Concurrent meetings of URCNA Classis and OPC Presbytery prefigure major assemblies

groupFrom 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.

2 Anderson instrumentalistsFriday 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.

Jon and Kelli Bushnell
Kelli and Jon Bushnell

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.

OPC examsCommissioners 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.

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New Pastor for Pella OPC church plant

Schiebout familyPastor Zech Schiebout was installed as the minister of Hope Reformed Presbyterian Church, an OPC church plant in Pella, IA, on October 26, 2017. Although illness and losses initially brought the family back to the town where Zech grew up, God provided this new avenue of ministry.

Rev. Mark Vander Hart, Associate Professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, IN, led part of the service. He preached from 2 Corinthians 4:7 on “God Shows His Treasure in Jars of Clay.” He spoke about the glory of this treasure, the humility of the container, and the excessive power of God.

He explained an ancient practice of hiding valuables in clay jars and described the gospel as the “gem” and precious treasure that Christians have. He told Pastor Schiebout, “It is the glory of this message that has been given to you to announce.” He encouraged the congregation not to view their new pastor as either “Superman” or “a miracle worker,” but to encourage him in his task. He concluded by emphasizing how the power of Christianity lies not in God’s people or ministers, but in Christ as the head of the church.

Rev. Edward Jensen, pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Des Moines, whose session oversees the Pella church plant, officiated the installation vows.

Rev. Chris Moulton, a seminary classmate of Zech’s and pastor of the Reformation Presbyterian Church in Sheboygan, WI, gave the charge to the new pastor and to the congregation. He read from Ecclesiastes 1 for both charges, focusing on different verses and aspects. In his charge to Zech, he emphasized the importance of verse 3’s question regarding the profit of a man’s labor. “I pray that you will have many years of fruitful labor,” he said, “but before you know it, Zechariah, it will all be over.” He stressed how the only thing that will remain will be the gospel of Jesus Christ. He charged the new pastor, “Preach the gospel.” Rev. Moulton concluded with the last part of 1 Corinthians 15, urging his brother to be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the Lord’s work. Then his labor will not be in vain.

In his charge to the congregation, Rev. Moulton noted life’s cyclical patterns and repetitive nature, but how Christians can rejoice in God’s providence through all that. Even with a “new-to-you pastor,” church members can expect a certain level of consistency and repetition because “the same crimson thread of Jesus Christ runs through page after page of Scripture.” He encouraged the people to be as patient and loving to the pastor and his family as they would like him to be with them. Finally, he urged them to be “faithful plodders” along the road to glory on which God has placed them.

Pastor Schiebout is a 2009 graduate of Mid-America Reformed Seminary and previously served the Gospel of Grace Church (ARP) in Springfield, MO. His position at Hope is not yet full-time. He works about 40 percent of each week for Hope Church and about 60 percent for Eagle Electric (a family business).

Zech and Rachelle Schiebout met in Pella and never anticipated living there again, but they’re enthusiastic about the ministry. “My wife and I love the people of Hope Church and are excited to serve them. I never would have guessed we’d be living in Pella, IA, again, and I would have passed out if someone had told me a few years ago that I would be pastoring a church in a ‘churchey/Christianized’ place like Pella, so our being here is nothing but God turning my plans upside down.”

He realizes that despite Pella’s plethora of churches, many within the community need to hear the gospel. “We want all the hurting, broken, suffering, abused, cynical, abandoned, anxious, lonely and hopeless people (sinners like us) with whom we come into contact to find the same healing and hope in the good news of Jesus that we have found.”

Hope began in 2005, under the church planting efforts of Rev. Chuck Muether, who now serves as Director of Advancement for Heidelberg Theological Seminary. The church has seen changes in membership and meeting location since its early years. John Fikkert, an ordained Teacher in the OPC who attends (and sometimes preaches) at Hope and serves on the overseeing session, believes organization is on the horizon.

In its goal toward becoming self-governing, the church has elder candidates but not elders. Not being fully self-sustaining, it cannot pay its new pastor a full-time salary. But the hope is to meet both goals in the near future. “I actually think we are close on both counts,” he said. “Prayerfully, and by God’s grace, I think things could pull together in the next year or two.”

The congregation meets in the Memorial Building on Pella’s square. Sunday school for children and adults is at 9:15, followed by morning worship at 10:15. Evening worship begins at 5:30. Pastor Schiebout teaches a leadership group for men. And the group hopes to develop strategies to serve and reach the lost. For more information, visit the church’s website.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 11 & 12 of the January 19, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.

From a church plant to an organized church in San Antonio

Moody prays laying hands-1An OPC mission work in San Antonio organized in a special service held February 10, 2017. Rev. Andrew Moody, who has served as the group’s church planter, was installed as its pastor. Elders Amit Kholsa and Thomas Roe and deacon Kyle Huizenga were ordained and installed.

About 100 people attended the service, including several Presbytery of the Southwest pastors, who participated in various ways.

Rev. Dr. Glen Clary (Providence OPC in Pflugerville, TX) preached from 1 Timothy 3:14-15 on “How to Behave in Church.” Referring to this and other texts in Paul’s letters to Timothy, he focused on three areas: worship, government, and discipline. He noted the priority of prayer in worship and how a minister must devote himself to preaching and teaching God’s Word. Worship must be done decently and in good order to reflect the character of God, whom we worship and who is with us when we worship. Church government should also be well-ordered because Christ governs the church by His word and Spirit. He does so through ordinary men who’ve been ordained to their offices and carry out their ministry under His dominion and direction. Finally, the church ought to be well disciplined because discipline is the means by which the Good Shepherd brings wandering sheep back into the fold.

