Perhaps it’s just because I’ve never served as a delegate, but there are few church-related events I enjoy more than classis meetings. There is something of a foretaste of heaven fellowshipping with godly men from across the eastern seaboard, watching them work through difficult issues with grace and wisdom, and witnessing their unified decisions to work for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. Veteran readers of this blog may remember that I wrote about last year’s spring classis meeting way back here.
The classis to which my church belongs, Classis Eastern US of the United Reformed Churches in North America, most recently met at Covenant URC in Carbondale, PA, last Friday. It included the most grueling trip of the five classis meetings I’ve attended thus far (we departed Long Island at 3:45 am and didn’t arrive back home until 10:15 pm), but it was also one of the most uplifting. And, since four years of college will most likely prevent visits to future meetings for a while, I made sure to enjoy this one to the utmost.
For those unfamiliar with Reformed church government, the classis consists of two delegates (usually a pastor and an elder) from each of the eleven congregations along the East Coast. These men gather to make decisions for the collective benefit of the churches—not to contradict or supersede the authority of the individual consistories, but to put our ecclesiastical unity into practice by seeking common goals.
While I could write an entire blog series outlining and evaluating the discussions and decisions that occurred in Carbondale last Friday, I’ll attempt to be brief. It seems hardly an exaggeration to say that Classis Eastern US is exploding—in a wondrous way. Our one currently active church plant, Christ Reformed Church in Washington, DC, is in the process of organizing into a fully functioning church. Under the leadership of Mr. Sam Perez, who will be ordained DV at the end of this month, Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship in NYC will soon begin a church plant just across the Hudson River in Jersey City, New Jersey. Seminarian Zac Wyse is making similar efforts to start a URCNA plant on the west side of Cincinnati, Ohio. Three churches or core groups in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Georgia are currently looking to join our classis. And just this week I received word that another URCNA-focused core group is forming in Danbury, Connecticut!
Along with church planting, pursuing ecumenical unity with other Reformed denominations is a vital aspect of the health of our classis. This particular meeting included fraternal visitors from the Presbyterian Church in America, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, and the Canadian Reformed Churches. Psalm-singing was featured prominently, and I think profitably, in discussions with the representatives from the RPCNA and the CanRC. In addition, Mr. Joel Pearce, the Eastern representative of the URCNA Psalter Hymnal Committee, presented an informative update on their project.
For all the prospective church plants in our area, Classis Eastern US needs ministers—and the Lord seems to be providing those as well. One current student at Mid-America Reformed Seminary was in attendance at the meeting; the delegates also approved the disbursement of classical funds to help pay for the tuition costs of two other prospective seminarians. The growth of our little federation on the east coast is so great that, as one pastor has expressed it, “The ripe fruit is so abundant that it is falling out of the tree for want of enough hands to gather it up.” All glory be to God!
One of the elements of classis that I find most encouraging is the heartfelt prayers of the delegates—at the beginning and end of the meeting, and after just about any major decision. At this particular meeting, however, some of the most moving prayers came by way of song. That, in fact, brings us to today’s Featured Recording.
Covenant URC in Carbondale worships in the quaintly cozy building of an old Lutheran church on Church Street in the downtown. I’ve interspersed pictures of the sanctuary throughout this article. The pride and joy of the building is its ancient pipe organ, which I had the privilege of playing that day. Thankfully I had thought to bring my video camera and was able to record all of the day’s music. Below the delegates sing the rich missionary hymn “Far and Near the Fields are Teeming,” number 405 from the blue Psalter Hymnal. Chairman Rev. Aaron Verhoef selected this hymn to accompany his opening devotions; how perfectly it complements the desire and outlook of our churches!
URC Psalmody’s YouTube channel now includes five other recordings from that day. During a hasty practice session during the lunch hour, I recorded organ improvisations on Psalter Hymnal numbers 55 (“How Blest is He Whose Trespass”), 165 (“Our Gracious God Has Laid His Firm Foundations”), and 172 (“My Mouth Shall Sing for Aye Thy Tender Mercies, Lord”). After hearing Rev. William den Hollander’s address on behalf of the Canadian Reformed Churches, the delegates sang #287 (“With All My Heart Will I Record”), a setting of Psalm 138 in the Genevan style. And this group of weary but joyful men closed their day with the singing of #490 (“Praise Ye the Lord, Ye Hosts Above”).
As I reflect on this assembly, I find myself filled with gratitude to God for his faithfulness through all ages, and I am reminded of the confident words of the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 21, Question & Answer 54:
I believe that the Son of God,
through his Spirit and Word,
out of the entire human race,
from the beginning of the world to its end,
gathers, protects, and preserves for himself
a community chosen for eternal life
and united in true faith.
And of this community I am and always will be
a living member.