The Church’s Renewal

Classis Report

Today I’m going to deviate a little bit from the topic of music, and share with you my reaction to the most recent meeting of one of the classes of the URC.  It’s a long story, but I hope you find some encouragement in it.

It was dark and damp on Long Island as five of us piled into a minivan on a Friday morning at five o’clock and set out on a journey for Middletown, New York.  Four other men and I were heading to the spring 2012 meeting of Classis Eastern US at the Hudson Valley URC.  On the agenda for the meeting was a variety of topics, but the main focus of the session was on one theme: church planting.

The ride was quick and uneventful.  Leaving the Island on a weekday morning is risky; the only routes of exit are through New York City, and arriving in the city any later than 7 am would inevitably land us in heavy traffic.  We had worked out our plans to a pretty exact science, however, and by leaving at five o’clock instead of seven, we managed to complete the 120-mile trip in almost exactly two hours—and, as a bonus, we had time for conversation over a leisurely breakfast at a Middletown diner once we arrived.

Hudson Valley URC Exterior

The exterior of the Hudson Valley URC

The Hudson Valley United Reformed Church is only a few minutes out of town, surrounded by orchards and old farm buildings on quiet County Route 12.  The church building is only about five years old—so new that its lower level, which will contain spacious classrooms and a fellowship hall, is still under construction.  The architecture of the church is beautiful.  Upon arrival, despite the gloomy, misty weather, our group spent the remaining half-hour before classis taking pictures of the building and its scenic location.

At 9 am, the meeting began.  Rev. Steve Arrick, pastor of the Zeltenreich URC in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, led opening devotions on Matthew 9:37, 38, where Jesus instructs his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  (ESV)  Relating this passage to the pertinent topic of church planting, Rev. Arrick urged all the elders and pastors not only to be constant in prayer for the growth of God’s Church, but to be actively working to further that growth.  Following the opening prayer, the delegates sang a Psalter Hymnal selection.  There couldn’t have been a more applicable hymn than number 405.

Far and near the fields are teeming
With the waves of ripened grain;
Far and near their gold is gleaming
O’er the sunny slope and plain.

Send them forth with morn’s first beaming,
Send them in the noon-tide’s glare;
When the sun’s last rays are gleaming,
Bid them gather everywhere.

Thou whom Christ the Lord is sending,
Gather now the sheaves of gold;
Heavenward then at evening wending,
Thou shalt come with joy untold.

Lord of harvest, send forth reapers,

Hear us, Lord, to Thee we cry;
Send them now the sheaves to gather,
Ere the harvest-time pass by.

Hudson Valley URC Sanctuary

The sanctuary of the Hudson Valley URC

The opening devotions having been concluded, the official meeting began.  During the classis session, we heard a great deal of encouraging news.  Throughout the federation, the United Reformed Churches are making concrete steps to further church planting in a steady and orderly fashion.  Seminarians like Mr. Sam Perez from Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship (URC) in New York City are eager to become involved in planting more churches in the heavily populated parts of the East Coast.  Some funds are already in place for these projects.  Churches such as an independent Reformed congregation in Pennsylvania are looking to join our federation.  Visiting the classis meeting were three fraternal delegates from the OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church), who heard the URC’s reports with joy and shared their desire to see greater fellowship between the two denominations.  By God’s grace, the United Reformed Churches are continuing to grow—slowly but steadily.

God’s faithfulness in the past was another focal point at the meeting.  Last year, the URC in Lancaster had the unique opportunity to merge with an old German Reformed church in the same area of Pennsylvania, doubling the size of their congregation and obtaining a permanent worship location in the process.  Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship in New York City recently joined the URC as an official, independent congregation, and not only are they making plans to establish a church plant of their own, but God has also provided the means for them to worship in a real church building for the first time in their existence.  The elders of the Newton URC in New Jersey reported the recent growth of their own church with thankfulness: although their services were poorly attended just a few years ago, their sanctuary is now filled to overflowing on Sunday mornings.  Office-bearers led the classis in prayers of thanksgiving after each of these reports.  The delegates’ joy was tangible at witnessing God’s lasting faithfulness to his Church, in old and young congregations alike.

Hudson Valley Landscape

The view from the church

During the fellowship breaks that split up the meeting, I met a few new faces and caught up with some of the office-bearers I already knew.  We talked about many different things, but a single thread ran through all the conversations: a fresh, revitalized perspective and a hopeful eye on the future of our churches.  One of the elders encouraged me to keep coming to classis meetings, adding that he loved the fellowship himself and hoped his own children would also come in the future.  I spoke to multiple people about the immense benefit of these sessions, especially for me as a young URC member, and our display of the heavenly unity we enjoy as God’s family—regardless of geographical separation.  And even among the older elders I met, not one had a discouraged outlook on our federation; all were optimistic and forward-looking, rejoicing in the gracious providence of God.

The only part of the day that approached sadness was the moments right before everyone’s departure.  The old hymn describes it well: “When we asunder part,/It gives us inward pain,/But we shall still be joined in heart/And hope to meet again” (number 447).  As we piled into our car again and headed back to Long Island, the sun had just broken through the clouds and was illuminating the foothills in awe-inspiring light.

Two words come to mind as I reflect on this classis session: innovation and renovation.  Innovation is the creation of new things; renovation is the restoration of old things—making them as good as new.  Both ideas were abundantly evident at this meeting.  Maybe the drastic change in the day’s weather, from dark gloom to radiant light, is an appropriate picture of the lesson I learned.  It’s so easy to let ourselves be deceived into hopelessness regarding Christ’s Church.  Evil is everywhere, sin is rampant, and our world is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity.  Within the orthodox Reformed community, our congregations appear wracked with low attendance and decreasing funds, with outward pressures and inward strife.  What does God have to say about this?  Should we jump ship while we can?  No—Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  We need not doubt.  Yes, in our sin-cursed world, God’s people will endure trouble and affliction.  But we can have faith that right up to the end, though the earth be removed and the mountains cast into the sea, our steadfast God will preserve and increase his glorious Church.

Lord of harvest, send forth reapers,
Hear us, Lord, to Thee we cry;
Send them now the sheaves to gather,
Ere the harvest-time pass by.


Hudson Valley URC Sanctuary Detail

The commission above the rear doors of the Hudson Valley URC sanctuary

(Thanks to Elder Steve Wetmore of the URC in Cape Coral, Fla., for the photos.)

11 Responses to “The Church’s Renewal”

  1. 1 Villatoro March 20, 2012 at 12:13 am

    sounds like you really enjoyed yourself!

    • 2 Michael Kearney March 20, 2012 at 6:50 am

      With these meetings, I have to say, it’s hard not to enjoy myself. The fellowship is just fantastic. This year’s synod meeting is going to be in Nyack, NY (just north of the NJ border), so I’m hoping to go to that too.


  2. 10 Michael Kearney March 20, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    UPDATE: I just replaced some of the fuzzy photos in this post and added some new ones. The architecture and location of this church are spectacular.


  1. 1 Featured Recording: “Classical” Music | URC Psalmody Trackback on May 3, 2013 at 10:11 am

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