Rev. Mark Sumpter (Regional Home Missionary for the Presbytery of the Southwest) exhorted the congregation to rely on God for discipleship strength in seven ways: 1) Be spiritually fervent in serving the Lord. 2) Be patient in enduring hardships. 3) Anticipate a variety of gifts in the body of Christ. 4) Remember to treat one another as gifts purchased by Christ’s blood. 5) Be eager to receive the preached Word with meekness. 6) Take up prayer and your post, eager to live out a witness for Christ. 7) Children and young people should realize they are being trained to make up the church of today as well as of tomorrow. 8) Make much of sin, but make more of Christ.

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Revs. Moody and Wagenmaker

In the administering of vows, Rev. Todd Wagenmaker (Covenant OPC in Ft. Worth, TX) addressed Pastor Moody, Rev. Bob Cannode (Providence OPC in Pflugerville, TX) spoke to the congregation, and Rev. Dr. Alan Story questioned the new elders and deacon. Rev. Andrew Moody prayed during the laying on of hands for the three officers.

Rev. Dr. Jim Cassidy (South Austin OPC) then gave the charge to the new office-bearers. Focusing on 1 Corinthians 4:1&2, he said, “Regard yourselves as servants and stewards.” He noted that being ordained is not a promotion, but a demotion as one goes from those being served to someone who serves. He acknowledged the authority of office-bearers, but reminded them it was not a license to lord it over others. He concluded by urging the men, “Be faithful servants.”

Out-of-town Presbytery visitors enjoyed a meal in the Moody home prior to the service, and all attendees were invited to a reception following it.

“Many people stayed for up to two hours after the service to fellowship,” Rev. Moody said.

Charter members of the congregation signed a special document prepared by local artist Maggie Gillikin.

“It is a 16 x 20” calligraphy that features Psalm 127:1 and Ephesians 2:19-22,” explains Rev. Moody. “It will be signed by our current members and framed to commemorate the Lord’s faithfulness in building His church.”

San Antonio Reformed Church began as a home Bible study in March of 2011. Its first worship service was held on October of 2011, and Pastor Moody was installed as an evangelist to continue his church planting work in May of 2012.

The group recently began renting a storefront space on the north side of San Antonio’s inner circle of freeways (8705 Botts Lane). Up to this point, the congregation has functioned under the oversight of elders from Grace OPC, which is about 20 minutes away. Grace has also provided financial support for the fledgling group.

“We have been blessed to have the session of Grace OPC oversee the life and ministry of the church for several years,” said Rev. Moody. “Now, the Presbytery has ordained and installed our own church officers.”

He adds, “This is a huge milestone for San Antonio Reformed Church. We are excited to see how the Lord will continue to grow His church and use us to glorify His name!”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6 & 7 of the March 22, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.

A dangerous book

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Choosing the Good Portion is available from the OPC online store

Choosing the Good Portion: Women of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church; edited by Patricia E. Clawson & Diane L. Olinger; published by The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church; cloth, 470 pages; © 2016

 

This is a dangerous book. Like Proverbs 31, it can make women feel inferior if they begin to think they somehow don’t measure up. But we know that Proverbs 31, like all Scripture, is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16) and Choosing the Good Portion is not only profitable, but also enjoyable and encouraging.

Yes, some of the women described in these stories seem almost superhuman, traveling to far countries and difficult situations, giving birth or raising children while husbands are distant or busy with other kingdom work. But if you read this book and come away feeling like a sub-par Christian, you’ve missed the point. The point isn’t how great these women were, but how great their God was in their lives and is in yours.

The title, Choosing the Good Portion, comes from the biblical account of Martha and Mary, which like Proverbs 31 can be dangerous. Am I a Martha or a Mary? I’ve personally struggled with the question for years. More than a decade ago, I wrote a poem confessing my affinity with Martha and my longing to be like Mary. This book is based on the premise that the featured women chose to first receive Christ’s teaching and then serve His church.

Editors Patricia E. Clawson and Diane L. Olinger deserve high praise for their excellent work in compiling and constructing these stories, as well as each writing one of them. Pat’s introduction explains the rationale and process that led to the book, while Diane’s afterword encourages readers to ask themselves: Am I Choosing the Good Portion?

Fifty-five women wrote these stories about ninety-three women who invested themselves in Christ’s kingdom, specifically as it has been expressed through the eighty-year history of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).

What a job it must have been to determine who to write about and the women to write the stories! But what wisdom (if not pure practicality) to tackle the project with broad delegation. In the hands of different editors, the book could well have fallen into a boring litany of what began to sound like similar stories with only the names changed. As it is, the different styles and author voices add richness and variety that capture and keep reader interest.

While OPC readers will find the stories fascinating and recognize many familiar names, Christians from any federation will appreciate the accounts of sacrificial service for the Lord.

How wonderfully the Lord sustained women like Debbie Dortzbach, four months pregnant when kidnapped with Anna Strikwerda from a medical clinic by armed Eritrean guerillas in 1974. Debbie survived the ordeal, which included witnessing Anna die from a gunshot to the head.

Eritrea had long been an inhospitable mission field. Bandits, armed with AR-15s, nearly attacked the Francis and Arlena Mahaffy family, who arrived in 1944 and stayed 22 years. Arlena’s seven children were born in primitive and unsterile conditions. Feeding them involved boiling sour and dirty milk as well as soaking vegetables in chlorinated water before cooking them with the stalks.

Other stories describe women who served the church on the home front by giving time, money, or sound advice. Women like Betty Wallace, who helped found Franklin Square OPC in New York and taught Sunday school for many years. She hosted missionaries in her home and viewed life as a wonderful adventure: “Any better, I couldn’t stand it!”

Not all the profiles focus on positive productivity. The women are portrayed as real people with human frailties. Donna McIlhenny bravely pens a transparent narrative about how alcohol helped her cope with stresses few of us will ever experience—until it stopped being her helper and became her tyrant. She eventually overcame her addiction, but this story shows that being a Christian doesn’t automatically deliver a person from deep and long-lasting struggles.

