Esteemed Fathers and Brethren,
Our Lord calls us to faithfully shepherd his flock (1 Peter 5:1-4). I thank our Lord Jesus Christ for his abundant grace toward us. In the past year he has given us sufficient grace to face the many trials that he led us through. We have not lacked what we needed for each moment. Indeed, each moment was met with his abundant grace. Above all we have had grace and opportunity to sustain his flock, which he has committed to our care. I am thankful to him to be part of a denomination that is committed to biblical pastoral care.
What follows is my state of the church report, beginning with a summary of the parochial reports.
Retired ministers may submit a report to classis if they wish to do so. This year we received two such reports.
Rev. Paul Treick brings warm greetings to Classis. In his report he relates that his current health issues are affecting his ability to serve the church. Nevertheless, each week he puts together the bulletins, and he teaches the adult Sunday school and the Sunday night Bible studies as he is able. He and Karen greatly benefit from the warm fellowship of the congregation. In his report he also seeks to maintain a true Presbyterianism by sounding warnings against the dangers of creeping congregationalism on the one hand or a trend toward ‘super committees’ on the other.
Rev. Vern Pollema reports of his labors for the church. The Lord provided opportunity for him to preach each month at Grace Reformed Church of Lancaster, as well as occasionally filling in for Rev. Tracy Gruggett. He serves on two permanent committees, one of Classis, the other of Synod. And he also serves on the board of Heidelberg Theological Seminary. He remarks that his health is relatively good, and he and Betty are enjoying their children and grandchildren and the fellowship of the church. We can only thank God that he continues to bless us with the labors of his faithful servant.
Though in the second year of the Pandemic, Rev. Sam Powell reports that the congregation of First Reformed Church in Yuba City is getting its health back after several extremely challenging years. He reports of faithful ministry in a difficult context and describes the Lord’s grace in sustaining the congregation and meeting their financial needs. He encourages classis that in the midst of these changing times that we rely of the Rock who does not change. Moreover, new changes, he counsels, are “OK” so long as God is doing it.
Things are returning to normalcy at Grace Reformed Church in Bakersfield. The congregation worshipped outside at a local school in the beginning of the year but came back to their facilities in early Spring. The remodel project is both a source of joy and frustration. They’re using it, but the work remains incomplete. Rev. Gruggett relates that they took the Lord’s Supper only two times in 2021, due to a combination of Covid and the sanctuary not being ready. The congregation will be short one elder for 2022. The Spiritual Council will be comprised of the pastor and two elders. In addition, the congregation has a small number of children. But there is good number of young adults, and new families being started. Generally, the congregation is encouraged.
Rev. Valentine Alpuche lists his labors during the year. He relates that the congregation is comprised of four families, and visitors regularly attend. Among his labors Valentine also teaches at Seminario Reformado de las Américas. I will note that he carries out his labors while experiencing extreme, sometimes debilitating, lower back pain. Still the work goes on, and the Lord is blessing it.
Rev. Douglas Schlegel says that impact of Rev. Thomas Mayville’s absence has been deeply felt by himself and by the congregation. He reports that the congregation, due to Covid-19 met only twice in 2021 through virtual means. On the use of this technology he writes, “I am pleased that those who need to use this technology can do so, when necessary, but I also continue to insist that while it is a good tool, it will never, ever replace the in-dispensable physical gathering for worship.” The church was well served with faithful preaching, teaching, and shepherding. And I suppose it can be said that when you produce a handbook on church discipline, you become a sought-after-man. Rev. Schlegel thus finds himself serving the broader church as a consultant for pastors and councils on difficult cases of church discipline. We thank the Lord for his gifts.
Pastor Gil Baloy reports that for Covenant Reformed Church in San Diego 2021 was a better year than the previous one. Most importantly, they returned to in-person worship as well as to other in-person activities. One gets a sense that congregation values and enjoys loving fellowship with the members engaging in many activities to be with and to encourage one another. Some members moved out of state. But they have installed two men as church officers. Rev. Baloy continues his evangelism efforts; twice a week going out to make known the good news. The congregation is being sustained under solid teaching and wise leadership.
