It has been an honor to serve as your president over the last year. As this was my first year on the job, I was forced to “hit the ground running” as the baton was passed to me. I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to all who assisted me in my first year as president through emails and phone calls, especially out-going president Rev. Kyle Sorensen, who provided me with what I needed to make a successful transition into this role, and Rev. Steve Carr and Elder Andy Gilman, who refined my thinking and encouraged me in the work.
In keeping with RCUS practice, condolences were brought on behalf of Classis to the families of deceased RCUS ministers Gene Sawtelle (via a letter of condolence) and Wes Brice (via Rev. Kyle Sorensen, who preached Wes Brice’s funeral).
The Heidelberg Catechism (Q. 28) teaches us to be “thankful in prosperity, and patient in adversity.” As I reflect upon the churches within our Classis, I see the need for both, as the past year has been one of blessings and burdens. Let us give thanks to God for the blessings and look to God to sustain us under the burdens.
The blessings we have experienced as a Classis in the last year, as reported by the parochial reports of ministers and statistics reports are that our ministers have been faithful in preaching the word, in season and out of season. In doing so, many of our ministers report a joy in the simple week by week feeding of the flock and the resulting spiritual growth of their members. Along with the spiritual growth and maturity of our current members, God has been pleased to add new members to our congregations. Over the past year 33 covenant children were added by baptism—almost a 50% increase from 2020. Praise God for these little blessings! In addition to these, over half our churches reported receiving new members by either letter of dismission or profession of faith, with one congregation reporting an overall increase in membership of 27% (from 91 to 126 baptized members). I am also thankful to report that this year we have seen an increase in overall giving in our churches, which is remarkable given the struggles that some of our churches experienced.
Along with these blessings, we have also experienced many burdens. We have seen conflict and division within two congregations (with one congregation losing 47% of its communicant members over the past year and another seeing its entire consistory resign). We have also witnessed the closing of a mission work, the retirement of two pastors for health reasons, and another pastor take a leave of absence. And, although we have seen growth in certain congregations, there has been an overall reduction of the number of communicant members within our Classis by 7%.
As I reflect upon the needs of our Classis, and our denomination, one thing rises to the surface—our need to look to the future. Not only must we concentrate our efforts on missions outside the walls of our present churches, but we must also strengthen the ministries within our present churches (for if we do not have strong churches, there will be no churches to plant mission works). To do this, our local churches would be wise to develop, not only plans for external growth, but also plans for internal stability and succession. “Who will be the next pastor?” should be asked long before the present pastor desires to retire or, as we have seen this year, is forced to retire for health reasons. As a church we must be proactive as our ministers age. We also must consider pastoral burnout, which we have seen in our Classis this past year. One way both issues, an aging ministry and pastoral burnout, might be addressed is by our larger churches taking on a second pastor, who, in addition to gaining experience in the ministry and familiarity with the RCUS, would be prepared to take a call, either in a new mission work or in a church whose minister is retiring. This would also offset the labor of pastors in larger congregations in the hopes that they would not face periods of burnout.
The Interchurch Relations Committee made visits this year to two Classis meetings of the United Reformed Churches in North America (Classis Eastern U.S. and Classis Central U.S.) and Presbytery meetings of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (Presbytery of the Midwest and Presbytery of Ohio) and the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (Midwest Presbytery).
The Missions Committee was able to personally visit Rev. Chuck Muether and the work Immanuel Reformed Fellowship in Pella, Iowa, as well as conduct visits with Rev. Win Groseclose, and Rev. Steve Carr and Rev. Howard Sloan via Zoom.
The Church Camp Committee reports this year’s camp was a huge success with record numbers. When the camp began in 1991, it did so with 16 campers from 2 churches. In 2021, 9 churches were represented by 78 campers. We are thankful to all those who labor so hard to put this camp together, especially the volunteers from our Manitowoc, Wisconsin congregation.
From west to east, a selective summary of the parochial reports follows.
In Kansas City, Rev. Campbell reports that the congregation is growing in love for one another and in size, reporting a record number of new members (32) which includes the birth of 10 new covenant children. Although the congregation has seen new faces, he also recounts the difficulty of saying goodbye to a young 36-year-old wife and mother who died of COVID. As they continue to surround this young husband and his two boys, he reports “we are learning what it means to comfort others with the comfort with which God has comforted us.”
In Northwest Arkansas, Rev. Carr reports “As I think of the congregation here in NW Arkansas, I echo the sentiments of the Apostle Paul when he said, “I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4)” noting that “when Paul burst forth into thanksgiving, it wasn’t because their budget was balanced and their pews were full. Rather, it was because God’s grace was evident in the life of God’s people.” He reports that God’s grace is indeed evident in the life of God’s people in Northwest Arkansas.
In Hamburg, Rev. Schnabel reports that, although “there were many stresses in the church for all of us in the last couple years” it remains a “privilege to proclaim the Gospel which is the power of God to salvation (Romans 1:16).” He is “thankful that fellowship times were able to be started again as well as the elders visiting families in the church.” He concludes reminding us that “Martin Luther rightfully said, “prayer, study and suffering makes a pastor” and that “God is reminding us through this we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth (Hebrews 11:13).”
