Wood, Garrison Elected to Top Positions
The Assemblies of God’s new officials vowed Friday to follow God’s direction as they provide leadership and guidance to this 93-year-old Fellowship.
“I am deeply humbled by the grace that you’ve extended,” George O. Wood told pastors and delegates Friday morning after his election as the new general superintendent. “We all came into this Council just wanting the Lord’s will, and I approach this moment with fear and trembling because this is such a great church and such great people and there are so many qualified people who can serve in this role.”
Wood will now step into the shoes filled by Thomas E. Trask since 1993, when both men were elected to their current positions at the General Council in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
“Brother Trask has filled this role with grace and power and no one will ever take his place,” Wood said. “He has blazed his imprint on all our lives.”
Friday’s packed business session at the Indianapolis Convention Center brought other major changes to the Fellowship, including the elections of L. Alton Garrison as assistant superintendent, John M. Palmer as general secretary, and Zollie L. Smith Jr. as executive director of Assemblies of God U.S. Missions.
Smith made history with his election, becoming the first African-American chosen to one of the top six executive officer positions.
On Friday, pastors and delegates re-elected L. John Bueno to another four-year term as executive director of Assemblies of God World Missions.
And the 52nd General Council tackled a long list of resolutions, including the creation of new relational districts, the addition of female and under-40 representation to the General and Executive presbyteries, and conditions for credentialing for individuals who have been divorced and remarried.
General superintendent election
Balloting for the new leadership began Thursday, but it took extra rounds of voting Friday to determine who would become the 12th general superintendent.
On the sixth electoral ballot, Wood pulled ahead of Garrison and Ohio District Superintendent Douglas E. Clay, the other remaining candidates for the post. A two-third’s majority was needed for an election.
In his comments to the Fellowship on Friday morning, Wood recalled a moment from his teenage years when his parents were praying for God’s direction in planting a church in Indiana. A night of sickness while driving to Indianapolis convinced his father that this wasn’t the city where he was called to serve.
“I could have never dreamed that I would be standing before you at the General Council in Indianapolis,” Wood, 65, said as he choked back tears. “I pledge to you that I will do my very best to serve all of you.”
The Assemblies of God is a diverse Fellowship with many different age groups, interests, sizes of churches and styles of ministry, Wood said.
“But we are one in the Spirit, we are one in faith, we are one in Christ,” he said. “And anyone who serves in this position must serve the entire church of Jesus Christ.”
His wife, Jewel, echoed that sentiment.
“We came to this Council only wanting the Lord’s will,” she said. “It was our desire and our prayer, ‘Lord, Your will be done.’ And we accept this is as the Lord’s will. We’re here to serve you in any way we can.”
Wood earned his bachelor’s degree from Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri, and becomes the first Assemblies of God general superintendent to graduate from that institution. He served as the school’s director of spiritual life and student life from 1965 to 1971.
He went on to earn a doctoral degree in pastoral theology from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and a juris doctorate from Western State University College of Law in Fullerton, California.
The son of missionary parents to China and Tibet, Wood pastored Newport-Mesa Christian Center in Costa Mesa, California, for 17 years. He served as assistant superintendent of the Southern California District from 1988 to 1993.
Wood will serve the remaining two years of the term being vacated by Trask, who announced in July that he would step down from his post after this year’s Council.
Assistant superintendent elections
It also took several ballots to select a new assistant superintendent to succeed Charles T. Crabtree, who was elected 14 years ago and said earlier this year he would not run again.
On the fifth ballot, the Council chose Garrison to serve a four-year term, but it was a difficult moment for the man who was elected executive director of U.S. Missions just two years ago.
“I can tell you that coming into this Council I had many mixed emotions,” he said after his election. “The team I have served and worked with in U.S. Missions is a passionate team that’s effective. I will love them and miss them dearly.”
He thanked Trask for his leadership and support, and offered a promise to the Council.
“I pledge that I will do everything in my power to fulfill this duty with integrity,” the 60-year-old Garrison said. “I pledge my full support for you, this church, to God and to the new general superintendent.”
Before his election to the U.S. Missions post in 2005, Garrison had served four years as superintendent of the Arkansas District. He was pastor of First Assembly of God in North Little Rock, Arkansas, for 15 years. From 1966 to 1985, he and his wife Johanna served as evangelists.
“I love the Assemblies of God and I’m here by choice,” he said. “I didn’t grow up in this great Fellowship but I’m glad I’m here now.”