Choosing the Good Portion could be a dangerous book, but only if you read it with a focus on the human instead of the divine.

The above book review by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 43 of the March 1, 2017, issue of Christian Renewal.

 

OPC church plant in Wisconsin: unique outreach efforts

McShaffrey_Family_2016
The McShaffrey family

Next time you vacation in the Wisconsin Dells, plan to drive less than 20 miles southwest to Reedsburg and worship with the saints at Grace Reformed Church. You’ll find sound preaching and warm fellowship in a congregation that reaches out in unusual ways.

The church began as a mission work of the Presbytery of the Midwest of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and was organized (particularized) as a church in 2007, with the ordination of three elders. Two deacons were installed in July of 2013.

Rev. Christian M. McShaffrey has been involved with the work since he graduated from Mid-America Reformed Seminary in 2003. He was ordained as an evangelist in 2004 and installed as pastor of the church in 2007.

“Though we are organized as a church, my work is not done,” he says. “While at Mid-America, I learned the ‘three-self’ formula of missions: 1) Self-governing, 2) self-supporting, and 3) self-propagating. The first two are done, but the third is yet future.”

The congregation consists of 48 communicant and 14 non-communicant members. They meet for Sunday worship at 11:15 AM in a PCUSA, whose space they rent at 148 North Park St. in Reedsburg. A luncheon at 12:30 PM follows the morning service. Members meet again for singing and prayer at 1:30, with a Bible study beginning at 1:45.

Rev. McShaffrey explains that the group originally met for morning and evening services, but because many members travel as much as an hour, evening attendance was lacking. When the congregation began renting its current facility, the worship schedule had to be adjusted around that church’s 9:30 AM service.

“The current schedule was based on necessity, but I have come to love it,” Rev. McShaffrey says. “Attendance in ‘second service’ has increased, and the bonds of our fellowship have deepened by breaking bread together each Sabbath. During the summer months, some linger about at the church in fellowship until evening.”

A home meeting is held each Wednesday at 6:00 PM for prayer, study, and fellowship. Members also take the initiative to sponsor Friday evening hymn sings, summer sporting events, hikes at a nearby state park, or community service projects.

The church’s website (reedsburgchurch.org) highlights several ministry and outreach efforts. One link leads to the unique Serious Christianity website (seriouschristianity.org), which answers multiple questions about different aspects of the Christian faith. Its purpose is to challenge the many “mere professors” of Christianity out of their complacency into true conversion.

“As a church planter, I spent a lot of time talking to people in the community,” Rev. McShaffrey says. “Almost everyone claimed to be ‘Christian’ and their claim was based on either 1) growing up in a church or 2) decisional regeneration. Antinomianism is rampant today.”

Visitors to the website can click on questions, which are answered with short, biblically-based articles. Other pages include comments from the Puritans and modern theologians. An “outreach” tab provides access to files for printing cards that invite people to explore the website by asking, “Do you take your Christianity seriously?”

A “diaconate” page on the church website introduces a couple of deacons, extensively explains their work and church guidelines, and offers links to other local resources.

We have a fairly active diaconate,” Rev. McShaffrey says. “We meet a lot of people by offering help. Of course, the majority of our work in done within the church. But I get about one phone call per week from strangers asking for help. Somehow, our church got the reputation of being generous, and I know that other pastors direct people to us. Having a public policy posted is helpful when it comes time to say, ‘No.’”

The website also includes links to Bible audio files and a way to request a free copy of a Bible.

“I believe that the Word of God is powerful. Reading it can change lives,” Rev. McShaffrey says. “One of our deacons is a Gideon and his love for distributing Scripture encouraged me to do the same. I get about one call per month. I order and ship directly from Amazon.com (because most people are not interested in meeting). I include my name and phone number in the front cover.”

Grace Reformed also offers Bibles through its radio ministry. It broadcasts sermons and prayer times as well as sponsoring daily Bible reading. When Pastor McShaffrey introduces himself to people, they often ask, “Are you the Christian who gives away free Bibles on the radio?”

The website includes an invitation page in Spanish, although it acknowledges that a specific Spanish-language ministry does not yet exist. The website even includes directions for taking a cab to the church service and having the deacons pay the fare.

Most church members participate in the annual Life Chain, in which pro-life advocates stand together to pray for God to forgive our nation and put an end to abortion. The Reedsburg group stands on Main Street for 90 minutes on a Sunday afternoon. Rev. McShaffrey says, “It is a visual statement of solidarity by the local Christian community that abortion kills children, hurts women, and angers God.”

In addition to his ministerial duties, Rev. McShaffrey serves as Clerk of the Presbytery of the Midwest. He appreciates his education at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, saying, “I received sound theological instruction and was also encouraged by the good example of my professors in seeking the peace, purity, and unity of the church.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 10 & 11 of the October 12, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

John P. Galbraith, OPC founder and statesman

 

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Rev. Galbraith speaking at the 2011 OPC GA

On June 30, 2016, the Lord called home Rev. John P. Galbraith at the age of 103. Rev. Galbraith was a highly-respected minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) who earned a reputation as a servant leader. He was the oldest living minister in the OPC and the last survivor of those who founded the denomination in 1936.

Rev. Galbraith’s humility is expressed in his opening words to those gathered to celebrate the OPC’s 75th anniversary on June 11, 2011. At 98 years old, he spoke slowly and paused often for breath, saying to the crowd who welcomed him with a standing ovation, “You’re all so kind. I don’t know if you dwell so much, as often as I do, on one of those well-known, well-remembered statements of the Apostle Paul, ‘The good that I would, I do not, and the evil that I would not, that I do.’ And you give me your applause. I thank you.”

