he holds an outdoor mass (the papal "airline of choice.") Or the Archbishop might write to the Anglican faithful about package tours of St. Paul's (with tasteful plastic crucifixes available at a gift counter in the sanctuary.) 

Could it be that Joe is practicing for a new career in travel consultancy when his recycled designer cult goes belly-up?

COGUK on Unity: The folks at COGUK (Churches of God, United Kingdom) have emailed their latest newsletter which includes some interesting thoughts on unity within the greater (or perhaps "grater"?) COG movement. Some excerpts:

This desire for organizational unity is a cultic feature affecting much of the church of God movement - notably the Worldwide Church of God and many of its off-shoots. Unlike the first century church which was open to everyone, converts or not, such assemblies are a 'closed shop'.

To maintain external unity [in the early church] a sharp distinction had to be made between 'clerics' and 'laity' - the latter relegated to praying, paying and obeying. It wasn't long coming, and in a few decades the early church was sundered by power struggles and the forming of a hierarchy based on Roman civil government. The Spirit moved out.

The church of God is not a box of yellow pencils. We each bring our own personality, our own talents, our own spiritual gifts.

It's time to embrace one another. Time to accept one another. Time to work in harmony with one another, while accepting honest differences and different programmes, different emphases. Time to demonstrate our conversion through our love for one another.

Laudable and perceptive comments, though the writer has the irritating habit of backtracking with comments designed to soothe ruffled feathers (and so falling into the ditch called "death by a thousand qualifications.") Nevertheless the piece might go down well among the independent COG advocates. However screams of outrage can be anticipated from the "yellow pencil" brigade!

COGUK is associated with Church of God Outreach Ministries (COGOM), a group that originates in the Church of God, International. Their email address is

Mt Pocono time trip: Recently Jim Baldwin provided some photographs and a commentary on the former WCG Mt. Pocono Feast site as it is today. Now, thanks to MAM (who also wrote an editorial piece on tithing for MD last year), we're able to present a series of photographs taken back in 1987 as a basis of comparison, along with a second commentary that complements Jim's. Click on this link. 

In the photograph on the right "you can see the festival building behind the trees. A very relaxing environment, nice for taking walks between services."

MAM ponders whether the same fate of decline awaits the former Ambassador College campus in Pasadena. His preference: "I sure hope so."

(Also new on site this week is an interview with Jim Baldwin.)

Calm before the Storm? From Dateline Pasadena: "Things are really quiet here in Pasadena.  Bernie is having meetings galore concerning the sale of the property, but nothing has been released yet."

This item from the Pasadena Star News.

Church wins praise for outreach
Critics await details of Ambassador plan
By Gary Scott, Staff Writer

PASADENA -- The Worldwide Church of God was praised for opening its doors to the community before it completes the Ambassador Campus master plan, but those who opposed an earlier attempt to develop the property remain guarded.

The church held an open house Wednesday to introduce the team it has hired to create a plan for the 48-acre campus, located in the area of Green Street and Orange Grove Boulevard. Charles McKenney, vice president of the West Pasadena Residents' Association, was one of 320 people in attendance. He said he spent more than an hour listening to what other residents had to say and talking with the church's consultants.

``I think like everyone else we are happy the church is listening, and it is a good opportunity for a fresh start,'' said McKenney. ``Had they done this three or four years ago, they might have had a project by now.''
The WPRA was a primary critic of the Legacy Project, which fell apart last April, pressuring the church to increase traffic mitigations and decrease residential density. McKenney said the same issues will apply to any new plan.

``They have to learn and remember what was unacceptable with Legacy,'' said McKenney. ``What we are hearing are the words of respect and reverence for the community and the neighborhood, but we have been hearing those for three years now.''

Part of his concern stems from statements made by Bernard Schnippert, director of finance and planning for the church, shortly after the Legacy Project stalled. He called that plan ``a good one'' and vowed the church would move ahead with it.

``My original intention was to keep the good elements of Legacy,'' Schnippert said Thursday. ``I found out that to do it right, we have to start with a fresh slate.''

In May, the church hired Brea-based Shea Homes to act as the master plan consultant. Last month, the church brought on board two architectural firms with substantial local experience to complete the design. The master plan is scheduled to be completed by January.

``We are designing it to fit the neighborhood,'' said Schnippert. ``It is not that we are going to change the neighborhood to fit us.''

A second open house is scheduled for Nov. 19, at which point church officials plan to unveil basic design plans for the campus.

United Schmooze: The November issue of United News contains several interesting items including

President Roy Holliday commented in a November 7 letter.

With regards to finances, we have just completed the first one-third of this fiscal year. The Holy Day offerings for the four fall festivals were up over 6 percent when compared with last year, for which we are very grateful. However, our regular income has barely increased at all, showing only a 0.1 percent gain when compared with the previous fiscal year. Overall, we budgeted for a 2.4 percent increase in this category of income for the entire year. If present trends were to continue for the entire fiscal year, we would experience a shortfall in total income, when compared to the budget.

The United News is available online in PDF format.

More precious words from Joe: The November member letter is out. Excerpts:

We know that he has led us through the Red Sea, but we also know that we are not in the Promised Land yet. We are still in the wilderness where we are met with challenges on every side. We are on a journey toward the Promised Land, and as we journey there are times when we murmur and lose faith.

Although I am deeply thankful for the miracle of the transformed Worldwide Church of God, there are times when I catch myself thinking about the things we do not have, the things we used to have and the things we seem to need. Perhaps you have had similar thoughts. But then I realize that God knows what we used to have, what we have and what we actually need! 

I thank God that he has called you to be a part of what he is doing in the Worldwide Church of God. Yes, we are smaller in number than we once were. Yes, it is true that our physical surroundings may not be as impressive as they once were. There is no doubt that the wilderness in which Israel wandered for forty years was not as impressive as the culture and buildings of Egypt.

You know that God has worked mighty miracles in our lives, corporately and individually, and that he continues to. You know that only God could have brought about what has happened in the Worldwide Church of God - and it is a story of his transforming power that will be told for years to come.

[MD comment: Only God? Or maybe only an under-qualified zealot. Told for years to come? Yup, sociologists of religion can use it as a case study of how not to reform a sect. But enough already, let's get to the important part...]

Please allow me to thank you, personally, for the wonderful financial support many of you are providing. We are truly grateful for your consistent dedication in sharing your physical resources which are of such vital help in the church's mission. Thank you! If you are one who has neglected giving as God has blessed you (2 Corinthians 9:6-11), why not take some time to consider what God has done for you (Matthew 6:19-21)?

email MD: email Dateline Pasadena: 


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