There was an interesting historic footnote surrounding Friday’s election. The balloting came down to three candidates in the final rounds: Garrison, Clay and Beth Grant, a veteran missionary and chairperson for the national Assemblies of God Women in Ministry Task Force. Based on available records and memories, Grant is the first woman to advance that far in the election for a top executive office.
Wood’s election as the new superintendent forced the General Presbytery to nominate new candidates for general secretary. Under the constitution and bylaws, any person receiving at least 15 votes from the presbyters is included on the list of nominees.
During a special meeting between sessions Friday, presbyters nominated Illinois District Superintendent Larry H. Griswold, Executive Presbyter John M. Palmer and Black Fellowship President Zollie L. Smith Jr. Palmer was elected on the third ballot.
“I take this responsibility with great serious,” he told pastors and delegates. “With the power of the Holy Spirit I will do the very best I can.”
Looking over at the superintendent-elect, he pledged his loyalty — and made another promise.
“You can be assured that I’ll be making frequent trips up to your office to ask you questions,” said Palmer, 55.
He earned degrees at Central Bible College and the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, both located in Springfield, Missouri. In 1974, he pioneered New Life Assembly of God in Athens, Ohio, and pastored the congregation until 1985. He then served as senior pastor of First Assembly of God in Des Moines, Iowa, until 2006.
Last year, he and his wife Debbie launched Come Alongside Ministries, which allowed them to coach and provide consulting to pastors of small churches.
Palmer was elected to the Executive Presbytery two years ago.
AG U.S. Missions
The General Presbytery presented two names for U.S. Missions executive director, to fill the two remaining years on Garrison’s term: Thomas W. Greene and Smith, who was elected on the second ballot.
“Assemblies of God get ready, get ready, get ready,” an impassioned Smith said moments after the election results were announced. “We together are going to invade America and we are going to go into the cities and the highways and byways and take back what the devil has taken away.”
On a day when debate focused on the role of women and younger pastors in the Fellowship, Smith urged the disillusioned and weary to hold tight to their calling.
“For those of you young people and to the women,” he said, “your gift will make room for you, but you must pray, you must be persistent, you must let everyone know that you have a mandate from God, and you must not shrink back.”
Smith, 58, praised the Assemblies of God for permitting and promoting diversity.
“We today can testify that God moves through His leaders to bring about His end results,” he said, with his wife Phyllis accompanying him.
Since 1992, Smith has led the Black Fellowship of the Assemblies of God, and has served on the Executive Presbytery since 2002. He served as a pastor from 1980 to 2005.
A Vietnam veteran, Smith is a former police office and detective.
AG World Missions
Bueno was the only name presented to the General Council for consideration as executive director of the Assemblies of God World Missions. He received a 94.9 percent “yes” vote from the floor.
“I have a deep sense of gratitude to this constituency, to this Fellowship for the way you have supported not only our ministry but the cause of world missions,” Bueno told the pastors and delegates after being re-elected to the post he has held since 1997.
“I want to express my gratitude to the Lord and to you for the privilege of serving, and we will do our very best to be accountable to God and to you in this great endeavor.”
Bueno and his wife, Lois, began serving as missionaries to El Salvador in 1961. For 25 years, they pastored a congregation that grew from 100 to more than 22,000 people.
He served as field director of Latin America and the Caribbean for eight years before his election to the executive director post. He also founded Latin America ChildCare, which helps educate, feed, clothe and care for 68,000 students.
Relational districts resolution
Action on resolutions was spread across the agenda Friday, as pastors and delegates bounced back and forth between elections and debate.
One of the most closely watched proposals, Resolution 6, sought to create a new structure for church affiliation within the Assemblies of God. The “relational districts” concept would allow groups of at least 40 churches to affiliate with “like-minded” congregations regardless of geography.
Supporters said this idea was crucial for attracting and retaining congregations and pastors who feel disconnected from their geographical district. Creating a process for new “covenant relationships” would make the Fellowship stronger and more diverse, supporters said.
But opponents said the proposal could kill some geographical districts and threatened to weaken the Assemblies of God polity and governance structure. Pastors already are free to affiliate with other “like-minded” ministers, opponents argued, and anyone who does not feel connected to this Fellowship is free to cease membership and join another denomination.
By voice vote, Resolution 6 was rejected.
Female/younger pastor resolutions
Another hotly debated measure Friday focused on adding 30 new members to the General Presbytery from the ranks of ordained women and ministers under 40 years old.
Currently, 307 people serve on the presbytery, and 101 of them are currently pastoring a church. Six members are under 40 years old and the average age is almost 62.