The death announcement released from OPC Stated Clerk, Rev. Ross Graham, stated. “His accomplishments in the development of the ministry of the OPC were unparalleled.”

Less than three weeks prior to Rev. Galbraith’s death, Reformed Forum posted “The Life and Ministry of Rev. John P. Galbraith” podcast. In this documentary-type interview, Camden Bucey wove together audio clips from recent interviews with Rev. Galbraith and Rev. Danny Olinger, General Secretary of the OPC’s Committee on Christian Education. Rev. Olinger, who is widely-recognized for his extensive knowledge of OPC history, spoke at length about Rev. Galbraith’s contributions to the OPC and his “unmatched” integrity. He concluded: “We’re fortunate that we’ve had such a great man with regard to integrity and commitment to the scriptures to try to help the Reformed world.”

On the occasion of Rev. Galbraith’s 100th birthday in 2013, Rev. William Shishko (minister of the OPC in Franklin Square, New York) wrote a tribute in honor of Rev. Galbraith, who had become known “Mr. OPC.” He concluded:

Of all of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s many blessings, one of the foremost is to have had…Rev. John Galbraith as Christ’s gift to us. He is, indeed, Mr. OPC. His service continues to make an impact on the church of which he has been a part from the first day of its existence. In fact, no other OPC minister has influenced the course of the OPC more than John Galbraith. He would be the first to deflect this tribute, giving all glory to God…. The entire Orthodox Presbyterian Church praises God for his grace in giving us the life and labors of Rev. John Galbraith, Mr. OPC.

FAITHFUL SERVANT

John Patton Galbraith was born on March 10, 1913. He studied under J. Gresham Machen at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and became friends with him, even attending Machen’s trial in Trenton, NJ, and his appeal at the General Assembly in Syracuse.

On June 11, 1936, seminarian John Galbraith was one of about 130 people who stood to show their commitment to the new denomination that would become the OPC.

Following Galbraith’s graduation from Westminster in 1937, he was ordained to the gospel ministry by the Presbytery of Philadelphia and served the Gethsemane congregation for three years.

At the new denomination’s fourth General Assembly, he heeded the call for someone to write a defense of the OPC. In 1940, his booklet Why the Orthodox Presbyterian Church? was published and became the best-selling denominational literature in the OPC’s history.

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Danny Olinger and John Galbraith

During the Reformed Forum podcast, Rev. Olinger credited that tract with earning Rev. Galbraith the name as Mr. OPC. “It sold all through the 40s and 50s and was reissued in the 60s,” he said. “It established him as someone who knew the issues and could articulate them very well.”

Rev. Galbraith served Grace OPC in Westfiled, NJ, from 1940 until 1942, and the OPC in Kirkwood, PA, from 1942 to 1948. Having served these congregations during the first 11 years of his ministry, Rev. Galbraith remained a pastor at heart. But his gifts soon were put to administrative use within the fledgling denomination.

In 1947, he was elected as Moderator of the OPC’s 14th General Assembly. Rev. Shishko relates in his tribute: “It was during that assembly (after which many of those who favored a broad evangelical course for the OPC left the church), that John Galbraith made his mark as the ecclesiastical statesman he would become. A heated floor debate had ensued between Minister Clifford Smith and Dr. R. B. Kuiper, who was…revered by John Galbraith. That deep personal respect (and, no doubt, the sympathies he had with Kuiper’s position) did not prevent moderator Galbraith from gaveling down the heated debaters. As moderator, he did his duty and told them both to apologize for their conduct on the floor. They did. And John Galbraith established his reputation as a man governed by principle rather than by personality—something that has made an inestimable impact on the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.”

Rev. Galbraith was appointed as General Secretary for the Home and Foreign Missions Committees in 1948. He continued serving both committees until 1961, when he began his full-time work as General Secretary of the Committee for Foreign Missions.

Rev. Olinger explained that the OPC struggled to pay its missionaries and operated with a deficit in this area every year. “When Mr. Galbraith became the General Secretary, he instituted the Thank Offering to make up the deficit and have something to move forward.” Rev. Olinger also spoke about the amazing way OPC missionaries have gone into “hotspots” at difficult times in history, saying that Rev. Galbraith “did all the spade work that allowed our missionaries to work in these very tough areas.” He added, “He did these types of things over and over again as General Secretary and he was just amazing at it.”

FAITHFUL SERVICE

Rev. Galbraith’s influence extended beyond his thirty years of work for foreign missions. He served on numerous other denominational committees and twice as Clerk of the OPC GA. After his ‘retirement’ in 1978, he threw himself into other avenues of service for the cause of Reformed Christianity, which included stints as president of ecumenical councils such as NAPARC.

Rev. Shishko’s tribute cites a dizzying list of service: 32 years on the OPC Committee on Pensions, the Committee on OPC Involvement in the Center for Urban Theological Training, the Committee on Methods of Worldwide Outreach, the Committee on Ministerial Training, a Special Committee to Study the Oversight of Ministerial Candidates, over 30 years on the OPC Committee on Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations, delegate and OPC missions correspondent to the Reformed Ecumenical Synod (where he served various years as second clerk, first clerk, and moderator), the OPC’s Committee on RES Matters, Committee to Confer with the Christian Reformed Church, and chairman of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). He also authored the article, “The Ecumenical Vision of the OPC” for Pressing Toward the Mark, a semi-centennial volume honoring the OPC in 1986.

“He just did it all,” Rev. Olinger said. “As far as one carrying on Machen’s vision for the church, he carried that mantle well.” He was “the greatest ecumenical figure in the history of our church.”

