Northern Plains Classis President’s Report

39th Annual Meeting of the Northern Plains Classis

In preparation for this 39th Annual Meeting of the Northern Plains Classis, it was a bit overwhelming to reflect upon all that has taken place in the Northern Plains Classis this past year, and all of the new and different areas we have had to engage in. It is exhausting just thinking about the extent of the labors of the men in the Northern Plains Classis.

But brothers, we have been chosen for the high calling of the ministry of Christ to preach the gospel of grace to a lost and perishing world. I think of the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:50–58: Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 51Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55“O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” 56The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

Is it any wonder that Paul encouraged us with the words that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us? Our labor is not in vain though at times our bodies seem so weak. As a pastoral core we can relate to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:7–10 7But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. 8We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—10always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

Last year I observed that it appeared our pastoral core was under attack in terms of the physical demands of our calling. That not only has not changed but perhaps bore even greater consequences this past year. Rev. Schwichtenberg stated, “Stress may have been one of the contributing factors for a gallbladder attack in August which later led to gallbladder removal surgery. It was only by the grace of God, and the congregation’s prayers that I made it through it.” Rev. Bowen suffered a severe lower spine injury in November that has resulted in permanent limitations to his physical activities, and Rev. Lassley reported, “The Wednesday before our Thanksgiving Eve service, yours truly suffered a stroke; apparently, high blood pressure runs in my family. Brothers and sisters, a regular check-up would have revealed that; the saying is worthy of acceptance: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  I want to encourage all our elders to go back to your consistories and make it a practice to require your pastors to have an annual wellness physical.

Coupled with these physical setbacks there were also several challenges in a number of our churches. Minot entered into their second year without a pastor, Rev. Grossmann left Eureka immediately following Classis to take up a charge in Manitowoc, WI, there was a trial shortly after Classis where the Mitchell pastor was deposed from the ministry due to ethical failure, and in Pierre Rev. Henderson submitted his resignation and intention to retire in August. That is almost half of our congregations, along with the physical conditions of three other pastors left only two churches where there were no serious situations that arose.

With great joy, Eureka called and installed the Rev. Jimmy John Hall in July, and Rev. Kevin Pulliam was examined in June at a Special Classis and installed into the Minot charge in October. Rev. Henderson, in his retirement, moved to Mitchell where he is pulpit supply while Grace Reformed Church continues in a pastor search, and in like manner, Rev. Bill Haddock, having retired from his State Government job has taken up the pulpit supply in Pierre while they search for their next pastor. The transitions of Rev. Hall and Pulliam have gone well and the churches are thankful and supportive of their new pastors.

In reviewing your reports it is evident that the word is being preached faithfully, the sacraments are being administered properly, our youth is being diligently catechized, people are getting married, babies are being baptized, and the Lord is adding officers to his church. Of note also, is that our student under care, Mr. David Voytek graduated from Mid-America Reformed Seminary, was examined in Western Classis, licensed, ordained, and installed as the pastor of Grace Reformed Church in Willows, CA. The Lord also blessed him with a wife, and his proud father, Rev. Michael Voytek was involved in his ordination, and a week later another son’s wedding. Furthermore, a son of the Northern Plains Classis, Mr. Matthew Dawn sustained his licensure exam in Covenant East Classis, and was called to be the pastor of Peace Reformed Church in Garner, IA.

There are a couple of matters I would like to see referred by overture to Synod. The first has to do with Articles 173-175 of the Constitution in the section on Restoration. Article 175 states if a minister shall have been deposed but not excommunicated, he shall be entitled to the rights of a communicant member; and Classis shall furnish him with a certificate to any congregation with which he may desire to connect himself. Such certificate shall state his exact relation to the church. The conflict here is that in 2006 the Synod affirmed that a minister is to be a member of the local church in which he ministers. As such, concerning his church membership, he is under the Spiritual Council in matters of church discipline. He is accountable to the Classis as regards his ministerial credential. Therefore, I would like to see Classis overture Synod to change Article 175 to state the local church
shall furnish him with a certificate of dismission. This should go to the Standing Judicial Committee.

The second area that I would like to see referred to Synod has to do with how requests for Ministerial Aid are made to Synod. Currently, the local consistory meets with the retired minister and goes over a request form for ministerial aid. The consistory then overtures the Classis who considers the request and sends it to Synod who considers the request. But there is a problem in this process because some ministers are members of churches that are in a different Classis than the minister has his credentials. But a member church of one Classis is not supposed to submit overtures to a different Classis. I would like to see Classis propose that the Synod change this entire process of overtures so that the Permanent Synod Diaconal Committee oversees this process in connection with the local church and bypasses the Classes altogether. In this way, all requests for Ministerial Aid come through recommendations in the Permanent Synodical Diaconal Committee which will employ a uniform evaluation for all requests. Not only would this remove several overtures for the clerks to handle, but also take it out of the Classes Standing Committee’s work. Moreover, we do have ministers who may not have their local membership in an RCUS church. In this case, they are not overlooked as the Permanent Committee is responsible for maintaining that contact.

This year has been a year of upheaval with the change of ministers creating havoc on our committees. About halfway through the year adjustments were made to the committees to try to account for the changes.  The diligent work of everyone is evident.

The desire of the Classis to engage in the work of missions is beginning to bear fruit. Synod suggested that with the pending border adjustment, the Northern Plains Classis obtain permission from Western Classis to investigate a possible work in Idaho. That was granted and movement was accomplished in considering this possibility. Moreover, Rev. Lassley undertook a Bible Study in Brookings, SD as the possible beginning of a work, and then through a chaplaincy he started a second study in Summit, SD. There was another contact with a family in West Fargo expressing interest in starting an RCUS work. To that end, the Missions Committee did work on pursuing the idea of a missionary at large to labor in these potential opportunities.

Two of our pastors traveled to Mid-America to attend a conference on Church planting and will lead our special order in a discussion on what they learned and observed.

The Interchurch Committee was unable to send a delegate to our Canadian Reformed brothers this past year. However, there was some communication about a joint gathering of the Classes and perhaps including the OPC and URCNA. The OPC will hold its presbytery meeting in Mandan, ND this coming year and we should commit to sending a delegate.

As the Northern Plains Classis we have become very conscious of our shrinking numbers of churches and membership. This past year, however, the Northern Plains Classis showed an increase of 20 communicant members and 28 baptized members. This is an amazing thing given the number of deaths in our churches each year. Only the Lord knows what lies ahead for us, even as only the Lord knows what lost sheep are in our presence that needs to be gathered in. But the Lord rewards diligence and the gospel needs to be preached in this world to call the lost to repentance and faith in the only Savior of the world.

The future of the NPC is in the hands of the Lord. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen
(1 Timothy 1:17). 

Rev. Hank Bowen

Northern Plains Classis

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