Once again we consider the state of the Northern Plains Classis. As we meet for our 29th annual spring meeting, we look back on a year that has held great blessing but also trials. In the midst of it all, God calls us to be faithful to the work over which he has set us. In order for us to fulfil our responsibilities, we must first evaluate where we are at present.
As I review the various reports from Classis Ministers and committees, it is obvious that the Lord is working, and our prospects for the future, therefore, are bright. In the church, growth is an intangible thing, not always reflected in statistics.
Turning to the parochial reports, there is much news of which to take note. Rev. Phil Poe reports from Minot that attendance is good, and there is a possibility of an increase of up to 20 new members as possible. He adds that he has finished his first Confirmation Class and expects two young people to be confirmed in March 2014 (thus, not included in our statistical report).
The imminent departure of Rev Jimmy Hall for California is going to be a challenge for our Herried church. However, Rev. Hall leaves behind him a record of solid work. It should be noted that in 2013 communicant membership has increased from 44 to 49. This is the largest increase in any classis church for the past year. Jimmy will be missed.
Our Eureka church reports a significant drop in membership. However, it must be remembered that the church ended the year without a pastor. Rev James Grossmann has accepted a call to the pastorate of the church. In God’s good Providence, we trust that his ministry will be prospered there. We should note that his installation service will take place the Sunday after our classis meeting.
Rev. Grossmann’s call to Eureka means, of course, that the pastorate in Ashley is now vacant. Clearly, the Ashley congregation needs a pastor urgently. Rev Grossmann has been active in that community and is very well known. He continues to record Ashley’s radio program, “Start The Week”, until a new minister takes it on. Hosmer, as well, is losing his services as stated supply. There are real questions regarding the viability of our Hosmer church. We need to pray that the Lord will provide a man for Ashley and give great wisdom to the remaining members at Hosmer concerning the future of their church.
Rev. J.P. Mosley reports from Pierre on a ministry that is occupied by the various activities with which a minister should be concerned. He is involved with a full range of teaching ministries within the church as well as outreach to the community. As his ministry continues to grow and develop, he has experienced both the joy of celebrating marriage and the sorrow of church discipline and death. Although his pastorate in Pierre is not without problems, the Lord is blessing that church, and for this we are thankful to God.
In Aberdeen, the work continues to progress, here a little and there a little. There are a total of eight students in the confirmation class, five of which, God willing, will complete their studies this spring. There are a total of 16 children in Sunday school, which gives us hope for the future. There is the prospect of shortly starting a membership class that may expand into a Bible study class. In the area of evangelism, their radio program, “Pause For Thought”, has recently broadcast the 500th edition of their 15 minute weekly Bible study. Although their membership this past year has dipped from 94 to 89, this is in part a reflection of the faithful practice of church discipline, and thus a sign of a healthy church.
In Watertown, the Lord has greatly blessed the church in providing them with Rev. George Syms as their pastor. The membership has held steady, and there are many opportunities for both teaching and fellowship amongst the members. One matter of joy is the fact that the church no longer receives financial support from Classis. In fact, they have met their classical and synodical obligations as well. We are thankful to God for the way he has brought this up congregation through difficult times and is providing for their needs.
Rev Clark’s ministry in Dickinson has included opportunities for teaching both on Sunday and during the week. This city is in the centre of North Dakota’s oil boom. As a result, there is much movement within the population. This is reflected in the ebb and flow of visitors to the worship services of the church. It was noted that one family left the work due to a disagreement concerning the music. This family desired more contemporary music than was sung at the services. It is sad that such an issue could cause a breach of fellowship. However, the leadership of Dickinson are to be commended that they did not compromise on this issue. The Dickinson work also faces the need of an established church of Classis to oversee them. With Rev. Grossmann’s departure from Ashley, that congregation does not feel able to continue to provide this oversight. This is a matter that will have to be addressed by this classis meeting.
The church in Anamoose is a cause for concern. Statistically, they have19 communicant members. This is a larger number than Dickinson or Hosmer, and is roughly equivalent to Watertown. However, the membership is elderly and many cannot attend meetings. This church has no pastor. When they meet, generally it is to listen to a recorded sermon. The lack of pastoral care and the inability to have regular formal worship services is a great concern. On the other hand, there is a desire on the part of the membership not to disband. Are there ways in which Classis can assist this congregation? Can our North Dakota congregations help? This is an issue we need to consider.
I would like to make a few general comments concerning the state of the classis. We are living in challenging times. Our classis membership has again fallen. In the past year, membership has declined by 23, a drop of 5%. We had only one baptism and two young people confirmed. On the other hand, enrollment in Sunday school increased from 57 to 66. There is also the prospect of more confirmations in 2014.
What these statistics represent is the fact that we have an aging membership that reflects the older population of the Dakotas. Our churches do not have a self-sustaining membership. For the classis to continue into the next generation, we need new membership from those outside the church at this time. I want to emphasize that evangelism is the duty of every church, regardless of the size of its membership. We do not evangelize to pump up our membership or our finances. Nonetheless, I believe the state of our classis is one means by which God is reminding us of our duty to spread the gospel. I believe the primary purpose of the church is the proper worship of God. Secondly, and inseparable from the first, is evangelism. I fail to see how one is possible without the other.
We still have an active classis. The reports of our ministers and committees contained the seeds of hope for the future. I do not believe that complacency is, at present, a temptation with which we are faced. However, which of us has not been tempted to discouragement? We need to remember that the church is not ours, but Christ’s. We may plant and water, but it is God who gives the increase. We have Christ’s promise in Matthew 16.18, “upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Rev David A Dawn, Aberdeen, SD