Rev. Frank Walker details his labors at Sacramento Covenant Reformed Church and is encouraged by the congregation’s growing maturity. He reports that congregation has returned fully to their pre-Covid activities. They did lose members during Covid for various reasons, but things have stabilized. Indeed, new members have been received. He reports that the loss of his daughter has frequently left him feeling broken, and the several health issues have prevented him from preaching and from other forms of ministry. The ongoing work, the growing maturity of the members, and the addition of new members is a great delight to him. May our Lord continue to provide comfort for he and Christine.
Rev. Gary Mancilas relates his work and the state of Covenant Reformed Church of Chico. He describes his numerous pastoral labors in conjunction with the members of Consistory in what appears to be well functioning program of spiritual oversight and instruction. They are very diligent to maintain and exercise the three marks of the church along with catechetical instruction of the youth. In addition, they lead the congregation to observing Synodical days of prayer. We can see that the congregation is well served by these faithful under-shepherds. As we all know, Gary and Gloria lost their daughter, Melanie, this past August. They want to express their deeply felt thanks to everyone in Classis for all your prayers and words of encouragement.
Rev. Ruben Zartman relates what was a year of blessing for the congregation of Ebenezer Reformed Church. Along with regular preaching and teaching, he finds that “remaining in touch with the congregation remains a rewarding element of the work.” The congregation’s enthusiastic support of Valle De Gracia remains unabated. Indeed, their involvement with the work has been beneficial to the health of ERC. During the year the Lord added to the number through transfers, public profession of faith, and baptisms. He is also encouraged by the ways members find ways to serve one another and show hospitality. In addition, to his inside labors with both congregations, his outside labors as the synodical clerk take a significant amount of time and energy as we might imagine. Rev. Zartman’s hope for the coming year is that the congregation will remain faithful in doctrine as well as grow in prayer and in evangelism.
Rev. Jonathon Merica states that, “The goal of the ministry of Calvary Reformed Chapel is to declare the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to sinners and faithfully preach the Word of God to His people for His honor and glory.” His report reflects his faithful and dedicated labors to this end. On a Weekly basis he preaches God’s Word, teaches the adult Sunday school, and leads a midweek Bible study. The Lord’s Supper was administered twelve times. He mentions various other endeavors, including an emphasis on prayer. As to numerical growth, one person has been taking membership class, and one couple in the congregation is expecting. He expresses his gratitude to the Western Classis and to the congregation of Trinity Reformed Church, Modesto, the overseeing congregation.
Rev. Eric Bristley relates that much of his ministry to Grace Reformed Church of Willows was complicated by his need to go to Ohio to attend to the care of his elderly mother, who is 91 and no longer able to care for herself on her own. It was a difficult year. Much of the first half the year he resided in Ohio, yet ministered to the congregation through virtual means. This was something they were accustomed to due to the pandemic. In the latter half of the year, he was able to intermittently minister in person to the congregation in a variety of ways. During all of this he kept in frequent contact with the Consistory and was able to preach all but three Sundays. That he may care for his mother full time, he made the decision to resign from Willows and to retire from ministry. In November, he submitted to the consistory his request to resign and retire, and the consistory accepted both, and the congregation voted to make him Pastor Emeritus.
Elder Tim Curtis presented the parochial report for Trinity Reformed Church of Modesto. The church returned to in-person worship services for most of 2021. He reports that he preached 50 times, and the Lord’s Supper was served once. They broad-casted their worship services online, and this has been a source of ministry to the hospice patients he serves as a chaplain. The Congregation engages in an adult Sunday school and a Sunday evening Bible study. The congregation enjoys close fellowship and is blessed by their corporate prayer.
