URCNA Classis Western Canada welcomes two pastors

greetingsClassis Western Canada met in a special session on April 7, 2017, in order to conduct colloquium doctums for two ministers. The consistory of Trinity Reformed Church of Lethbridge, AB, desired to call the two men to serve its congregation.

“This classis meeting was truly a joy to witness,” reported Stated Clerk Rev. James Roosma (Grace Reformed Church, Kelowna). “We thankfully moved quickly through the ordinary mandatory classis business in order to devote the vast majority of our time having a very good doctrinal conversation with the two brothers.”

The two examinees were Rev. John van Eyk, who has been serving the Tain/Fearn Associated Presbyterian Church (APC) in Scotland since September of 2008, and Rev. Thomas Albaugh, who recently retired after serving five years at the Redeemer OPC mission work in Pittsburgh, PA. Since September of 2016, Rev. Albaugh has been ministering to the Trinity congregation in Lethbridge.

Rev. Keith Davis (Bethel URC, Calgary) conducted the first half of the exam, questioning the ministers in the areas of practica, church polity, and ethics. Rev. Bill Pols (Orthodox Reformed Church, Edmonton) presided over the second half, examining the men regarding Reformed Doctrine and Confessional Knowledge.

“It was absolutely clear during the course of the these examinations,” wrote Rev. Roosma, ‘Rev. van Eyk and Rev. Albaugh’s commitment to the Christian faith and the 3 Forms of Unity was unwavering and their desire to serve Christ’s church in Lethbridge was for His glory alone.”

Each man successfully sustained his examination and will now serve Trinity as a Minister of the Word and Sacraments; however, according to Council Chairman, Lloyd Van Eeden Petersma, their roles will be different. Rev. van Eyk will function as the Senior Pastor and Rev. Albaugh will serve part-time as the Pastor of Congregational Life.

“As we are a large congregation with many older members, widows and widowers,” he explains, “Rev. Albaugh will focus much of his time visiting with these members as well as an active group of families and young people. This was something he did a great deal of as he served as an interim pastor and something that was very much appreciated.”

Rev. Albaugh and his wife, Martha, anticipated moving their household goods from Pittsburg to Lethbridge early in May. Rev. Albaugh, who was in the Christian Reformed Church for 12 years, believes the transition back to the continental confessions complements his ministry of the last few years and propels him into future service in the Lord’s kingdom.

“As an OPC minister, I have found the Dutch Reformed tradition to be a wonderful expression of the biblical faith,” he said. “The OPC and the URCNA have a fine working relationship together and a commitment to the preaching of a ‘Christ-centered Gospel’.” He described the move from the OPC’s Presbytery of Ohio to the URCNA’s Classis Western Canada as “smooth” and noted that “the leadership of both denominations has been a great encouragement to me and my family.”

Rev. van Eyk taught in Turkey at the beginning of May and planned to move in mid-June with his wife, Lucy, and six of their seven children. A married son, whose wife is expecting their first child, will remain with his family in Scotland for at least another year to finish his university education.

“I leave dear Christians in the Associated Presbyterian Church in Scotland, but I am excited to be ministering in the URCNA,” Rev. van Eyk said. “I was welcomed so warmly by the brothers at Classis Western Canada and the colloquium doctum demonstrated their commitment to the Word of God and their love for the Confessions. I am especially humbled and thrilled to be serving Trinity and have a real desire to proclaim Christ from his Word so that God might be glorified and enjoyed.”

Both pastors anticipated preaching for their first official Sunday at Trinity on June 25. Rev. Albaugh is a graduate of Westminster Seminary California, and Rev. van Eyk graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Prior to serving in Scotland, Rev. van Eyk pastored the Riverside Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Cambridge, ON.

Classis Chairman Rev. Rich Anjema (Providence Reformed Church, Winnipeg), who now serves Providence Reformed Church in Winnipeg, became acquainted with Rev. van Eyk during the decade Rev. Anjema pastored Hope Reformed Church in Brampton.

“During those years, Rev. van Eyk was pastor of Riverside ARP in Cambridge. I don’t know the exact dates of his time there, but it overlapped my time in Ontario,” he said. “We had some natural connections since members of Hope Reformed and Riverside ARP were involved with what formerly was known as Cornerstone Bible Institute, which is now Redemption Prison Ministries.”

Trinity Reformed Church has been vacant since September of 2015. During that time, a variety of pastors provided pulpit supply. Mr. Van Eeden Petersma said, “In 2016 alone, we had 16 different ministers and four seminarians on our pulpit. We look back and quickly can see how the Lord has blessed us.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & 7 of the May 31, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.


Northern Ontario’s URC connection

Rev. Ancel & Linda Merwin with Nathaniel

Congregations of some United Reformed Churches may feel as if they’re rather isolated from other URCs, but few churches are more distant from other congregations in the federation than the United Reformed Church of Thunder Bay, ON.

Even though the church is located in Ontario, the Thunder Bay congregation is part of Classis Western Canada since the closest URCNA congregation is Providence URC in Winnipeg, MN. And that is still about 450 miles (725 km) or an approximate nine-hour drive away.

