The Active Bible Church of God is a former CGI congregation that went independent in 1996 after learning about the problems of Garner Ted Armstrong. They have an average attendance of 25 members.
Their service starts with 35 to 45 minutes of interactive Bible study, everyone reading a verse, followed by a group discussion of the reading. The person moderating the study alternates from week to week. Occasionally part of this time may be given to a member with something of special interest. A church member who told about a recent trip to Africa is one example of this. The Bible study is followed by a 45-minute sermon. Four members alternate in giving sermons with others speaking occasionally. Michael Linacre, the pastor, mentioned the group is trying to follow the New Testament model of multiple leaders with a just as important secondary objective of using everyone’s talents and abilities. Even though theirs is a small congregation, they have some musically talented individuals and are presently trying to form a church choir.
Their main evangelistic efforts go to helping Ron Dart’s ministry, Christian Educational Ministries. Although they have tried advertising and radio, they feel the most effective way to reach new people is still done by individuals; evangelism on a one-to-one basis.
The church is located in the inner Chicago area, five miles south of the Sears Tower. The congregation is pre-dominantly African-American. Most of the members do not have cars, so convenient bus transportation is important to their location of services. Using bus transportation has turned out to have an evangelistic advantage. Some members have been able to witness an aspect of the Truth to a fellow passenger as they share a lengthy bus ride together. The location is also convenient for the pastor because Michael teaches Psychological Measurement at the nearby University of Chicago.
Occasionally outside persons using the meeting hall will sit in for a church service. An unusual aspect of the Active Bible COG is that three of the persons who attend are blind. To help the blind members, one of them, Mark Marino, has put the blue CGI hymnal into Braille. Anyone interested in this Braille edition, is urged to contact Michael or Gerry at the numbers below.
A major project right now is their extensive web site, www.abcog.org . Unlike many COG sites, theirs is directed toward new people, the general public rather than COG members. The site includes articles on Pearl Harbor, Christmas, Easter, etc. Michael thinks their Saint Valentine’s Day page is especially different and helpful. The site also includes past sermons by a powerful religious speaker, Dwight Moody. (Only those particular sermons, of course, which are biblical and follow COG beliefs.)
Their most popular web page is probably the one from Mr. P. Harben, a now deceased member of the CGI congregation in Dallas. Mr. Harben wrote about his experiences as a member of the U.S. military during the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. The page was discovered by the President of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association who found it so interesting he asked if he could add some information to it. His comments are now part of this popular web page.
Michael says students are a large percentage of the church’s web site visitors. Students are directed to the site by various search engines as they look for information on Pearl Harbor, Christmas, Easter and other topics as a result of school assignments. The site also receives many requests from people looking for a COG church or fellowship group. The web site receives about 100,000 visits a year.
Michael believes every group should have a web site, even if it is only one page that simply gives service times and a few details. His observation is that “Having a web site today is like having a church building used to be.”
The Active Bible COG meets at 10:00 a.m. at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club. The address is 5480 S. Kenwood Avenue, (near 55th Street). Michael can be reached at 773-288-5650. Or, Gerry Bernardo can be reached at 630-322-8132.
— “One-third Century in COGs”
It’s 6:30 p.m. in Mesa, Arizona. A low buzz of conversation and laughter drifts into the kitchen from the living room as the table is set and everyone is called for dinner. The home group where Marc Amino and his wife, Tracey, gather weekly with other believers has convened.
Tracey, with whom we spoke, said, “We rotate homes every week so that it isn’t a burden to any one family and so that no one has a tendency to take ownership of the group.” The host family provides the meal and a member of the family facilitates the meeting. The facilitator does not control the meeting; just “keeps the meeting flowing”.
Meetings are unstructured. After dinner, the “instrument basket” is brought in—a large basket of the type in which one might carry a baby. It’s chock full of musical instruments: tambourines, shakers, and drums. Anyone who is interested selects an instrument from the basket.
And the singing and worship begin.
There are four guitar players in the group, though only two guitarists play at any one time. Singing lasts about a half-hour. Then someone makes coffee and a member of the host family presents something from his or her personal Bible study. “We ask everyone if they have anything to share. We have some really shy people and we try to be sensitive to them and encourage them to contribute. Sometimes we pray for special needs, special situations, and for healing. We are sensitive to opportunities for ministry and sometimes ministry begins at the dinner table. That’s especially true with the children. We ask how their week went and if there is anything that they would like for us to pray about,” Tracey said.
“Our meetings don’t have any set time to end. We just know when the meeting is over, but then we usually sit around and talk for a long time. Oftentimes we don’t get home until 1:00 in the morning!”
The Mesa group is awash with musical talent. Several members of the group write music. Some of their songs have literally come into being during worship. A few chords played on the guitar, someone sang a few words, someone else added to it and, as Tracey says, “Just like that, the Lord gave us a song.”
The composers do not claim ownership of what the Lord gives. One member, Victor Palagano, is employed in the music industry and is putting together a CD of small group music. All songs are original. Some were composed by members of the Mesa group. Other groups are also contributing songs. When the CD is complete, it will be offered for sale at production cost. Most of the songs are praise and worship. “We don’t want to make money on our music. We just want to make it available to other groups,” Tracey said.