Supporters of the resolution said giving a greater voice to women and younger pastors would add to the richness and diversity of the Fellowship. It would send a message to those constituencies that they are valued and have a significant place in the Assemblies of God.
But opponents said the measure wasn’t needed because the constitution and bylaws do not prohibit a woman or younger pastor from holding office. Let the Holy Spirit guide the process without any quotas or set-asides, opponents said.
The measure, Resolution 4, was approved on a voice vote, but when a secret ballot was taken using the electronic voting devices, supporters fell short of the two-third’s majority needed to amend the constitution. A follow-up plan, Resolution 15, was withdrawn.
A parallel proposal — which generated similar comments but met a different fate — sought to add two spots on the Executive Presbytery, one for an ordained woman and another for an ordained pastor under 40.
The debate followed a similar line from both sides, but a voice vote revealed enough support to pass the measures, Resolution 3 to change the constitution and Resolution 14 to amend the bylaws.
The Kansas District sought support for a resolution that would add two categories to the list of reasons individuals could receive AG credentials in spite of being divorced and remarried.
Supporters of Resolution 8 said it was biblically sound to add a spouse’s marital unfaithfulness and abandonment of a believer as circumstances that should not automatically block someone from receiving credentials.
Proponents cited Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7 as biblical support for their arguments, saying a believer who is the “victim” in these situations should not be barred from ministry.
But opponents said the proposal was wrong because God has high standards for anyone serving in full-time ministry. Opponents disagreed with the application of those two passages of scripture, and one speaker said the proposal could actually provide a cover for any ministers who actually were abusive toward a spouse.
After the extended discussion, the measure was approved on a voice vote.
The General Council approved most of the resolutions presented for discussion on Friday:
- Resolution 7, which removed duplicate language in the bylaws addressing commitment to the Fellowship.
- Resolution 9, which created a new statement in the bylaws on integrity in educational credentials.
- Resolution 10, which revised the Assemblies of God statement on legalism.
- Resolution 11, which clarified the length of service for the terms of AG World Missions regional directors.
- Resolution 12, which modified the General Council Operations Manual.
- Resolution 20, which clarified the role of the local district.
- Resolution 21, which modified the local church credential.
- Resolution 22, which edited the AG U.S. Missions section of the General Council Operations Manual.
- Resolutions thanking Thomas Trask and Charles Crabtree for their service to the Fellowship.
- Resolutions providing honorary general presbyter status to Trask, Crabtree, Paul G. Goodman, Donald C. MacPherson, Vernon J. Marks, Jerry L. Parsley, David D. Rueb and D. Wendel Cover.
- A special courtesy resolution thanking local officials for their hospitality during this year’s General Council.
- A request from the floor to create a special committee to examine the possible use of online voting for the 2009 General Council, to encourage greater participation from the Fellowship.
Also on Friday, the Council chose three new members of the Executive Presbytery:
Clarence St. John, superintendent of the Minnesota District since 1989, succeeds John Palmer as the presbyter for the North Central Area. He served as pastor of First Assembly of God in Hibbing, Minnesota, from 1968 to 1989.
Douglas E. Clay, superintendent of the Ohio District since 2004, will represent the Great Lakes Area. Most recently he pastored Calvary Assembly of God in Toledo, Ohio, and previously worked as the AG national youth director. He succeeds Charles E. Crank, a member of the Executive Presbytery since 2001.
John E. Maracle, president/chief of the Native American Fellowship since 2000, succeeds Zollie Smith as the Ethnic Fellowship representative. He has pastored in four different churches over the last 30 years and has been a missionary to Native Americans since 1975.
The other eight members of the Executive Presbytery were re-elected to two-year terms:
Warren D. Bullock, pastor of Northwest Family Church in Auburn, Washington, has represented the Northwest Area since 2001.
Richard L. Dresselhaus, formerly pastor of First Assembly of God in San Diego, California, has represented the Southwest Area since 1997.
J. Don George, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Irving, Texas, has represented the South Central Area since 2001.
Douglas E. Fulenwider, superintendent of the Louisiana District, has represented the Gulf Area since 2005.
H. Robert Rhoden, formerly superintendent of the Potomac District, has represented the Northeast Area since 2001.
C. Dan Betzer, pastor of First Assembly of God in Fort Myers, Florida, has represented the Southeast Area since 1995.
Jesse Miranda, professor at Vanguard University and the Latin American Bible Institute, has represented the Language Districts/Spanish since 1995.
Nam Soo Kim, pastor of Full Gospel New York Church in New York, New York, has represented the Language Districts/Other since 1999.