Fathers and Brothers of the Western Classis,
As of the writing of this report (February 18) your President has not received even one half of your Parochial Reports (which were due on February 13 or before). This makes it difficult to know when to print out final copies before Classis meets. In the past, I have done something that would make John Foster Dulles proud—the brinkmanship of printing the President’s Report the day before Classis. This year I resolved to complete the report much earlier. But like many of the best laid plans of mice and men, I failed to keep my resolution in order to “save the hides” of many of you.
This year I anticipated that many of your reports would be filled with doom and gloom. The sickly economy, the re-election of a statist to the White House, the desecrating juggernaut of gay marriage, and the spiritual and material struggles of some of our congregations are harbingers of spiritual storms and crestfallen hearts. But surprisingly, most of your reports were upbeat and positive. So, this weatherman was wrong again! The church of Corinth was certainly a church freighted with many problems, yet Paul wrote, “I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:4).
As for the 2012 Classis statistics: We had 696 communicants in 2012 versus 702 in 2011. We also lost by dismissal 114 compared to 25 in 2011 (a statistic that reflects the organization and transfer of members to new churches). We lost only two members by death in 2012, which may tell us that our total membership tilts toward the side of youth. The total number of unconfirmed members stands at 204. There were only two adult baptisms in 2012, which may reflect a lack of evangelism or a lack of successful evangelism toward the lost. The regular offerings were up 4.3 percent compared to 2011. And, the total receipts stand at $1,847,285 (up 2.6 percent in a recovering but still ailing economy).
Concerning your reports:
The Rev. Sam Powell praises God for the work of God’s grace at First Reformed Church in Yuba City. The members of the church are very active in the life of the congregation, especially since Rev. Powell suffered physical maladies last year which took him out of the pulpit. To fill the pulpit void, he reports that retired minister Gene Sawtelle preached twelve times for him in 2012! The spiritual pulse of the church is strong, the gospel is preached, the sacraments served, and Church discipline is meted out. He notes that he will be teaching Hebrew at City Seminary in the fall of 2013. He praises God for the love of the congregation and especially for the love and faithfulness of his Proverbs 31 wife.
Pastor Tracy Gruggett continues to rejoice in the preaching of the Word of God’s grace. But he tells of the agony of difficult judicial cases at Grace Reformed Church in which four members were judicially erased. In this respect, he calls last year his most difficult year. The church is considering expanding its music beyond the Trinity Hymnal and using a wider variety of musical instruments. Church evangelism was practiced in the spring and early summer months. He reports of the demise of Mrs. Marie Stuebbe, wife of the late Rev. Calvin Stuebbe, who was a true matriarch in the RCUS.
The Rev. Michael Voytek speaks of Rehoboth Reformed Church as enjoying a year of milestones. In 2012 the Chapel became an official church in the Western Classis with new elders and one new deacon. Communicant membership stands at 34 and the baptized membership at 46. The church now has a functioning website to help broadcast the Reformed faith. He asks us to pray that an additional 10 new families join the church so that the army of Christ is strengthened and the financial obligations of the congregation are met. Particularly, he underscores the distinct possibility that the congregation may have to vacate its current place of meeting in 2014. Thus the church is scouting another facility, which might even lead to lower monthly expenses. This is a matter of urgent prayer.
Pastor Doug Schlegel reminds us of the sanctifying impact of our parochial reports when he tells us that “we are part of a greater whole and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other warriors who have the same goal.” Plus, writing our reports paves the way for self-examination and self-criticism, too. He praises God for his ordination to the ministry in March of 2012 and of his teaching and preaching ministry, together with his teaching assignment at the Mule Creek State Prison. The finances of Providence Reformed Church are greatly improved, and the church hosts many visitors. As for evangelism, he points to the Internet and the church’s plan to evangelize in the Farmer’s Market this summer. His report teems with confidence and good cheer.
Pastor Paul Henderson remains upbeat about the advance of the Gospel at the Ebenezer Reformed Church in Shafter. He particularly zeros in on the liberal giving of the congregation, which has resulted in the best financial health for the congregation in many years. He revels in the grace shown to the newly organized Rehoboth Church in La Habra, which organized after 14 years of oversight from Ebenezer Reformed. Undeterred by the “strain” of overseeing a mission work, he also says that Ebenezer is considering starting another mission work in the area or increasing its financial support to other mission churches.
Professor Frank Walker rehearses his work at City Seminary in Sacramento, where he is occupied in the Lord’s work for about two-thirds of his time (the other one-third at Covenant Reformed Church). He informs us that the seminary is now in its 13th year of operation and that the average attendance of thirty students per semester is a sign that the seminary’s emphasis on teaching the Bible fulfils a broad need across the denominational spectrum. The anecdote he tells (which he will convey in his parochial report) reminds us that the seminary trumpets the doctrines of the Reformed Faith.