LIFE IN BALANCE

Rev. Galbraith’s commitment to the OPC and Reformed Christianity did not preclude his dedication to his family, according to Rev. Shishko. He married Ada Mae Kievitt in 1941, and they were blessed with two daughters. He often took the girls to Philadelphia Phillies baseball game, and the family spent a month’s vacation each summer in Maine. Although he sometimes traveled to foreign mission sites, whenever he was home on Saturday nights, he scrubbed the kitchen floor on his hands and knees to help out Ada.

His beloved wife died on July 5, 1995, but his two daughters were by his side when he passed away.

In his message to those celebrating the OPC’s 75th anniversary on June 11, 2011, Rev. Galbraith concluded: “I say to you, ‘Keep standing fast.’ That doesn’t need any exegesis. You know exactly what it means. Stand fast in the faith once delivered to the saints. Stand fast on the Word of God, and then get going on the things that God has given us to do. Teach our people well. Teach them to do their job, and to do it well. And to that I think I can say only my own amen and say also, to God be the glory.”

The above memorial report by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 9 & 10 of the August 3, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

83rd GA celebrates OPC’s 80th Anniversary

 

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Photos by Rachel Stevenson

The shore of Chesapeake Bay provided a scenic setting for the 83rd General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, when it met at Sandy Cove Conference Center in North East, MD, on June 8-14, 2016.

Throughout that time frame, this assembly celebrated the denomination’s 80th anniversary. Part of that recognition included displays and videos highlighting the contributions of six women in the OPC: Charlotte Kusche, Dora Duff, Mabel Danzeisen, Bobbi Olinger, Grace Hard, and Betty Andrews. The stories of these and other women will be featured in a book under production, Choosing the Good Portion: Women of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

But one day during the OPC GA had particular significance: June 11.

Rev. Jack Sawyer said, “It was very moving to be in session on the exact anniversary date that J. Gresham Machen struck the gavel to convene the first General Assembly.” Because the General Assembly initially met more frequently than once a year, the number of Assemblies is three more than years of denominational existence.

sunsetThe Bay’s glassy surface served as a metaphor for a smooth Assembly. Although commissioners sometimes became bogged down in debate, most issues generated little controversy. Issues regarding sexuality were explored in a pre-assembly conference, the Committee to Study Republication presented a unified report, the Trinity Psalter Hymnal received overwhelming support, a study committee will examine the concept of publishing a study version of the Westminster Shorter Catechism in updated English, a new church school curriculum was introduced, and various committees reported positive progress.

Sexuality

Before the GA began, commissioners had opportunity to attend a pre-assembly conference on “Marriage, Sexuality, and Faithful Witness” at Glasgow PCA in Bear, DE. According to the daily report posted on the OPC website and written by Rev. David J. Harr (Immanuel OPC; Medford, NJ), the conference “was designed to uphold the biblical view of marriage and sexuality in light of the increasing antagonism from the surrounding society” and consisted of three plenary sessions and a panel discussion.

Speakers included Dr. Carl Trueman, Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, Elder Randy Beck (PCA), the Justice Thomas O. Marshall Chair of Constitutional Law at the University of Georgia School of Law, and Rev. Tim Geiger, Executive Director of Harvest USA (a ministry for those struggling with sexual sin). Also participating in the panel was Ms. Jennifer Marshall, Vice President for Family, Community, and Opportunity at the Heritage Foundation of Washington, DC.

During a later GA session, Danny Olinger (General Secretary of the Committee on Christian Education) reviewed the work of the Special Sub-committee on Marriage and Sexuality, which had organized the pre-assembly conference.

Republication

Two years ago, the OPC formed a Committee to Study Republication, the concept that the Mosaic covenant is in some way a republication of the Adamic covenant of works. This year, the Committee presented a unified report.

According to the website article by Rev. Harr, the reporter “explained that the confessions teach the covenant of grace ‘was administered differently in the time of the law and in the time of the gospel’ (WCF VII.5). There are not ‘two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations’ (WCF VII.6). So the Mosaic covenant must be viewed in substance as a part of the covenant of grace, though administered differently than the new covenant. This confessional language of substance and administration helps us to define which views of the Mosaic covenant are confessional and which are not.”

Although the report is not an official denominational statement and does not carry constitutional weight, it will be distributed to presbyteries and interested parties for study and possible guidance in examining ministerial candidates.

Trinity Psalter Hymnal

Dr. Alan Strange detailed the history behind the Trinity Psalter Hymnal, which the OPC began developing in 2006 and eventually became a cooperative effort with the URCNA. The fraternal representative from the URCNA was Rev. Derrick Vander Meulen, who served as chairman for that federation’s songbook committee. According to Rev. Harr’s report, “He praised God that this joint venture of the OPC and URCNA has provided a wonderful demonstration of the unity of the faith that these two bodies share.”

Commissioners approved three motions: the section of 428 hymns, the Trinity Psalter Hymnal as a whole, and communication of these decisions to Synod 2016 of the URCNA. It is anticipated that the new songbook will be available late in 2017.           

commissionersChurch education

The Committee on Christian Education introduced G2R, a revised curriculum for older elementary children that overviews the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

Commissioners supported a recommendation (from Presbytery of Central Pennsylvania) that the Committee on Christian Education consider publishing a study version of the Westminster Shorter Catechism in updated English. The aim would be to retain meaning while making language more easily understood, especially for those who speak English as a second language. Although commissioners held differing opinions, they agreed the project should be considered and a proposal presented to next year’s assembly.

World Outreach

For 2017, commissioners approve a $4.1 million budget for Worldwide Outreach, which consists of the OPC’s committees on Christian Education, Foreign Missions, Home Missions and Church Extension. Last year’s Thank Offering to support these endeavors was over a million dollars.

Four new mission works in 2015 brought total efforts to 38, according to the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension (CHMCE) report. Eleven new works are scheduled for 2016.

Mr. Mark Bube, General Secretary of the Committee on Foreign Missions, reported on the many international fields where OPC missionaries are establishing churches. Rev. Calvin Cummings, Jr., who has retired after more than 40 years of missionary service, reviewed God’s work in Japan.