This group first met in February 1998 when Marc and Tracey moved to Mesa from California. Both were educated for the formal ministry, but as they proceeded into traditional ministry they felt that God was leading them in a different direction—to the small group. They tried first to start a group in California but it “just didn’t work”. Then they moved to Mesa. Tracey’s sister, who lives in Mesa, was a new believer. She and several family members had been injured by a hierarchical church system and had dropped out of church. After Marc and Tracey’s arrival in Mesa, the family began to gather for worship and the Mesa, Arizona, group was born. They have since added others to the group, which presently has about 12 members.
They encourage the children to take part as full-fledged members and “sometimes they have really profound things to share.” Since the entire meeting is not brief, the host family sets up games, chalkboard, and other items in an adjoining room where the children may go if they become bored. Most of the homes have both living room and family room. Tracey said, “We can keep an eye on the children without leaving our meeting. So far we have had well-behaved children. If that were to change, we would have to take turns staying with them.”
Tracey thinks that a lot of people go into small groups with unrealistic ideas. They don’t realize that, when you get into the close relationships in the small group, “a lot of junk is exposed”—areas of our lives that need to change. Also, we have to learn to stick by, in love, others whose personalities rub us the wrong way. These are things that most of us need; yet many don’t want to risk. “People need to understand that coming to a small group is not the answer for everything. It can be that, but you have to be realistic. You are dealing with people. It is also hard for some people to accept that we can fellowship with others who don’t agree with us on every point,” Tracey said.
Conflicts challenge us with how to handle them with wisdom. For example, one woman was preoccupied with the idea that “all things will be restored”. She thought that Satan and fallen angels would be “restored” and wanted to expound on it at every meeting. Since this was not a salvation issue, they continued patiently with her. One member gently suggested that she drop the subject. It didn’t help. Tracey said, “We prayed about what to do because it was interfering with the meetings. We decided we were not going to throw anyone out. How can we say we are not hierarchical if we put someone out?” They would continue to bear with her. Shortly after that decision, the woman stopped coming. The problem was solved—but not the way they had hoped it would be.
[Matthew 18:15-17 shows that there are times when an entire congregation may need to put someone out of a group when that person refuses to hear one witness, then several witness and then the entire congregation. In a hierarchy, one person could put someone out of the congregation. Nonetheless, one can never fault praying to the Eternal for a solution—especially when he provides one. — Norman Edwards]
It is important to understand, when embarking on the intimacy of a small group, that situations are likely to arise that must be handled with care and prayer. Some will try our patience. Troublesome situations and people make opportunities for us to practice our unconditional love on personalities that we find abrasive. As with anything else—performance improves with practice!
— Arlean Kelley
Contact Marc and Tracey Amino at 480-986-2250, e-mail: TraceyRed@aol.com
or Victor and Gretchen Palagano, 480-986-5728, e-mail: email@example.com
Tracey hosts an Internet web site, including an e-mail discussion list, for those interested in small groups at http://www.homechurch-homepage.org
Karen Brinkley, of Linthicum, Maryland, tells us about a group that she is associated with. About twenty people are left from approximately 100 who made up a former CGI congregation. As experienced by all too many of us, when the leadership fails the membership—in this case, when the “shenanigans” of Garner Ted Armstrong surfaced—many members became demoralized and the congregation disintegrated.
Some people left to study and worship alone. Some left to form small home fellowships. Many, however, gave up entirely and have gone back into keeping Sunday, Christmas and Easter and the rest of the things they had come out of.
As Karen points out, when people are focused on the group or it’s leaders, instead of on Jesus Christ, it is easy to become discouraged when human leaders fail the members.
[Comment: As 1 Cor. 3:11 warns us, “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” NOT being founded on Jesus Christ helps explain why the WCG was, from its beginning, doomed to failure. As most former members know, few sermons were about Jesus Christ. Instead, the focus was on government, group salvation, and on the members passively obeying their human leader.
One example showing that Jesus Christ was NOT the foundation comes to mind. I remember the Detroit minister in 1964, as he approved me to come to church services, forewarning me that the WCG had composed its own hymns. He went on to explain that they did this because most Protestant hymns were “not scriptural”. (Yes, I now realize such behavior is one of the signs of a cult.)
A very revealing factor, however, is that of the 82 songs in the WCG hymnal composed by Dwight Armstrong, only one of those songs has the name of Jesus or Christ in them! Jesus Christ, the only lasting foundation, is NOT in 81 of 82 especially composed (and supposedly more “scriptural”) songs.]
This remnant of about 20 meets together once a month with a CGI congregation in Columbia, MD. In the interval, once a month about five people of the 20 alternate in meeting at one of their homes. Their faithfulness and “hanging in there” should help encourage all of us. Even more so when we realize that two of the ladies have understanding spouses that are not COG members.
The remnant group is looking for a place to meet just off I-70 somewhere close to the border junction of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. If they are able to find such a place, it is possible there would be a congregation of about forty people. This remnant group can be contacted through Chris Mace, 410-636-5789.
— “One-third Century in COGs”