Beloved brethren in the Lord Jesus Christ,
“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1). These poetic words of “the Preacher” and the passage that follows them pertain to life in general—the spectrum of providence along the timeline of life. They might also apply more specifically to life in the local church, as I can attest in my own pastorate, as well as by my experience this past year as president of South Central Classis. “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” This is reflected in the various parochial and committee reports and in the activity of the Executive Committee. In my president’s report at last year’s Classis, I noted a relative peace in the church, good temporal and spiritual health of the body, and a generally encouraging tone that resonated in all the parochial reports. This past year, however, has been another season with a more mixed report.
We are grateful for the marks of the true church functioning in the congregations, a blessing of the Lord which we never want to take for granted. Several ministers report what might be considered a typical year in the life of their local congregation—births and deaths, blessings and trials, joys and sorrows, gains and losses. As one minister summarizes, “It was a year like so many other years in the ordinary life and ministry of the church. And like so many other years, God in His grace, sustained and upheld the church for His glory.” A few ministers report sustained or even significant numerical growth, which has encouraged them and “energized” their congregations with much activity in the body life, service, and vision of the church. Yet other ministers speak of facing some very difficult trials in their congregations, even resulting in significant losses in membership, which have been painful and discouraging and given cause for self-examination. There has been turmoil, some more under the surface and some manifested publicly with serious impact on ministers, officers, members, and even whole congregations. Relative to this, the Classis will be discussing the resignation of Rev. Mike McGee from the Mitchell charge, as well as the resignation of Rev. Ron Morris from the Sioux Falls charge in order to accept a call from the Mitchell charge.
Statistically, giving through regular and special offerings increased over 11 percent from the previous year, which is an indication of good temporal health on the whole. The Classis also had a slight increase in total baptized membership. In studying the statistics of the Classis (as well as the RCUS Synod) over a period of the last twenty years, I observe that of those members who have been received by public profession of faith, there have been relatively few adult baptisms. No doubt this has been pointed out before. Some of the explanation is surely due to the fact that we recognize virtually any Trinitarian baptism regardless of the ecclesiastical body that originally administered it, and also because of the demographic context of our small town congregations where much of the population is already affiliated in some way, however loosely, with a local church.
But in view of our so-called “post-Christian” society with an increasing number of the “unchurched” and “nones” with no formal religious affiliation in our land, it would seem to follow that new converts to Christ with accompanying baptisms might become more commonplace in our congregations. While recognizing God’s sovereignty in salvation, these comments are offered as some food for thought, prayer, and perhaps to stimulate some conversation among ministers and officers and members relative to our responsibility for gospel outreach in our respective charges.
Along these lines, as the Missions Committee Report indicates, there has been much activity this past year. Notable are the two new works now up and running—Heritage Reformed in Omaha, NE, and Christ Reformed in Casper, WY. This gives cause for great encouragement, and the Classis looks forward to hearing an update on these works. We welcome Rev. Scott Henry back to the South Central Classis after his hiatus in California. After nearly ten years of faithful service at Providence Reformed in Limon, Rev. Matt Powell has begun a new season of ministry as mission pastor of the church plant in Casper. This, of course, has led to a vacancy of the pulpit in Limon, which is hoped to be filled with the call of Rev. Kevin Carroll, whom we will be examining for licensure in the RCUS at this Classis. On a less encouraging note, the Missions Committee is advising a re-evaluation of the mission work in Sherman, TX.
The teaching and training of men for the ministry faithfully continues through the two theological seminaries which we support within the bounds of South Central Classis—Heidelberg in Sioux Falls, and New Geneva in Colorado Springs. Additionally, it is being recommended that the two students currently under care for the ministry, Mr. Tim Marinelli and Mr. Jim Connelly, remain in that status this next year.
We also want to acknowledge, once again, the Lord’s gracious provision related to health issues of some of the brothers. Rev. Howard Hart reports that his “health problems have been difficult this year,” but continues to serve the Lord and His church as able. Rev. Bud Powell reports, “Both Penny and I are much improved in our physical health, for which we thank the Lord.” And we are thankful as well for the Lord’s restoring grace in the health of Rev. George Syms, who was dismissed to the Northern Plains Classis to serve as pastor of Covenant Reformed Church in Watertown, SD.
Indeed, as the divinely inspired Preacher says, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” But so too, God “has made everything beautiful in its time.” And so it is that through the gospel of our salvation in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, “we may be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and for what is future have good confidence in our faithful God and Father, that no creature shall separate us from His love, since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move” (HC Q28).