Fraternal relations

Rev. Jack Sawyer, Administrator of the Committee of Ecumenicity and Interchurch Relations (CEIR), introduced fraternal delegates from 11 federations: United Reformed Churches of North America (URCNA), Bible Presbyterian Church (BPC), Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS), Reformed Churches of New Zealand (RCNZ), Reformed Churches of South Africa (GKSA), Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Evangelical Reformed Church Westminster Confession (ERKWB, a small federation in Austria & Switzerland), Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC), Free Reformed Churches of North America (FRCNA), Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC), and Christian Reformed Churches of Australia (CRCAus).

“I’m very pleased with the way the GA handles the hosting of fraternal delegates,” Rev. Sawyer said. “As we space them out, they become a nice little break from the work and a highlight of God’s work in the church around the world.” He also appreciates that the OPC practices a “colloquium” style of face-to-face discussions rather than a “Facebook-type” of impersonal interchurch relations. This year’s GA approved moving to full Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia (PCEA).

Military

The OPC actively supports the work of chaplains and others in military service. This year’s GA thanked Elder Robert Coie, who is retiring after many years on the Committee on Chaplains and Military Personnel.

Resolving conflict

An appeal and a communication arose from a Presbytery that has been struggling with a difficult situation for several years.

The appeal came from a session after its complaint that another local session had failed to act biblically was ruled out of order by both the other session and presbytery. The appeal was eventually remanded to the presbytery to address the substance of the matter.

The communication contained three complaints, but was submitted after the deadline for appeals and complaints. Given the truncated time, commissioners decided the issues could not be dealt with adequately at this year’s assembly. The session will be permitted to bring the complaints to the 2017 GA.

A Special Committee that has been working for two years to resolve conflicts within the Presbytery of the Northwest reported positive progress. This included a resolution of repentance the Presbytery passed without dissent and its request for the Special Committee to continue working on a standby basis for another year. The GA granted that request and encouraged the Presbytery to continue moving forward in reconciliation.

A recommendation to increase the Committee of Appeals and Complaints from three members to five members was approved by this year’s Assembly and, because it involves an amendment to the Standing Rules, will need to be ratified by next year’s GA before it takes effect.

Administrative

A Special Committee on Canadian Matters has been considering challenges of the OPC’s ministry in Canada, such as pastors’ pensions, tax matters, and mission donations. The Committee was able to present a preliminary report, but will continue its work for an additional year.

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Moderator Paul Tavares

The GA approved changes in the OPC pension plan, which appear aimed at improving participation and performance. Commissioners also approved the formation of the Committee on Ministerial Care along with changes to the Standing Rules that will initiate the process.

Elder Paul Tavares (Covenant OPC; Grove City, PA) served this year’s GA as moderator. Rev. Ross Graham was elected Stated Clerk for another two-year term. Rev. John Mahaffy recorded the minutes as Assistant Clerk for the 18th consecutive year, and Mr. Luke Brown was elected OPC statistician for the 31st year.

The next General Assembly of the OPC is slated to convene on May 31, 2017, at Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, Il. The following GA is scheduled to run concurrent with the URCNA Synod in 2018.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6-8 of the August 3, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

Transformation: From prison to pulpit

 

laying-on-of-handsIt’s a long journey from a prison cell to a church pulpit, but Lowell Ivey has traveled it by God’s grace. On May 27, 2016, the former prisoner was ordained and installed as the organizing pastor for Reformation Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach, VA.

“My testimony is the Lord’s testimony as he’s worked by his mighty grace and power in my heart and life,” he says, “and even been so gracious as to give me a covenant family.”

Abandoned by his birth parents, Lowell grew up with a rebellious nature and angry heart. He began stealing as an adolescent and was sent to prison for armed robbery as a young man. During his first six years in prison, he hated Christians. He enjoyed arguing with them and trying to prove them wrong, even using the Bible against them.

“I thought I was very adept, very smart,” he says. “But I was a fool.”

Lowell found his identity in a white supremacist gang, and his attempt to murder a member of another gang landed him in solitary confinement. Alone in his cell one night in 2000, listening to the radio, he heard the gospel proclaimed.

“That radio program showed me the depth of my depravity and wickedness,” he says, “and that it wasn’t something I could change.”

He couldn’t change himself, but the Holy Spirit transformed him. “One moment I felt as if I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t repent. But the next moment, the Lord by his mighty power broke all that, took it all away. And I fell on my knees beside my bunk, weeping, asking him for forgiveness. But not only that, asking him to change my life, to change my heart so that I would begin to live only for his glory, the glory of my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

During the remaining nine years of his incarceration, Lowell gradually moved through the slow process of sanctification. He embraced the Reformed faith through Ligonier’s “Renewing Your Mind” radio broadcasts. He grew in that faith by reading catechism sermons of Dr. Joel Beeke (Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary). And he contacted Rev. Nathan Brummel, (director of Divine Hope Reformed Bible Seminary), who regularly wrote to him and sent him theologically sound literature.

As Lowell grew in the faith, he thought about the need for prisoners to be discipled in the Reformed faith and considered serving in prison ministry some day. Prior to his release, Rev. Brummel put him into contact with Rev. Phil Hodson, a local OPC pastor.

Lowell says about Rev. Hodson, “He was a mentor to me after I was released from prison and even invited me to live in his home for a time. I became a member of the church he serves, Christ the King OPC in Longview, TX, where I also met my wife, Mae.”

Still thinking in terms of prison ministry, Lowell began seminary training in Texas in 2010, but then transferred to Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (GPTS) in 2011. He attended Covenant Community Church (OPC) in Taylors, SC.