But the closest URC congregation in Ontario is almost twice that distance. Thunder Bay lies along the northwestern shore of Lake Superior and is approximately 800 miles (nearly 1300 km) or about a 16-hour drive from Grace URC of SimcoeCounty in Oro-Medonte (Classis Ontario East). In God’s providence, that is the congregation Thunder Bay’s new minister, Rev. Ancel Merwin, served before being installed at Thunder Bay on November 23, 2012.

Rev. Merwin says, “You know that you live in a big province when you can go from Classis Ontario-East, which had the Prince Edward Island URC in it, to Classis Western Canada, which includes all the prairie and BC churches.”

Rev. Richard Anjema, of Providence URC, flew from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay to conduct the installation service. Preaching from 1 Timothy 4:13-16 on “The Effective Ministry,” he reminded the congregation that the minister must be diligent and faithful while the congregation should respond with love, respect, and prayerful support.

“We were very thankful that Rev Anjema could lead the service, as we knew him from our former ties in Classis Southern Ontario,” says Rev. Merwin. “He had been at the Hope URC of Brampton while I was about an hour and a bit north at the Grace URC of Oro-Mendonte. He was the closest minister to me then and now he is again!”

Rev. Ancel Merwin is a 2000 graduate of Mid-America Reformed Seminary and was ordained in 2001 at the Grace URC in Oro-Medonte, ON. Having served and grown close to that congregation for 12 years, it was painful for him and his family to leave the Grace family behind.

“We’re truly thankful that God put us there for a first charge,” he says. “We made many friends and felt that it was our home. I honestly thought that it would be the only church I’d serve, but that was not the Lord’s plan.”

He accepted the call to Thunder Bay on August 20, but had many opportunities for good-byes until his last Sunday on October 21. One of the most emotional for him was his last classis meeting, which was also the first meeting of Classis Ontario-East.

Rev. Merwin and his wife, Linda, have a son, Nathaniel, who is six. The Merwins arrived in Thunder Bay on October 30, after a two-day trip from Orillia traveling through wet snow and hazardous conditions just before the remnants of hurricane Sandy hit southern Ontario. Rev. Merwin’s first Sunday at Thunder Bay was November 4.

The church consists of about 260 souls in over 60 families, which is more than double the size of Rev. Merwin’s previous congregation. Another challenge in their new location is its distance from family, especially Linda’s family in southern Ontario. But the Merwins feel blessed and comfortable in their new church home.

“Thunder Bay is a very friendly, warm, and welcoming congregation,” Rev. Merwin relates. “My wife plays the piano for some of the services. Our son Nathaniel makes friends easily and already has lots of new buddies.”

The church building is located along Kings Hwy 130, just south of Hwy 11/17, west of Thunder Bay. Worship services are at 10:00 AM and 2:30 PM. The congregation organized and joined the URCNA in 2001 and was served by Rev. Barry Beukema until 2011.

Although Thunder Bay is the most populous municipality in northwestern Ontario, the area is primarily a dairy farming community. The picturesque valley is surrounded by mountains and near scenic Lake Superior. A majority of URC families are farmers.

“There’s a real need for the truth to be preached up here,” says Rev. Merwin, “and we hope that our URC will continue to be a strong Reformed witness in the area.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 13 of the February 6, 2013, issue of Christian Renewal.

URCNA Classis Western Canada: Many overtures and much advice

When Classis Western Canada of the URCNA met on October 13 & 14, 2011, at Emmanuel Reformed Church of Neerlandia, AB, most overtures on the agenda related to a federational songbook. Others proposed regional synods and sermons on the URCNA website. Classis also handled multiple matters of advice to the churches.

Emmanuel’s Rev. Ralph Pontier chaired the meeting. Rev. Gary Zekveld of the Orthodox Reformed Church of New Westminster, BC, served as vice chair. Classis Stated Clerk is Rev. William Van der Woerd of Covenant Reformed Church in Grande Prairie, AB. According to Classis rules, the convening consistory appoints the chair while the assembled body elects the vice chair.

Four of the songbook-related overtures on the agenda suggested changes to the Hymn Proposal (HP). Two came from Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford, BC. The first proposed removing a list of songs; the second requested retaining original wording in a few songs. Both overtures were adopted without any amendments.

Another songbook overture originated in Orthodox Reformed Church of Edmonton, AB. Classis adopted it after deleting two of its 16 suggestions. The overture recommended multiple removals, two replacements, and one verse addition. Each suggestion included the rationale behind it.

Thunder Bay URC of Thunder Bay, ON, submitted the fourth overture for the Songbook Committee. It suggested retaining gender specific language in selected songs and recommended for addition a list of hymns from the Psalter Hymnal. Delegates adopted it with a very minor amendment.

As mandated by Synod London 2010, these four overtures suggesting changes in the HP have been sent to the Songbook Committee. Two related overtures from Trinity Reformed Church in Lethbridge, AB, were addressed to Synod 2012 since they dealt with the work and mandate of the Songbook Committee rather than the content of the HP.