Pastor Gary Mancilas notes that this is his 11th year at Covenant Reformed Church in Chico. He reviews the evangelism of the church, which was highlighted by a local newspaper agreeing to print articles on the Reformed Faith after years of rejection. The Church is now on benevolent aid from Classis and Synod and plans to make request again this year. Even though the church is small, it is a vibrant witness of the Reformed faith in Chico.
Pastor Thomas Mayville grieves over some of the happenings at Trinity Reformed Church in Modesto this past year. He tells us about a “substantial minority” of Church members leaving the church, including four officers of the congregation. As a result, average attendance dropped from 80 last year to 40 this year. Thus much of his time was expended dealing with this situation, which led to an increased passion to improve his preaching, leadership, and counseling. In spite of the so-called “Scottish revival,” the congregation ended the year in the healthiest shape in many years. Plus, the church added two new members in 2012. He reports that despair does not rule the day, as many thriving RCUS churches have begun their ecclesiastical pilgrimage with smaller numbers. Consequently, the church is re-doubling its attempts to evangelize.
Pastor Hank Bowen dearly misses Elder Derrick Merkel who transferred his membership to our Grass Valley congregation, thus reducing the number of elders at Faith Reformed Church in Anderson. But he also expresses his thankfulness for Classical and Synodical aid in the support of the ministry there. He informs us of preaching 49 times last year and his adventures of teaching Apologetics at Heidelberg Theological Seminary. At the urging of Synod, the church now has a website that proclaims the Gospel of the Reformed Faith. While the hits on the website have not been locally voluminous, nevertheless, the Word is going out like never before.
Pastor Gil Baloy informs us of his ministerial work at home and abroad in the Philippines. At home, there have been several visitors at Covenant Reformed Church in San Diego, many of whom have joined the congregation. The visitors and new members have refreshed the congregation with their presence and enthusiasm for the Three Forms of Unity, particularly the Heidelberg Catechism. During the week the “Midweek Oasis” (Bible study) continues to bless the membership, as several men have been appointed to speak on various topics. He tells us that he feels right at home in the RCUS.
The Rev. Jonathan Merica tells of the many evangelism efforts at Calvary Reformed Chapel in Stockton, including the church website, Google Ad words advertisement, etc, with the website being the king of the hill. There are many visitors that attend the worship services regularly. He is thankful to God for the help of Elder Greg Goehring who serves as both elder and treasurer. He requests prayer that the many evangelistic labors of the church will be blessed by God. He is also grateful that Calvary Reformed Chapel was able to submit guidelines and dues to the Western Classis and the Synod for 2012.
Pastor Eric Bristley is grateful to the Lord for the presence of God in the midst of Grace Reformed Church in Willows. The elders and deacons are very diligent in their work, the church is being edified, and there are several Bible studies available besides the preaching of the Word each Lord’s Day. He has many teaching and committee irons in the fire—too numerous to mention. But he does ask us to pray for a Christ-centered resolution of a discipline case that has stricken the congregation for over six months.
My own [Rev. Jim West] parochial report finds me rejoicing in the grace of God that moved me to preach the gospel, now approaching 27 years in one church. Because of the longevity of my stay at Covenant Reformed, it may be an adventure to find a new shepherd at Covenant Reformed. In my resignation before the Consistory I pointed out that my longevity at Covenant Reformed can be attributed to two factors: first and foremost is the grace of God, without which the ministry would be impossible. And second, the persevering grace that God instilled in His people to bear my many infirmities.
As for current retirees from the pastoral ministry, the Western Classis has four: Paul Treick, Lloyd Gross, Gene Sawtelle, Vernon Pollema. Although retirees are not required to write a report, nevertheless, I received ministerial reports from three: First, Pastor Gene Sawtelle prays that God would give us wisdom as we carry out the Lord’s business at this year’s Classis. He’s thankful for your prayers, and reports that he preached several times in Willows and Yuba City this past year. The Rev. Paul Treick reports of preaching 24 times this past year. He reports that he has been asked to be advisor to the consistory at Trinity Reformed Church in Modesto. He continues his work as editor of the Reformed Herald and has revised his book, Faith of Our Fathers. The Rev. Vernon Pollema also preached several times in 2012 and is once again supplying the vacant pulpit at Grace Reformed Church in Lancaster. And, the Rev. Neale Riffert is thankful for forty-six years in the Gospel ministry. Pastor Riffert also speaks of preaching the Gospel 50 of the 53 Sundays of 2012 in Sherman, Texas.
