President’s Report to the Meeting of Covenant East Classis | March 7-8, 2023 | Held at St. Paul’s Evangelical RCUS, Hamburg, MN
Beloved Saints in the Lord Jesus Christ,
The Apostle Peter stirs us up by way of reminder when he writes, “do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9). God’s timing is not our timing. God defers judgement because he delights in mercy, or, in the words of John Calvin, “God regulates time to promote our salvation.” Let us never forget the “riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering,” for it is “the goodness of God that leads us to repentance.” (Romans 2:4).
I am thankful God has been “regulating time to promote our salvation” by providing another year for our churches to faithfully proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have seen a relative stability in our churches this year. Pastors have reported increased attendance and more visitors, at a level not seen since before 2020. One of our churches started an evening service and reports that it is well attended. Another has identified a man who desires to study for the ministry. Although we began the year with three vacant pulpits, two of these churches are moving forward with the calling of pastors. And although membership has decreased slightly, overall giving has increased.
We have many things to celebrate in Covenant East Classis, but we are not without our challenges.
One of the challenges we face is an aging ministry coupled with the danger of pastoral fatigue. The pastoral ministry is not for the faint of heart! One minister has indicated that it will soon be time for him to retire. This year we also had two pastors take sabbaticals, one reporting that he is “very tired and weary of late.”
Another challenge is declining membership. Although the decline was less than last year, every church in our Classis reported a loss of members. This year we also saw the resignation of a long time RCUS minister.
A third challenge, experienced presently by two of our churches (with a third potentially headed in this direction), is the inability to fully support their minister, necessitating they get secondary employment.
The Candidates and Credentials Committee has been busy assisting two churches as they seek to call Rev. James Grossmann to Salem Ebenezer Reformed Church, Manitowoc, WI, and Rev. Sam Rodriquez to Covenant Reformed Church, Gettysburg, PA.
The Camp Committee reports that Covenant East Youth Camp met at Camp Sinewa July 12-15, 2022. The theme of the camp was “The Unsearchable Riches of Christ: A Study through the Book of Ephesians.” Fifty-five campers attended.
The Communications and Publications Committee, in conjunction with the Synod Welcoming Committee, followed up on two inquiries from Iowa (Ackley and Wellsburg), one from Indiana (Vincennes), and one from Georgia (Lawrenceville). Other more recent inquiries from Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia, South Carolina, and Missouri are developing. This year the committee hopes to showcase our youth camp and encourage more congregations to share news of baptisms, confirmations, anniversaries, officer installations, etc.
The Interchurch Relations Committee received invitations from the CanRC, OPC, RPCNA and URCNA. However, members were only able to attend one meeting, the OPC’s Presbytery of Ohio, primarily due to geographical distance.
The Missions Committee visited with Rev. Chuck Muether of Immanuel Reformed Fellowship and Rev. Steve Carr of Grace Reformed Church, Rogers, AR. Both visits were by video conference.
From west to east, a selective summary of the parochial reports follows.
In Kansas City, Rev. Campbell reports “God is sending people who are hungry for the pure water of God’s grace, who have been bound by the law, who have not known the free grace of God in Jesus Christ. We are seeing people freed to love God and love others, true heart change. We continue to see new visitors, and many have become or are in the process of joining the church. As we look forward to the coming year, we hope to do more outreach to our community through small groups and other activities.”
In Northwest Arkansas, Rev. Carr reports, “It is a comfort to know that “the LORD is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:9). He continues to have many opportunities to preach the gospel, both within the church (having added an evening service this year) and outside the church (via radio broadcast). Two families joined the church this year, although one of them did not remain, for reasons unknown. Reflecting on this, Rev. Carr reminds us, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
In Hamburg, Rev. Schnabel reports “The Lord has enabled us to begin 20 years together here, as we press towards the goal of the upward calling of Christ (Philippians 3:14).” One of the highlights of his year is “having so many kids in VBS.” As he reflects upon the past year, he says, “I am thankful that despite the insecurity, spiritual decline and craziness in our society, the Lord really has blessed this church, not just over the life of the church, but in the last year also!”
In Garner, Elder Larson reports, “in May a new Consistory was installed, two elders and three deacons.” The congregation is “very thankful to Rev. Stetler for filling our pulpit when he was able during the summer and very regularly through the fall and winter months” but does continue to seek “an under shepherd to tenderly lead the sheep here to the Glory of our Savior, Jesus.”
