Once again the time has come to consider the state in which we find the Northern Plains Classis. As we look back on the past year, we see the Lord’s hand at work in our midst. This does not mean we have been free from trials. However it does mean that Christ is still building his church in our midst. The evidence of our eyes often tell us that things are dire, and total ruin is just around the corner. It was Jonathan who said in I Samuel 14.6, “it may be that the Lord will work with us: for it is not hard to the Lord to save with many, or with few.” Therefore, let us not be dismayed by our lack of great numbers. Let us be encouraged by the words of the Psalmist. He wrote these words in both Psalm 16.12 and in Psalm 108.13, “through God we shall do valiantly: for he shall tread down our enemies.”
Having said that, the purpose of this report is to give the state of the church. Therefore, with trust in and thankfulness to God, we have to with knowledge our classis took a bit of a hit this past year. Our total communicant membership fell from 434 to 401. This was quite a drop. It does have to be said that, of the total number of members lost, 16 were because of death. This is uniquely and exclusively due to the providence of the God who numbers our days. We can take comfort in the fact that these 16 souls are now rejoicing in the presence of God. Our loss is their gain. Another figure I always consider in the statistics is the number of communicant members received by profession of faith. By and large, this figure represents those received into our membership who were not previously members of the Reformed Church. Sadly, this figure dropped from 15 in 2014 to 6 in 2015. To me, this indicates we are not reaching the population living within the bounds of our classis with the Gospel. This is what concerns me the most.
Turning to the parochial reports, Rev Dale Clark reports having difficulty finding employment since leaving Dickinson and moving to Anchorage, Alaska. He and his wife currently have part-time jobs. Rev Clark has been interviewed for the Clinical Pastoral Education course that is offered at one of the hospitals in Anchorage. As of the writing of his report, he has not heard whether he has been accepted into this programme. Should Dale be accepted in this course and complete it successfully, he will be qualified to serve as a hospital chaplain.
Reporting from Minot, Rev Phil Poe reports that his church has lost a significant number of members due to moving away to take advantage of job opportunities. Still, they have been able to continue their support to various Reformed causes, as well as giving out several thousand dollars in diaconal aid. The Minot church is also working with an architect with a few to building a facility that can see 100 people. It is good to see this church, in the midst of discouragement, pressing ahead, walking by faith and not by sight.
Rev Wes Brice, reporting on our Dickinson mission work, is very cheerful and optimistic. Coming to Dickinson at a low point in their history, Rev Brice testifies to the grace of God in the congregation there. Although the membership of the mission work consists of only two families, the mood of the small congregation is very upbeat. There have been visitors to the services. The Brices have engaged in outreach in various ways.
The situation in our Ashley church is very serious. The sudden departure of licentiate Thomas Walters was a surprise to many. This is not the place to comment more. However, we are thankful for the prospect of another man who has expressed interest in Ashley and the ministry of the RCUS.
Licentiate Cody Schwichtenberg in Herreid reports that the church there is receiving his ministry very well. He also has opportunities to minister to the youth of the church. Much of his time has to be given to study for his ordination exam which, God willing, will take place at this classis meeting. We thank God that he has provided Cody to minister to this congregation and trust that he will continue to provide godly ministry in his local church and wisdom to our classis.
Rev James Grossmann writes from Eureka, giving an account of his busy ministry there. In addition to preaching in Eureka, he has also ministered numerous times in Herreid and Ashley. He also serves as our Stated Clerk. Perhaps the climax of his year was serving as a fraternal delegate to the synod meetings of our sister denomination in the Congo. Rev Grossmann consistently handles a very heavy schedule with patience and grace.
This writer continues to serve as the pastor of our Aberdeen church. God willing, I will complete my fourteenth year in the pastorate there at the end of June. In addition to my pastoral ministry, I currently serve as speaker for two radio broadcasts, Start The Week and Pause For Thought. Much of my ministry centres around the nursing homes in Aberdeen. The Lord has been pleased to grant our church a period of unity and peace. We do not take this for granted, but we do praise God for allowing us both to worship the Lord and spread the Gospel in our city.
Although 2015 saw many trials for Rev George Syms of Watertown, his parochial report shows a full range of activities in the church there. His report indicates at least one talent which is not universally shared by ministers. I refer to his ability to engage the congregation in times of fellowship and recreation. Teaching God’s people to enjoy each other’s company in informal situations is neither frivolous nor unimportant. It encourages us to treat each other as friends. In addition, Rev Syms has chaired the Candidates and Credentials Committee during the year when numerous exams were given and different men were interviewed. We are thankful that the Lord has improved his health and enabled him to continue ministering in Watertown.
Rev J.P. Mosley writes from Pierre that this has been a difficult year in the life of the church. There have been losses to the membership from various causes which have been discouraging. For all of this, one senses a note of optimism in his report. This optimism is not simply wistful thinking, but faith in the promises of God. It is in this certain hope that we, along with Rev J.P. Mosley, look expectantly to the future with confidence. The Lord will build his church.
The Candidates And Credentials Committee reports that Licentiate Cody Schwichtenberg will be examined for ordination at our classis meeting this week. This is good news for the congregation in Herreid. We are also pleased that Mr Craig Phelps, currently a licentiate in the United Reformed Churches, is interested in pursuing ordination in the RCUS. It was hoped that he would be able to take a licensure exam at our meeting. Unfortunately, he had to inform the committee he would be providentially hindered from attending.
Another committee whose report showed significant activity was the Home Missions Committee. This report was mainly taken up with the situation in our mission work in Dickinson, North Dakota. The committee was thankful to God for turning around the circumstances in that work. The congregation, which had been very discouraged, is now optimistic and enthusiastic to see a Reformed Church established in their town. The arrival of Rev Wesley Brice as stated supply to the work has been greatly blessed by the Lord. There have been numerous opportunities for outreach. The committee also recommended that the classis consider investigating the possibilities of establishing other mission churches within the classis. Although Jamestown and Fargo were mentioned by name, the committee was open to considering a work in any city in which there appeared to be an opportunity.
It is the conclusion of this writer that the state of this classis should not be evaluated on the basis of statistics. The various parochial reports show that each minister is earnestly seeking both to minister to his congregation and to proclaim the gospel outside the walls of the church. Speaking of his own ministry, the apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 3.6, “I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” This is the key to both numerical growth and spiritual growth. We must faithfully plant and water the seed, but we must never lose sight of the fact that it is God who gives the increase. Therefore, we must not be defeatists. We must carry on doing that work to which God has called us. Let us remember the exhortation given by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 6.9, “Let us not therefore be weary of well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”
Rev. David A. Dawn Aberdeen, SD