The Western Classis of the RCUS convened for its 31st Annual Session on March 1, 2016, in the stately two-story building of Grace Reformed Church in downtown Willows, California. Willows is slightly over a one-hour drive north from Sacramento and two and one-half hours from San Francisco. President Frank Walker called the meeting to order at 1:00 PM with seventeen ministers and thirteen elders present. Three pastors were absent, namely two of our retired pastors (Gene Sawtelle and Lloyd Gross) and one active minister (Tom Mayville, due to his employment). The remaining pastors made it, although burdened with varying degrees of poor health. Our brother Neil Riffert testified of the marvelous grace of God delivering him from death’s throes in his present home state of Texas in order to be at this meeting. He hopes to relocate his family back to California in the near future.
The host minister Eric Bristley welcomed the delegates and led them in rousing praise to the Head of the Church with the hymn “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah.” Then he gave a devotion entitled “We Do Not Lose Heart” and opened the session with prayer. Rev. Frank Walker, Rev. Hank Bowen and Mr. Chris Fellersen were re-elected respectively as President, Stated Clerk, and Treasurer. Rev. Paul Henderson won over incumbent Rev. Tracy Gruggett by one vote in the second ballot for Vice President. There were no new churches nor ministers added to Classis. Rev. Gil Baloy introduced Mr. Gary Davenport as a first-time elder from Covenant RCUS, San Diego. We were grateful to see once again Elder John Heerema of Trinity RCUS, Modesto, who has been encumbered with sickness for several years. That evening, the Rev. Valentin Alpuche conducted the worship service. Rev. Jim West proclaimed a message of gospel hope entitled “The Greatness of God’s Love for a Bad World,” based on John 3:10-21.
The President’s Report confidently affirmed once more our firm commitment to maintain the marks of the true church: the faithful preaching of God’s Word, proper and regular administration of the sacraments, and necessary church discipline. Regarding the third mark, there were three appeals that were made to Classis, which were finally adjudicated in a special fall Classis meeting. Presently, two churches have vacant pulpits. Elder Matthew Davis, a student-under-care, exhorts and teaches in one such congregation in Grass Valley. The Anderson church anticipates calling Mr. Colin Samul upon his passing his licensure examination. Treasurer Chris Fellersen presented a gloomy financial prognosis owing to decreasing guideline giving of several congregations. The tenor of the Classis is one of heightened alert over dwindling manpower (membership) and resources (guideline giving). Of course, we are not to fear. For the Lord knows what we need. Praise God that the growing conviction is to put first things first by preaching the gospel to the lost and shepherding God’s people. (Matthew 6:33)
The parochial reports written by “watching and praying” pastors provide us an insightful look at the goings-on of our individual congregations. It is a vital vista to our knowing the work of the Holy Spirit in our churches. The President’s Report is a helpful summary of them as well. How can we pray intelligently for one another’s needs without such strategic knowledge? Though it takes more paper and costs more money, I appreciate that our Clerk goes the second mile to include the parochial reports in our Classis Abstract.
One change to the roll of Classis was the listing of Rev. Dennis Roe as Pastor Emeritus. We appreciate the Synod Clerk, Rev. David Fagrey, forwarding periodic health briefs on the progress of Rev. Richard Stetler’s wife Heidi. Her surgery went well and she is at home resting and recovering. They thank the Lord for your prayers and support. How important are our wives to us in the ministry!
The brethren welcomed the two special reports, entitled the “Two Kingdom Theology” and “Child Safety in the Church.” They are the fruit of long (in the first case two years long!), hard work by the respective study committees. May God give us clear and cogent understanding of these matters. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit grant humility and grace to receive the truth and apply their spiritual benefits to our churches accordingly.
Three fraternal delegates were welcomed and seated: Elder Michael Krabbendam representing the Classis Pacific East of the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC); Rev. Angelo Contreras of the Classis Pacific Northwest U.S. (URCNA); and Rev. Wayne Forkner of the Presbytery of Northern California and Nevada (OPC). Mr. Krabbendam from Chilliwack, British Columbia, is the second cousin of Rev. Henry Krabbendam (OPC), a friend to a number of us in the RCUS. According to Rev. Walker, he was instrumental in saving the life of one of his daughters many years ago! Mr. Angelo Contreras spoke on the joy of the mutual bond of Christian love that we share as fraternal bodies. Like Mr. Contreras, Mr. Wayne Forkner is no stranger to our Classis and greeted us warmly in behalf of his Presbytery.
