From March 15-17, 2018, the URCNA’s Classis Central US and the OPC’s Presbytery of the Midwest held meetings at Community Reformed Church (URCNA) in Schererville, IN, that prefigured the federations’ concurrent major assemblies in a few months.
Classis Central convened at 4:00 PM on Thursday, March 15, and concluded at 6:00 PM on Friday. The Presbytery of the Midwest convened at 8:30 AM on Friday and concluded its business about noon on Saturday. Before and during the overlapping times, delegates and commissioners enjoyed communal worship and meals as well as shared instruction and information.
On Thursday evening, men from both groups attended an educational presentation (open to the public) by Tim Geiger, President of Harvest USA and a Teaching Elder in the PCA.
Friday morning began with joint opening devotions. Rev. John Vermeer, recently installed at Doon URC in Iowa, spoke from Ephesians 2:11-22. He noted that twisted views of the church inhibit fellowship, but true unity can be found in focusing on Christ. Members of the Community URC congregation provided accompaniment for singing from a Trinity Psalter Hymnal sampler. Rev. James Oord played the piano. Andy Anderson played bass, his son James played cello, and another son Isaiah played violin.
The afternoon began with joint devotions led by Rev. Shane Lems, former pastor and church planter of the URC in Sunnyside, WA, who is now minister of Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Hammond, WI. From Luke 22:31-34, he spoke about Christ’s intercessory prayer that the faith of believers would not fail.
Dr. Alan Strange reported that printing of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal was scheduled to begin on March 19. Over 30,000 copies had been ordered, about 18,000 by URC churches.
Classis Central US: Colloquium Doctum and emeritation
Classis Central welcomed a minister from another federation and granted concurring advice regarding a minister who is being emeritated.
The most time-consuming matter on the agenda of Classis Central was a Colloquium Doctum conducted with Rev. Jon Bushnell, minister of First CRC in Prinsburg, MN. Sioux Center URC requested the CD and expressed its intent to proceed with steps for extending a call to him, should he sustain his exam. He did.
“It was extensive, exhausting and extremely encouraging,” Rev. Bushnell observed. “We covered everything from pastoral burn-out to the incomprehensibility of God.”
A humorous moment occurred when Rev. Spencer Aalsburg asked Rev. Bushnell if he would cast a presidential vote for an inexperienced Christian or an experienced non-Christian with good policies.
“It’s hard to say without knowing more,” Rev. Bushnell responded diplomatically. “Is he a Christian in name only? Are you running for president? Because I’d vote for you.”
Rev. Bushnell’s home church is Trinity URC in Visalia, CA. He is a 2011 graduate of Westminster Seminary California and served an internship at Prinsburg prior to accepting the church’s call. His wife, Kelli, is from DeMotte, IN, where she belonged to Immanuel URC. The couple has three young children.
The request for concurring advice in the matter of emeritation came from Immanuel URC in DeMotte, IN, with respect to Rev. Tom Wetselaar, who has served the church since it formed in 1995. Rev. Wetselaar has been a faithful pastor for 30 years and has been in Classis Central the longest of any minister. His struggle with chronic back pain, combined with an unusually heavy burden of full-time pastoral ministry, led to a leave of absence in August and the eventual emeritation. Rev. Wetselaar continues to preach and counsel as opportunity arises and hopes for new avenues of ministry in Christ’s kingdom.
Rev. Jody Lucero chaired the meeting, Rev. John Vermeer served as Vice Chairman, and Rev. Ralph Pontier is Clerk of Classis. Oak Glen URC in Lansing, IL, is scheduled to convene the next meeting of Classis on September 10, 2018.
Presbytery of the Midwest: Exams and expansion
The Presbytery of the Midwest examined several men at various levels and discussed a proposal to expand its geographic bounds.
Commissioners approved taking three men under Presbytery care: Ben Bessett from Neenah, WI; Elijah DeJong from Sheboygan, WI; and Carl Gobelman from Joliet, IL. Peter Bringe from Wentzville, MO, preached on Friday morning, and Nathan Strom from St. Paul, MN, preached in the afternoon. Commissioners voted to grant them license to preach in the churches. Andrew Fortenberry, from Hanover Park, IL, was approved for ordination, and Jared van Noord, from Green Bay, WI, was accepted from another denomination.
Commissioners approved sending to the General Assembly a communication regarding Presbytery boundaries in the Great Plains States. The neighboring Presbytery of the Central US contains only four churches and will petition GA to dissolve it and disperse its territories. One of the churches, Faith OPC in Lincoln, NE, wishes to affiliate with the Presbytery of the Midwest. It is anticipated that the Presbytery of the Southwest will receive the other three, which are located in Kansas and Oklahoma. Because some parts of nearby states are closer to Chicago (where the PMW is centered) than to Denver (where the Presbytery of the Dakotas is centered), the communication expresses the willingness of the Presbytery of the Midwest to add specific counties of Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota to its geographical area.
Ben Snodgrass served as Moderator for the Presbytery’s meeting, and Camden Bucey was Vice Moderator. Christian McShaffrey is Stated Clerk, and Bruce Stahl is the Assistant Clerk. Brian De Jong serves as Archivist. The wide range of responsibilities struck Rev. McShaffrey.
“As those who acknowledge their own sin and weakness, we spend ample time in the Word and in prayer,” he said. “As those who have been forgiven, we sing much praise to our Savior. As those who guard the truth, we scrutinize candidates for ministry. As those who serve the church, we offer advice and shepherding as needed. As those who hold the keys, we adjudicate administrative and judicial matters. As those who love God, we seek to do all this in a decent, orderly, and Christ-honoring manner.”
Planning the meetings required cooperation between representatives in each federation. Rev. James Oord expressed gratitude for the dedication and efficiency of the Presbytery’s Ecumenicity Committee. “The whole event was a blessing to both bodies,” he said. He noted that despite full agendas, delegates and commissioners made the most of fellowship opportunities.
The above is an edited version of the article that appeared on pages 12 & 13 of the April 13, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.