Without question, the most taxing, difficult, surprising, grievous, heart-wrenching, and incredulous task of the Executive this year was to arbitrate the dispute at Trinity Reformed Church in Modesto. This was “complicated” by the fact that many involved in the dispute were close friends of yours truly. Nevertheless, personal friendship did not blind us to the truth of the Gospel and to what we saw as the central remedy of the dispute. After two lengthy sessions with the Consistory and ex-Consistory members, we had hopes that the complainants would hold on and bear with what they perceived to be the infirmities of the Pastor. But this was not to be. Even though the lion’s share of the criticisms were unwarranted and even petty, the complainants saw fit to leave the church, taking with them nearly 50 percent of the congregation. Some of these were faithful, seasoned, Christ-centered officers, who love the Reformed faith! How can this be? The suddenness of what happened, together with a complete change of mind of the once enthusiastic complainants towards their pastor reveals the difficulty of keeping church unity in the bond of peace.
With regard to Home Missions, your President notes the dilemma of Rehoboth Reformed Church in the Los Angeles Basin, as they face the possibility, if not probability, of relocation. Your President notes from Michael Voytek’s report that the new church is considering to buy a building, with the hopeful prospect of reducing its monthly expenses. If they choose to buy, they will need a dramatic infusion of cash either from their secret Swiss Bank Account (!), or from a golden goose on the outside. Your President notes that the Missions Building Fund has been dormant for years and would like us to consider deleting the word missions as the heading of the fund. In this way, we could release these monies for newly established churches (such as Rehoboth Reformed Church, etc) who do not own their own building. This is especially true of churches that occupy key locations in metropolitan areas.
Your President also notes with grief the short stay of the Rev. Scott Henry at Grace Reformed Church in Lancaster. While initially alarmed that Mr. Henry’s pastorate there was too short for him to be let go (especially since he was the ideal pastor for that work), nevertheless, your President does not have a corner on the wisdom of God and His mysterious providential ways. Let us remember (as Matthew Henry said) that we must be married more to the ministry than to our congregations. That he was a Ten-Point Calvinist and ideal for our Classis did not help. Your President notes that Pastor Henry continued to help perfect the “Two Kingdom Theology” report, even after he was received into a new Classis. We will miss him dearly and need to pray for a replacement who will also be a “man after God’s own heart.”
Recently, your President learned a new expression: to be galactically stupid. To be galactically stupid means to have something regularly in front of you that you do not see. For example, Lois Lane was galactically stupid because she did not recognize Clark Kent to be superman. Likewise, let us not be unaware of the importance of our church websites. If we want the word to go out and our churches to prosper, we must make it a priority to perfect our church websites often. A website is not a place of entertainment, it is a spiritual armament.
Last year’s Classis approved the formation of a committee to study the Two Kingdom Theology and to report back this year with recommendations. Because some of the report was written late in the day, the Committee saw fit to ask for additional time to perfect its conclusions. Some may ask why the Two Kingdom Theology should be studied at all, since it may not be influencing our churches. The answer is that it is making headway in the Reformed world, so that if the aphorism that “what goes around comes around” is true, we would be forced to deal with it eventually. Besides, your President believes that it is influencing our fraternal churches. And what influences them influences us.
At last year’s Classis meeting there was an animated debate about the ministerial credentials of the Rev. Neale Riffert and whether his credentials more properly belong to the South Central Classis. Although your President was not impressed with all the pro and con arguments, he flagellated himself after the meeting because he did not mention Rev. Riffert’s contributions to the Western Classis. I make this point because even if a credible case can be made that his credentials belong in another Classis, nevertheless, his value for us here is such that we should fetter him with Classis chains for our own benefit and edification! (Your President has learned that the irregular call that he received within the boundaries of another Classis was rescinded.)
My final note concerns my decision not to re-run for the presidency of Classis. The last 14 years have been quite a ride for me as your president! And when I say “ride,” I mean that almost in the Disneyland sense of the term. Even though there is a great deal of work involved in being Classis President, the flipside is to be able to stand before Classis and adjudicate a meeting where every delegate is bent on doing the will of God and glorifying Christ our Lord. What a joy! I have been “entertained” by your wisdom, your righteousness, and your respect and love (not to mention your good humor, too!). From a standpoint of learning the ropes of Reformed Church government together with conducting a meeting where everything is done decently and in good order, serving as your classis president has been a veritable Harvard education. Being classis president has been a great joy and I heartily recommend it to each of you (even though it may seem a formidable challenge). When you first become classis president it is like walking to your own execution; you stagger to the front and sheepishly receive the gavel from the clerk. Your first thought is: “What do I do now?” But when you leave the President’s chair to join your colleagues, the walk is just as long, if not longer. I praise God for your vote of confidence over the past 14 years!