The licensure examinations began on the second day of Classis. Mr. Samul started the day by giving a devotion entitled “The Power of Christ in Human Weakness,” based on 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. Mr. Samul sustained all of his examinations, including the recitation of the Heidelberg Catechism. He was licensed and extended the right hand of fellowship by all the men followed with prayer by Rev. Tracy Gruggett. On the third and last day, for the morning devotion, Rev. Gil Baloy spoke on “Christian Contentment” from Philippians 4:10-20. Mr. Yevgeni Kogay, a licentiate of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, also was examined for the second time but was not passed. Mr. Paul Liberati, a recent member of Sacramento Covenant Reformed Church, and student at City Seminary, was interviewed on the floor and was brought under the oversight of Classis as a student-under-care.
“But the Word grew and multiplied.” (Acts 12:24) How exciting it is to observe the work of missions in our backyard, as it were! The three mission congregations of Western Classis are Rehoboth Reformed Church in Cerritos, Valle de Gracia (“Valley of Grace”) Reformed Bible Church in Shafter, and Calvary Reformed Chapel in Stockton. All of them are in California, of course. Each one of these continues to blossom in its own unique way. While Rehoboth Reformed Church experienced a decline in membership last year, fruit is beginning to be seen in an ongoing Bible study outreach (count six of them!) called “Living Well Bible Club” at Cerritos College Campus. Several students are now regularly attending the worship service. Three individuals are pursing membership and one man recently became a member. Praise the Lord!
In Shafter, Rev. Valentin Alpuche leads a Sunday evening worship service with the piano accompaniment of his son. He holds Bible studies in his home. In addition our only RCUS Hispanic minister continues to teach English lessons three days each week. These classes have turned out to be marvelous opportunities for Bible teaching, counseling, and prayer. Rev. Alpuche proclaims God’s Holy Word on an AM station, which is followed up with the mailing of free literature upon request. His ministry of the translation of Reformed works into Spanish extends well beyond Shafter. It reaches as far away as the Latin Fellowship of Reformed Churches in Costa Rica, South America. Amazing!
The Stockton congregation has a strong commitment to being a faithful witness to the Truth in their community. The financial giving is indicative of their heartfelt desire to see this work thrive. God may have provided the answer to the prayers for a new meeting place when a location was recently discovered that fits their financial and location needs. According to Rev. Jonathan Merica, the mission congregation comes under the new oversight of Modesto. Covenant Reformed Church of Grass Valley is to be commended for many years of faithful shepherding of God’s people in Stockton. The three mission works will continue another year receiving classical and synodical support. The Bible warns us not to “despise the day of small things.” (Zechariah 4:10). Therefore, let us lift up all of our precious mission churches in humble yet hopeful supplication to our ascended Lord who alone has been given all power in heaven and earth.
This report would not be complete without expressing in behalf of the brothers of Western Classis our hearty thanks to the congregation of Willows. All of our basic needs were marvelously met by the attentive and friendly care of those who served us with scrumptious meals each morning, noon, and evening that we were there. The concluding Thursday afternoon devotion was given by Elder Joe Gross entitled “Something You Say When You Have Already Said a Mouthful,” from 1 Corinthians 16:13-14. He then closed in prayer. The final roll call was taken by the Stated Clerk with sixteen ministers and twelve elders. As is our practice, President Walker led the delegates in the recitation of the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. After he pronounced the Benediction, all join together in the singing of the Doxology. The 31st Annual Western Classis was adjourned. In the will of God, the next Annual Session is scheduled to meet at First Reformed Church in Yuba City, California, on March 7, 2017, at 1:00 PM.
Rev. Gil Baloy,
San Diego, CA
INSERT PIC (either in this report, or IN OR between this one and the Western Classis President’s Report)
Box. The tenor of the Classis is one of heightened alert over dwindling manpower (membership) and resources (guideline giving). Of course, we are not to fear. For the Lord knows what we need. Praise God that the growing conviction is to put first things first by preaching the gospel to the lost and shepherding God’s people. (Matthew 6:33)