“In seminary, and through the influence of my pastor, Rev. Peter VanDooedewaard, I began thinking more about pastoral ministry,” he says. “While I wanted to continue ministering to prisoners, I became increasingly convinced that the Lord was calling me to a broader ministry.”

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Pastor Ivey, daughter Geneva, and Rev. Nathan Brummel

In Lowell’s senior year at seminary, the session of his church discussed having him serve a pastoral internship. Early in 2015, he received a call from Rev. DeLacy Andrews, Regional Home Missionary for the Presbytery of the Southeast, to see if he might consider helping establish the church plant in Virginia Beach. Although Lowell was interested, he and his church session agreed that he should proceed with the internship.

“My prayer at that point was, ‘Lord, I want to go wherever You lead me. If it’s Your will for me to serve in Virginia Beach, I know you will keep the door open,’” he says. “I let Pastor Andrews and the Pulpit Search Committee know that I was withdrawing my name from consideration for the time being.”

Lowell graduated from GPTS in May of 2015 with his Master of Divinity degree and went on to serve for the next year as an intern in his church. When Lowell’s internship neared its conclusion, Rev. Andrews contacted him again. The Virginia Beach group still had not secured a pastor. The Search Committee interviewed Lowell in January of 2016, and he spent ten days in Virginia Beach in February, preaching, teaching, and visiting families. On the last day of February, the congregation voted unanimously to request the Presbytery to call him as its organizing pastor.

Presbytery approved his call when he sustained his examination on April 22. Lowell and Mae and their two children moved to Virginia Beach on May 10, and he took up the work there on June 1.

“Looking back on it now, I can see how faithful the Lord was in leading me as He did,” he says. In addition to learning from Pastor VanDoodewaard during his internship, Lowell served alongside a refugee pastor who had suffered intense persecution, including imprisonment and torture. “The internship was crucial to my growth in pastoral ministry. I’m using the lessons I learned every day in my calling here in Virginia Beach.”

Several men who participated in Lowell’s ordination and installation service on May 27, have been influential in his journey from prison to pulpit.

Although Reformation Presbyterian Church is a mission work of the Presbytery of the Southeast, the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic has assisted in the effort. Regional Home Missionaries from both presbyteries, who have been involved with the church plant, took part in the service. Rev. DeLacy Andrews (RHB, Southeast) provided instructions regarding the office of minister. Rev. Steve Doe (RHM, Mid-Atlantic) gave the charge to the congregation. Rev. Jay Bennett, Moderator of the Presbytery of the Southeast, officiated the service. Rev. Peter Stazen, pastor of Grace OPC in Lynchburg, VA, and member of the provisional session of Reformation Presbyterian Church, led a prayer of adoration and the invocation.

Dr. Joseph A. Pipa, Jr., president of GPTS, gave the charge to the evangelist. Dr. L. Anthony Curto, Associate Professor of Missions and Apologetics at GPTS, supervised the laying on of hands and offered a prayer of ordination.

Rev. Peter VanDoodewaard, who had been Lowell’s pastor for five years, preached from Psalm 2. Rev. Nathan Brummel read Scripture.

“I am amazed at how God has poured out His grace in Jesus Christ upon Lowell,” Rev. Brummel says. “God has showered him with grace upon grace. He immediately transformed Lowell at the moment of his conversion from a proud racist member of a dangerous prison gang, into a humble, loving servant of Jesus Christ. God has given Lowell a Proverbs 31 wife and two beautiful covenant children. May God be glorified through Lowell as this new OPC minister begins his evangelistic and pastoral ministry in Virginia Beach.”

Rev. Phil Hodson was not able to be present, due to a death in the family. Having spent years as Lowell’s pastor and observing him in the church community, he says, “We have seen in Lowell a mature understanding of the Reformed faith, a faithful handling of the word of God, and a good grasp of biblical and systematic theology. We have also seen him attain to these things by adorning them with a faithful walk before the Lord. His manner and speech are crowned with actions that demonstrate the sacrificial love of Christ. He joyfully confesses that he is a ‘prisoner of the Lord,’ and embraces whatever circumstances the Lord calls his to. He does not pursue the credit for labors he has been engaged in. Rather, he is focused on bringing attention to Christ and to serve His glory.”

Rev. Ivey explains that Reformation Presbyterian Church (RPC) has met since 2012, first with informational meetings and then home Bible studies, led by Revs. Andrews and Doe, Regional Home Missionaries. Worship services began in November of 2013, and the session began searching for a church planter in 2014.

Rev. Ivey says, “The church is vibrant, friendly, historically Reformed in terms of its confessional stance and its worship, and has a passion for outreach and evangelism in the Tidewater region.” He describes that area of eastern Virginia as containing 1.5 million people, more than 60 percent of whom profess no religious affiliation.

The RPC group meets for 11:00 AM worship at Fleet Reserve Association, 357 Edwin Drive, and for 6:00 PM worship at Indian Lakes Community Center, 1313 Indian Lakes Blvd, both in Virginia Beach. For more information on the church plant, see its website.ordination-group

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 16-18 of the July 6, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

Plan to publish Trinity Psalter Hymnal in Autumn of 2017

 

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Opening worship at Synod Nyack 2012

The joint songbook project of the OPC and the URCNA is nearing completion. December 31, 2015, marked the deadline for churches to submit feedback regarding the proposed hymn collection, which had been posted online for review since May of 2015.

Rev. Derrick J. Vander Meulen, Chairman of the URCNA’s Psalter Hymnal Committee, explained that the Committee received several responses from both OPC and URC churches and individuals. “Some were purely editorial matters that we, of course, appreciate and concur. Others dealt with musical issues like changing the key signature or using a different arrangement. Most of these we referred to our music editor, Mrs. Lou Ann Shafer, for evaluation and implementation. Mrs. Shafer is a trained musician and member of the OPC Psalter Hymnal Committee.”