One feels a sense of excitement in reading the report from the elders of Grace Reformed Church in Lancaster. Elders Larry Lynch and Mark Reyna write that for six years now the Lord has sustained the congregation through the work of the elders and through no small contribution from Rev. Neale Riffert and Rev. Vern Pollema. Now at last they have called a man to serve as their pastor, Rev. Jeff Munive. They have prayed that the Lord will send a laborer, and it appears that He is doing so. In addition, the congregation has grown in their faith and in numbers with addition of six new members. These men express their joy, saying, “Our hope for the future of this congregation grows day by day.”
I hate to bear bad news, but as with all classis delegates I am concerned with continuing decrease in membership, especially communicate members. The overall total of our communicant membership decreased by 66 members. Most of these loses were sustained by Sacramento and Yuba City congregations, and in measure reflect the impact of the pandemic. Such losses have leveled off and both churches are in a rebuilding phase. The remainder of the churches of classis either remained the same or took in or lost a new family or two. Some of these losses were due to folks moving away. We should also be aware that eleven members of Rehoboth Reformed Church remain in the Western Classis until they are dismissed or erased. It is reasonable that these members will move to other churches in the Los Angeles area where there are no other RCUS churches.
No doubt this trend is concerning to all of us, perhaps even discouraging. The ministers and Consistories put in a lot of effort to serve and grow the churches. Even so, last year, we again saw deceases, and sadly another church closed. In past meetings and in numerous conversations, we have sought various explanations for this trend. To be sure, coming off two difficult years of Covid has a contributed to our lower numbers. Perhaps our Lord has been purifying our churches during this season ( John 15).
It seems to me that the reports reflect what we can call seasonal ministry. Coming out of the pandemic I see efforts to resume and renew in-person worship and fellowship. Several reports relate a closeness among the members with a desire to serve each other. Others reveal an emphasis on prayer. And one report exhorts us to be more open to change where in fact God is leading it. Though our numbers have not increased as we would desire, there is heath in our midst. And this is no small thing. Let us be committed to health first. This calls for pastoral wisdom. In the end we must echo the words of Paul: May we grow with the increase that is from God (Col. 2:19).
Ministry in Season
As stated above, ministry must take regard the seasons that churches find themselves in. To this end, I want to mention three areas to think about in the current season. I am sure you could think of more.
- I think that we would all agree that the current season calls for emphasis on in-person worship, bible studies, et al. Virtual technologies are a wonderful medium, but they cannot replace in person activities. As John says, Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full (2 John 1:12).
- At the current time and probably from here on, we need to take stock of the powerful influences upon our people coming from the news media. By news media I include all media iterations of both the left and right. These media and the personalities coming through them are hav-ing a powerful, formative, indeed, catechetical influence upon our people yet many are biblically ignorant and know little to nothing of the kingdom of Christ and the way of the cross.
- The current season calls for instruction in the upcoming elections both of 2022 and in 2024. I’ve never been a doomsayer and I usually ignore alarmists. But the political climate of the nation does not bode well for the upcoming elections. Maybe these will be normal election cycles; I do not know. But if they are as tumultuous as the previous one, then our people will need instruction and guidance on how to think biblically about political matters and be taught how to trust in our ascended Lord rather than the princes of men (Psalm 2; Is. 30).
Presbyterian Church Government
The esteemed fathers of our denomination–men that I have served alongside for my 20 years of ministry have passed onto us a legacy of faithfulness to the Reformed faith, with a strong devotion to presbyterian church government. We do well to carry on these principles and heed this legacy. We do well to heed warnings against encroachments that violate norms of sound church government. To be sure, classis governs as a body while in session or in circularized recommendations. It is not governed by any committee, nor are its delegated powers to be usurped by any one person, church, or group of congregations. To that end, I believe we are quite careful to keep the constitution and polities that are meant to govern the Western Classis. Nevertheless, we can make mistakes, or we can fail to see that a trend in a bad direction is underway. Therefore, let us be careful and humble to maintain sound ecclesiastical governance and submission.
I close this report with a citation from the Apostle Peter: The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away (1 Peter 5:1-4).
In 2022, may our exalted Lord be pleased to supply grace to sow and to water the seed of his Word. And may he grant much fruit.
Rev. Tracy Gruggett