In South Central Iowa, Rev. Chuck Muether reports, “Recently, we had our first young person confirm her faith.” “We also had our first ordained and installed elder resign from office due to a significant health issue.” “I was reminded again that in all the busyness of church planting, the business of the church planter, as Thomas Goodwin would say, is to keep “hearts raised up to heaven.” We are to plant hope. We are to point to the greater glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In Minnetonka, Rev. Kron reports, “In both the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments, which are God’s gifts to us as the visible gospel, our hearts are directed “to the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thessalonians 3:5). And when we gather as a church for worship, our prayer is that we would leave saying “surely God was in this place.” He rejoices that in the congregation “our love for the Lord and each other has grown as we have gathered together to study the Scriptures as the family of God this past year.”
In Minneapolis, Rev. Sawtelle reports that while there is still much work to do, “I am happy to observe that good progress in restoration to normalcy has been realized among us in 2022.” In addition to this, Rev. Sawtelle notes great joy in holding “one-on-one intensive evangelism and discipleship meetings with a young man that led to his embracing Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord. The first time he attended last April, he told me before the service that this was to be his first ever church service. He was 17 years old. Praise God for his saving mercies and power.” He also reports a change to their local constitution: “The Consistory, after a number of months studying and discussing Redeemer’s long held Male-only voting policy (which was reflective of the RCUS’ position), decided to offer a study of this subject in Adult Sunday School also. Consistory subsequently voted 8-1 to call a special meeting of the congregation to vote on a proposed amendment to our Constitution allowing voting by all communicant members 21 years and older. The amendment passed by the requisite 2/3 majority vote.”
In Napoleon, Rev. Altman reports “God has certainly been good to us. I am now closing in on fifteen years of actively being involved in ministerial work here with the Saints at PRC. That is a lot of time.” He then notes “I am getting very tired and weary of late. I have now been working a second job for nine years. That has taken a toll on both me and my family.” “In some ways, at least on a very surface level, it has been yet another normal year in the life of our church.” We have also continued to move forward with our potential building project. The wheels of progress tend to move slow for us however, I am so grateful for the collective wisdom, and groundwork that our members have been able to give to this endeavor. We will continue to move forward in the coming year, Lord willing.” As difficulties arise in the local church, he has been reminding his congregation that “We are all equally members of Christ’s church, and there are no distinctions to be made for time spent here. Love must be here. It’s not a choice. It’s a fruit of being transformed by the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
In Waymart, Rev. Potter reports, “As of March of this year Heritage will have been in existence for 20 years. During approximately one-half of that time it was overseen by Peace Reformed Church of Napoleon and during the latter half under the oversight of its own officers. Our membership now stands at 9 communicant members and 2 covenant children all of whom are solidly committed to the Reformed Faith, the RCUS and Heritage. Visitors have come, stayed and then departed for several reasons, one of which is we are part of a denomination, another being our view of covenant baptism and yet another our view of original sin and its application to a child. I turn 80 in May of 2023. I am getting tired. At present, getting vacation time is not something we can depend on in our present situation as a Church. The Church will soon be beginning the discussion of transitioning to a new minister if it be that the Lord takes me home or if I simply get too wearied to continue. I must admit there are days when stepping down is very appealing except for one thing, “woe unto me if I preach not the gospel.”
In Fombell, PA, Rev. Groseclose reports, “this year has seemed more encumbered by challenges than in previous years. When you are bi-vocational, it is easy to lose sight of your pastoral calling and begin to think of yourself as just a workman in the community who does some extra-curricular things on the weekend. LORR has been a perpetual reminder that while I may install flooring to pay my family’s bills, my vocation is spiritual and pastoral.” “As to growth, it has remained slow. Sadly, just a few weeks ago, we lost one couple. On a more encouraging note, we have been joined by a new visitor on a consistent basis. Unbeknown to us, he had been watching online for a while and then decided it was time to start coming. Though this has been a harder year of ministry than others I have had, I have great hopes for what God has in store for us in the years to come.”
Rev. Richard Stetler reports, “There is nothing the world can dish out to cause us such great suffering that can be compared to the glory of being told by our Master, “well done good and faithful servant” when standing in His presence when we die or when He comes again. During 2022, though carrying the official title of “retired,” your servant was anything but retired. preached 46 times (36 times at Peace Reformed Church, Garner, IA). I continue to be actively engaged in on-going evangelism work, laboring under the banner of Reformation Gospel Ministries (RGM).
Rev. Christopher Campbell (President)