He added, “Many of the responses included recommendations to add hymns, to remove hymns, or to change hymns. We have evaluated all these suggestions and have, in fact, made 43 changes to our original proposal, including adding five songs and removing 11.” He noted these changes would appear on the website soon in order to allow delegates adequate time for review prior to Synod Wyoming 2016.

In order to obtain copyright permissions (a process that can take 6-12 months), the project required a legal name. When the name Trinity Psalter Hymnal was proposed, no one on either the URCNA committee or the OPC committee objected.

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The Vander Meulens

“We all agreed that this was the ideal choice,” Rev. Vander Meulen said. “Because of the profound ecumenical and historical significance of the Trinity Psalter Hymnal, we proposed a combined meeting with the OPC. We thought it would be a wonderful event and marvelous testimony to have URC and OPC office-bearers and members join in prayer, discuss such matters as we have in common, and sing side-by-side from our shared songbook.”

The initial hope was for the joint ecclesiastical meeting to take place in the summer of 2016, but the OPC had already made arrangements for this year. Every five years, the OPC’s GA is held at Sandy Cove Christian Conference Center in Maryland, and 2016 marks the denomination’s 80th anniversary.

“But if the Lord wills, we will meet together in 2018,” Rev. Vander Meulen says. He explains that both bodies, the URCNA Synod and the OPC GA will vote this year regarding the hymn collection. “Since the psalm collection has already been approved, approving the hymns will allow us to pursue all remaining copyright permissions, finish creating indices, complete the layout, and finally go to publication. With God’s blessing, we hope to have a published Trinity Psalter Hymnal by the fall of 2017.”

Delegates to Synod Wyoming 2016 will also consider a related recommendation from the Liturgical Forms Committee. That Committee seeks to publish URCNA-specific liturgical forms separately, a move the Psalter Hymnal Committee approves. Publishing these forms separately will allow both federations to use an identical songbook, which would contain Reformed creeds and confessions.

“Our desire for the Trinity Psalter Hymnal is that we publish one book that includes the ecumenical creeds, the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards in the back,” Rev. Vander Meulen explains.

Although finances factor into the decision (publishing an edition specific to the URCNA would increase production and distribution expenses), the primary reason the Committee favors one songbook for both federations is its ecumenical impact.

“We believe a single edition that includes these doctrinal standards bears witness that we are unified as sister federations,” he states. “It may also have the added benefit of appealing to the broader Reformed community. Such a tangible expression of our unity that would appeal to even other Reformed denominations, churches, or individuals would be honoring to our Lord.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes is a slightly edited version of the one that appeared on page 10 of the February 24, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal.

 

 

 

An open door in Uganda

 

Robbins family - 2015People often say that God doesn’t close a door without opening another, and we frequently see it happen. More rarely the newly-opened door requires stepping over the threshold into a different country. But that huge step of faith for the David and Rashel Robbins family is actually the fulfillment of their lifelong dreams.

Even as children, each of them had longed to serve God in foreign missions, a shared desire that drew them together when they met. God seemed to close that door, instead calling the couple to Huntington, WV, where David planted Trinity Presbyterian Church for the OPC. But late in 2014, the supervising session questioned the viability of the mission work. The elders encouraged David to seek another call before it became necessary to close the effort. While that door was easing shut, no others appeared to open.

“We still had a longing to share Christ with the world,” David says, “but began to wonder if this was not God’s plan for us. We recommitted our desires to the Lord, and then—in a moment completely unforeseen and unanticipated by us—we were asked whether we would be interested in serving the Lord in Uganda.”

That foreign missions possibility came to light at the March 2015 presbytery meeting. David and Rashel visited the Karamoja field in August and were interviewed by the OPC’s Foreign Missions Committee in September. The Committee issued a call to him, which was processed by his presbytery, and he was installed as a missionary to Uganda on October 30. The door to his pastoral work at Trinity Presbyterian Church closed at the end of October.

David says, “Our prayerful ‘yes’ has consistently met with the Lord’s confirmation, and now we eagerly look forward to getting to the field.”

The family, which includes three young children, anticipates arriving in Uganda in February of 2016. They will live in a house located in one of three adjoining missionary compounds, which currently house around 20 people. Rashel’s younger sister, who has lived with them for several years, will remain in the States to attend college.

Karamoja is the eastern region of Uganda, about 2-7 hours (depending on travel conditions) from Mbale, where Eric and Diana Tuininga serve, and 7-13 hours from the capital city of Kampala and nearby Entebbe on the shores of Lake Victoria.

The area is considered high risk, due to cattle raids. Although that criminal activity has decreased in recent years, petty theft and violence (leading to martial law) are common. Residents must be take precautions against natural threats like malaria, scorpions, and poisonous snakes.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Uganda Mission (OPUM) has been working in the Karamoja area for 15 years, establishing an indigenous church and performing works of mercy. Other OPUM efforts include literature production, literacy training, medical care and health instruction at a clinic, vocational training, well drilling, and a working farm.

In January, the Robbins family will undergo a month of instruction at Mission Training International in Colorado. Then they will fly to Entebbe prior to making the long drive to the northeast.

Rev. Robbins, a 2005 graduate of Mid-America Reformed Seminary, plans to assist Pastor Dave Okken with planting a church in Nakaale. His work will include caring for the mission, reaching out to the community, and discipling future church leaders.

The family appreciates prayer as they walk in faith through this open door.

“We’re thrilled that the Lord has seen fit to give us this long-held desire of our hearts, and pray that he will enable us to serve him for his glory,” Rev. Robbins says. “That Christ would claim the people of this very dark place for his own is our great desire. Though we understand that this will not be an easy calling, if he is glorified, we will rejoice.”

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared in the February 3, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal. For updates on the work, see the family’s blog myganda.