The first overture asked that the Songbook Committee be directed to “significantly modify and restrict its approach to the implementation of a new songbook and consider ways by which there may be the least amount of unrest and concern preceding and subsequent to the implementation of a new song book.” The organization of that overture was amended by moving six grounds listing specific examples into the body of the overture.

The six areas of concern are gender-neutral language, discontinued use of “Jehovah,” wording changes that appear “unnecessary or trivial,” numerous changes will hamper singing for those who have memorized songs over many years, an apparent “arbitrariness or inconsistency” indicating a possible basis of “preference rather than…principle,” and a lack of “track record” for some proposed songs.

“Among the delegates there appeared to be considerable agreement and unity in discussing the content of this overture,” Rev. Van der Woerd writes, “and when it came to the vote it passed unanimously and without dissent.”

The second overture from Lethbridge asked Synod 2012 to instruct the Songbook Committee to proceed toward publication of a songbook for URCNA use “without further delay,” to develop it based primarily on the 1976 Psalter Hymnal, to include approved liturgical forms and the URCNA Church Order, to minimize wording and music changes, and to utilize a transition process similar to the CRC’s introduction of the blue Psalter Hymnal.

This overture also was adopted unanimously and without dissent. Rev. Van der Woerd later wrote, “…it was clear that the concerns addressed by the overtures are concerns which are shared throughout the classis.”

Both overtures will come before Synod Pompton Plains in 2012.

Rev. Ralph Pontier reflected, “Although I am opposed to the gender changes in the proposed hymns, I am somewhat distressed by the amount of passion which the proposed hymnal has generated with regard to favorite songs from the blue Psalter Hymnal being dropped or modernized in ways other than gender changes.” 

“The reason I like certain hymns is because I’ve grown up with them and I’m used to them, which amounts to a matter of personal taste and is not a sufficient reason to oppose change,” he continues. “Philippians 2:3-4 says, ‘but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.’ I think that means I should be willing to forego my favorites and be willing to learn other people’s favorites for the sake of the peace and unity of the church (provided, of course, that all such songs are scripturally sound and appropriate for congregational singing).”

Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford, BC, presented an overture requesting the establishment of regional synods for pre-advice prior to general synods. That overture was defeated.

Another Abbotsford overture asked that a collection of two reading sermons per URCNA minister be posted securely on the URCNA website. That overture, amended to include “appropriate songs,” was adopted.

Classis addressed a few matters of advice in general session. One question dealt with the matter of Christian liberty in regard to a church policy prohibiting its minister from officiating at weddings if the reception included dancing.

Another church requested advice regarding the membership of an ordained man. Having lost his charge in a non-Reformed denomination after embracing the Reformed faith, he has expressed his desire to minister in a Reformed church.

One consistory sought advice about procedure for admitting visitors to the Lord’s Table.

“All these churches showed that they are wrestling with how to apply the principles of the Reformed faith and church polity to real life situations,” says Rev. Pontier. “All desire to be faithful to our Reformed faith, but struggle with the reality that good men do not always agree on how the faith is to be applied.”

“We also gave informal advice to one consistory which is considering appealing a decision of Synod London 2010,” he continued. “They had appealed to Classis to appeal the decision of Synod. They were reminded that, according to the Regulations for Synodical Procedure, only consistories and individuals may appeal a decision, and…in the case of an appeal of a synodical decision, to the next synod. Because of this, Classis did not adjudicate the appeal, but a discussion was allowed in which the delegates expressed their opinions regarding the wisdom of the appeal. The consistory has until the March 2012 synodical deadline to decide whether to proceed….”

Discipline issues were discussed among the delegates privately in executive session.

“The clerk notes with sadness that this year classis dealt with a higher number of instances where consistories were seeking the advice of classis as they sought to move toward the exclusion of baptized members,” wrote Rev. Van der Woerd. “This step of discipline is usually requested when an adult who has not made profession of faith shows little or no interest in the church and lives a worldly lifestyle.”

“On a positive note,” he adds, “one delegate shared with the classis his consistory’s joy that where they had sought similar advice at a previous classis, they now saw the fruits of discipline and reported that repentance had become evident and lifestyle changes took place….”

Rev. Pontier relates that a highlight for local residents as well as delegates to Classis Western Canada was a presentation by Rev. Allen Vander Pol.

“Classis was privileged to end its Thursday session with a 40 minutes presentation, including pictures and a time for questions, from missionary Rev. Allen Vander Pol who works with the Miami International Seminary (MINTS), educating Reformed pastors in India, the Philippines and other areas of southeast Asia. Many visitors joined classis for the presentation since the time had been advertised in advance in several local bulletins.”

Classis concluded work by noon on Friday. As the next convening consistory, the Orthodox Reformed Church of New Westminster, BC, will determine if that will become necessary in March or wait until October of 2012.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10-11 of the November 16, 2011, issue of Christian Renewal.