Report on the 38th Annual Meeting of Covenant East Classis
Hamburg, MN, March 2023
One hundred fifty-five years ago, a congregation was organized as St. Paul’s Evangelical Reformed Church. Its first constitution stated, “It shall be the purpose of this organization to provide its members with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the use of the Holy Sacraments, to promote the Christian life and to pass such resolutions from time to time by which the kingdom of Christ may be advanced.”
What a joy it was for Covenant East Classis to gather for its 38th Annual Spring Meeting at Hamburg, Minnesota (March 7-8, 2023), a place that has been historically faithful to God’s Word.
As has been the habit for Classis, the delegates assembled for a pre-classis gathering for food, fellowship, and book talk. Rev. Christopher Campbell led a discussion based on J.D. Greear’s book Gaining By Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send.
Some delegates would retire for the night at a strange recently constructed motel that was fitted in a former strip plaza. A motel bot sent out last-minute texts to instruct guests on using numerical codes after requiring a litany of security measures to be met before checking-in, as there would be no keycards, motel lobby, or even attendants on duty. While the motel accommodations may have been sparse, the incredible hospitality of the Hamburg congregation far exceeded expectations. The grilled pork chops and other dishes were legendary.
Outgoing President Rev. Christopher Campbell led the opening devotion from Psalm 75, as Classis formally commenced on Tuesday morning. He would turn the gavel over to Elder Dennis Luquette, the newly elected President. Rev. Chuck Muether was elected Vice President and Rev. Steve Carr was elected Stated Clerk. A quorum was declared with nine ministers and nine elders present.
With the adoption of the agenda, services, order of the day, receptions, announcements, and other docket items handled, the Classis proceeded to examine Rev. Sam Rodriguez in the areas of piety, historical philosophy, apologetics, prolegomena, theology proper, anthropology, Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology, English Bible, RCUS history, RCUS confessional standards, and RCUS Constitution. Rev. Rodriguez demonstrated proficiency in all areas, answering with a humble spirit and acknowledging the sovereignty of his heavenly Father and the grace of his Lord Jesus Christ. He previously served in the OPC and PCA and has thirteen years of ordained ministry, and he has come to the RCUS to take up the call at Covenant Reformed Church at Gettysburg, PA. Rev. Rodriguez preached Tuesday evening on Hebrews 12:1-3.
Tuesday’s meeting rounded out with the presentation of permanent and standing committee reports. It should be noted that Rev. Jimmy John Hall was dismissed to Northern Plains Classis as he received and accepted a call to Eureka Reformed Church, and Rev. James Grossmann was received from Northern Plains Classis to serve at Salem Ebenezer Reformed Church at Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
Rev James Sawtelle stirred the body Wednesday morning with a riveting exhortation from Psalm 71 (“The Need for Elderly Members”). Later in the meeting one delegate uttered from the floor that he was still reeling from the morning’s message, which truly points to the power of the well-proclaimed Word. A treat for ministers and elders at these Classis meetings is to sit under another man’s preaching, but one challenge that results from being deeply convicted and edified is changing gears and doing the business of the day. Rev. Sawtelle did not make that easy for us with his superb handling of the Word.
The annual reading of parochial reports always brings joy and sadness as news of triumphs and hardships are realized through the very mouths of men who preach the gospel and now give an account of the wellbeing of those in their charge as well as report on themselves. The Classis went into executive session for the better part of the day in order to follow up on an issue that came before the Classis last year. The handling of the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez’ credentials and his preaching were also discussed.
With time fleeting, the Classis went out of executive session to deal with recommendations from Synod that required Classis action along with lingering items from the standing committees. Classis would call a special videoconference meeting on March 30 to complete unfinished business. At that meeting, Rev. Ron Potter reported on his status at Heritage RCUS and planned retirement at the end of June this year. Rev. Samuel Rodriguez’ sermon portion of the examination along with all the requirements for licensure were declared satisfactory, and his name was added to the rolls of Covenant East Classis. The delegates gave him the cyber right hand of fellowship with the intentions of a better welcome face to face at the next meeting. Constitutional questions to the elders (per Article 81) were asked, and for the most part, the respective elders answered in the affirmative regarding the spiritual and physical needs of the churches being met.
Rev. Win Groseclose informed the body that his congregation, Light of the Resurrection Reformed Church, desires affiliation with another denomination and is no longer seeking to join the RCUS. The Classis expressed its brotherly love for Rev. Groseclose and gratitude for his labors over the years.
Covenant East Classis again thanks its host, the hospitable saints of St. Paul’s Evangelical Reformed Church, the tech-savvy Rev. Dan Schnabel, and Elder Alan Hermann, the gifted always-smiling Classis treasurer, who makes sure every delegate is reimbursed for traveling, including that character from Pella who turned in a mileage statement of one mile. He got a signed dollar–priceless! And priceless was the camaraderie of these brothers in Christ!
(reported by Rev. Chuck Muether, Pella, IA)