President’s Report—Northern Plains Classis

Rev. David Dawn

Esteemed Brothers,

Once again, the Lord has seen this classis through another year. There have been trials, but there have also been joys. As we consider the ministry of our various churches, let us give thanks to God for faithful service while also praying that the Lord will ever make us more zealous in the work of the Church and prosper our labors for him.

Rev. J. P. Mosley, our new minister at Pierre, sends us a very optimistic report. The church gained seven communicant members and five non-communicants last year. On the negative side of the ledger, one member went to be with the Lord and another transferred to a Reformed denomination out of state. Improvements were made to the church building, including a handicap accessible ramp. Rev. Mosley has also had opportunities to write articles for the local paper.

Elder Aaron Rau of the Kassel Reformed Church reports that they now have a consistory ordained and in place. You will recall that earlier last year Rev. Clark left for Dickinson, and Elder Keith Lorentzen resigned. That left Aaron Rau, a deacon at the time, as the only church officer. The classis appointed Rev. Phil Poe and Rev. David A Dawn to the consistory as borrowed elders until a new consistory could be elected, ordained, and installed. This was accomplished. The Kassel church meets informally and listens to Rev. Grossmann on Sermon Audio. They also have one confirmation student. He is taught via phone by Rev. Clark. It is very difficult to be optimistic concerning this tiny congregation. However, they are committed to their church to a very high degree.

Rev. Phil Poe reports that the Lord has richly blessed the Harvest Reformed Church in Minot. He writes that attendance at the morning service has tripled since he arrived in 2010 (he gives all the glory to God for this). The high water mark was an attendance of 96 this past July. Giving is very strong as well. The congregation would like to purchase a property of their own, which would enhance their outreach.

Rev. Jimmy Hall reported that the membership at the First Reformed Church, Herreid, has gone up slightly this past year. The church has ambitious outreaches into their town. One such outreach is “Church Night.” Although Rev. Hall does not elaborate as to what this outreach entails, he does say that visitors from the town sometimes outnumber the turnout of church members.

The Covenant Reformed Church of Watertown has had a rocky road in getting a new minister approved and installed. This past year, Rev. George Syms moved to town and was installed in January of 2013. Rev. Syms has been involved in counseling, confirmation instruction, and new membership classes. As a result, there has been some growth in the church, and they are optimistic of more in the future. In December, they sponsored a seminar along with the Heidelberg Theological Seminary. After a rocky start, we are thankful both that Rev. Syms is returned to the ministry from retirement and that there is renewed enthusiasm for the cause of the gospel in Watertown.

Rev. Stetler reports from Eureka that he is busy with the work of the ministry. Perhaps the tone of his activity can be summed up best when he writes, “This last year seems to me to be a turning point in the ministry here where there seemed to be a more positive response to the messages, as I have sought to deliver God’s Word with greater clarity in response to the feedback received from the members.” This shows that the progress of a church depends on the willingness of both minister and congregation to change and adapt, and this is the case in Eureka.

Rev. James Grossmann’s report indicates a whirlwind of activity as he pastors two churches 40 miles apart, serves as our Classis Stated Clerk, and involves himself in the affairs of the Ashley and Hosmer communities. On top of all this, Rev. Grossmann, together with the Ashley consistory, supervises our work in Dickinson. I’m sure he must be very thankful to the Lord for his airplane.

One might think that pastoring a smaller church, he would have time on his hands. However, the facts are that, given his many duties, he finds himself as busy as a man pastoring our larger churches. There was a matter of concern that caught my attention in his report. He writes, “I have personally worked to be involved in the community so that we could be better known. Yet I find myself troubled that we have little, if any, interest from our local communities in our congregations. While I grant that these are things that are in the hand of God, and from a certain perspective, many people do not consider other churches than that which they have ‘grown up in,’ I am still troubled that we have not had more results in our home communities. I do believe we have better exposure than when I arrived, but I wonder how we can go from exposure to people visiting and even being convinced that the mediocrity (to put it mildly) of theology in other churches is not acceptable.” This is something to think about.

Rev. Clark continues his work in Dickinson. We thank God for the fact that already there have been additions to the work there, as well as young people for confirmation training. It is a matter of joy that there are Bible study groups for both men and women. This shows an interest in the Reformed faith that is not always present in our older churches. The Dickinson church had a practical trial this past year in that the parsonage they bought proved to be infected either with mold or rodent dung. I’m not sure which, nor am I certain which would be the lesser of the two evils. What was clear is that, due to allergies, this made the house nearly uninhabitable for Mrs, Clark, in particular, until work was done to clear up the problem. This has been done, enabling the Clarks to concentrate on the ministry in Dickinson.

Turning to the First Reformed Church in Aberdeen, for the second year in a row there have been a large number of deaths amongst our older members. There were seven deaths in 2012, which is something approaching 5 percent of our communicant membership. The year before, I believe we had six deaths, and one member has already gone to be with the Lord in 2013. This underlines the need for outreach. The saying is true that a church will either “evangelize or perish.” The radio program, “Pause For Thought,” has now been broadcasted since 2004. We do know that people listen to this ministry, although it has only brought in one family over the past eight years. Nonetheless, the Gospel is being proclaimed. We do have a Sunday School of about 13 children, 5 of whom are in confirmation class. Our young people are the future of the church, and this ministry’s importance cannot be overstated. Along with the Eureka and Ashley churches, Aberdeen organizes an annual Easter cantata, which is coming up shortly under the direction of Doug Haak and Earl Mehlhaff. This has not only been an evangelistic opportunity, but has also fostered fellowship between our congregations, which is wonderful.

The reports of the ministers have been faithful and optimistic. For the first time in a while, we have not experienced a sharp drop in total classis membership. Depending on whether one counts last year’s membership at 446 or 445, (both figures are in our statistics) we either dropped by only one member or held our own. Now we need to see growth. I say this not only because there are obvious practical reasons for the need to increase our membership, but because this is one of the reasons we exist, that the Gospel be spread. Now, of course, as Calvinists, we know that God gives the increase. Growth is not our responsibility. However, we are responsible to be faithful, in our prayers, our giving, our ministry, our outreach. When we give our account to God, as the Scripture says, may it be with joy and not with sorrow. In the meantime, we need to be concerned about the spiritual growth of Classis, which cannot be measured by statistics. May the Lord move in our hearts and give you the grace to renew our zeal and commitment in 2013. Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not therefore be weary of well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” This is the promise. Let us believe it and live our lives accordingly.

Rev. David A Dawn, President, Northern Plains Classis
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