In Garner, Rev. Larson reports that “this past November 2021 marked the seventh year of my ministry at Peace Reformed Church.” His days and weeks have been filled with “study, prayer, sermon constructing, preaching, teaching, catechizing, administering the sacraments, counseling, comforting, encouraging, writing, and visiting the sick and shut-ins at hospitals and nursing facilities.” He reports that “the time has come for me due to health issues to announce my retirement from the ministry.”
In South Central Iowa, Rev. Chuck Muether reports that “the make-up of Immanuel Reformed Fellowship presently is three committed families, three considering families, and about six curious families.” He reports the recent ordination and installation of Elder Matthew Dudley as well as the beginning of the framing of a local constitution. The work is “expanding our WEBS (Wednesday Evening Bible Study) and moving toward a Sunday Evening Worship.” Additionally, he reports “our East-Des Moines Bible study is thriving, and we are developing after-school programs.”
In Minnetonka, Rev. Kron notes “the year 2021 marked ten years since we began to meet together for corporate worship at Emmaus Road Reformed Church.” He reports thanksgiving for the corporate worship, leadership, times of prayer, discipleship, missions, and fellowship of the congregation. Financially the congregation is strong, and “missions giving went up this year, and also our mercy ministry (benevolence fund is healthy). In closing he remarks, “As we look back on the past ten years of life at Emmaus Road, may we not be proud, presumptuous, or discouraged. But instead, may the family of God at Emmaus be encouraged by looking back in thankfulness and looking forward in hope.”
In Minneapolis, Rev. Sawtelle expresses his “heartfelt gratitude to the classis for your stated concerns and prayers for me” as he went on sabbatical leave from March to June 2021. He thanks God “for giving me healing and renewal mentally, emotionally and spiritually in this time of rest.” He reports that the congregation has “experienced a substantial decrease in membership in the last year and a half ” but that of those who remain “all save one returned to in person worship by the end of 2021.” Financially, the church was able to “send funds to numerous mission works, Mid America Reformed Seminary, and to Heidelberg Seminary for their instruction efforts in the Philippines.”
In Manitowoc, Rev. Sorensen reports that weekly worship services, Bible studies and church functions are regularly taking place and that the church continues to have regular visitors, including a few new families who came as recently as December and January. He also reports that the Consistory of Salem-Ebenezer has graciously granted him a leave of absence through April 30, 2022.
In Napoleon, Rev. Altman reports “we have been blessed to have added to our covenant community two more beautiful children through the sacrament of baptism” and that “in them, we have the next generation of worshippers here in Napoleon each Lord’s Day morning.” Although they have “rejoiced at the additions to our congregation this past year, through both baptisms, and visitors who have been returning regularly, three of our members were erased from our roles” and “we also had to say goodbye to two dear sisters of our congregation, Esther Bockelman and Gay Grant.” He notes that “It has been wonderful to see the faith of some of our members who have been called to suffer difficulties this past year. Their hold of Christ during the storms of life encourages me more than they will ever know.”
In Gettysburg, Elder Luquette reports that “Rev. Jay Fluck, who served the first five years of our existence as a congregation of the RCUS, and six years prior to during our transitional state, retired for health reasons on May 24, 2021.” He reports that “in 2021 we experienced a 47% loss, having now 24 communicant members, which is less than when we first started.” Elder Luquette reports that he exhorted from the word 15 times and Rev. Terry Gorden of the RPCNA has preached 13 times. Elder Luquette is hopeful that in 2022 Covenant Reformed Church will be able to secure a new pastor, provide officer training to men suited for office, and bring reconciliation where needed regardless of church affiliations.
In Waymart, Rev. Potter takes comfort in the fact that “God is the author, agent and end of all things” which he states is “the definition of the Reformed faith in a nutshell and an essential truth to give meaning and purpose to life and ministry.” He reports “our Spiritual Council terminated our relationship with Blue Bell upon the advice of Classis and with the counsel of the Executive Committee.” Financially “we continue to hold our own though our finances are steadily declining. Members are committed to giving, to using their gifts and abilities and are co-operating together to do what needs to be done especially since we do not have a deacon.” He rejoices that they have had “9 regular visitors, some of whom we expect to see entering the membership process this year.”
In Fombell, PA, Rev. Groseclose continues to labor bi-vocation-ally and reports “God has been providing for our needs through a combination of my carpet installation, occasional freelance writing jobs, and also the generosity of LORR (which pays for our medical insurance).” He rejoices that at Light of the Resurrection “we are growing.”
Rev. Richard Stetler reports that he “was able, by the grace of God, to work with various churches in different ways to reach out to not only their members with Lord’s Day services, but also reach out to the broader communities.” Rev. Stetler filled the pulpit 27 times at various churches and continues his ongoing evangelism work, laboring under the banner of Reformation Gospel Ministries (RGM).
Rev. Christopher Campbell (President)