Report from the 2011 General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbytrerian Church

July 22, 2011

  

Associate Reformed Presbyterian Synod 2011 Report
By Delores McDonald  
The“Free Offer of the Gospel in the 21st Century” theme didn’t stop with Pre-Synod, but continued to be heard from speakers throughout the meeting of General Synod.
 
As Kyle Sims opened the Wednesday morning worship service, he read from 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. Ministers were challenged to not only keep their messages simple and basic, but to also share the message of Jesus Christ and what He has done for sinners.  While encouraging delegates to make prayer a priority, he also stressed the importance of preaching not only the “easy things” of Christ, but also the things that are difficult to share. “Even our best efforts will never work without the Holy Spirit,” he said. “Trust the Holy Spirit to bring fruit to your ministry. The hope we have in the free giving of the gospel is in the power of the Holy Spirit. Our churches need to regain their vision. Ask yourself what you are doing to give people you come in contact with every day the free offer of the gospel. Give them the Christ of the Scriptures; pray an earnest prayer that God will open hearts, so faith will rest in the power of God.”
 
Mark Miller kept the “free offer of the gospel” torch burning in his Wednesday night
message.  Using Matthew 11: 29, he described the free offer as a yoke – asking, “Are you needy enough to accept the free offer of Jesus Christ? Do you feel your burdens?” Miller says this offer is the “Yoke of freedom,” and that Jesus frees us from our burdens. “The yoke of Jesus is no more a burden than feathers to a bird.”
 
Retiring Moderator Urges: Be on The Alert
Using 1 Corinthians 16:13,14, outgoing Moderator Steve Maye told the court to be alert. “The devil prowls around like a roaring lion. We must be alert. Resist the devil and he will flee.”  He challenged delegates to act like men. “In all we do, do it in love. Preach, teach, fellowship, give, discipline – in love. Love that does not discipline is no love at all.” One role Maye said he will not give up is praying for the denomination and its ministers. “It’s a blessing to pray for each of you,” he said. “I will continue to pray with great earnestness and intensity.”
Maye then presented Moderator Elect Rev. Andrew Putnam to the court, relinquishing the Moderator’s staff and medallion. Moderator Putnam named several issues on his mind, relevant to the ARP Church – the need for renewing existing churches and starting new church plants;  and the importance of recapturing the ARP’s historical heritage of the free offer of the gospel.
 
But it was his PowerPoint that got the attention of the delegates, with numbers and pie charts, showing eye-opening statistics about the ARP Church. The ARPC reports 269  congregations with 27,815 active members. Last year, we took in 1786 new members and lost 2478 – for a net loss of 692 members. We also performed 409 baptisms. Our denominational ministry fund received $2,417,107. On closer examination, we see that, of the 269 congregations, only 28 have more than 200 active members. However, those 28 congregations account for 44 percent of the total active membership of the denomination. Thirty-three percent of our churches have less than 100 active members. Thirteen percent of our churches report less than 49 active members; 17 percent report 50-99 active members. From the denominational ministry fund of $2,417,107, 60 percent comes from 20 congregations. He began with the startling fact that the ARP Church could either die, merge or revive. Putnam encouraged revival through prayer, preaching, and practice.
 
A Purposeful Ministry
Women’s Ministries president, Joanne Hamilton, passionately addressed Synod, telling how it was a tremendous leap of faith for WM to appoint her as vice-president in 2009,
leading to the presidency the next year. She said her church, Church of the Atonement,
MD (Northeast Presbytery), never had a women’s organization like most presbyteries. “So I came to this position without the experience and history of most elected presidents.
I’m grateful for for their confidence in me, and I’ve had a great year as president.”
 
A desire of the WM Board each year is to minister to the women who attend Synod. This year, 75 women attended an “Oasis” event. “This is such a unique time to bring ARP
women together, providing an uplifting event, while offering fellowship and spiritual encouragement,” Hamilton said.
 
Another Synod event included the wives of church plant pastors. “These women give  their all to this ministry. Because they are spread all over the denomination, there’s not much camaraderie. Synod is a valuable time to pull them together. There is a time to share and build
each other up, so when they leave Bonclarken, the wives are a little stronger when they return
to the challenges of church plant ministry.” 
 
Hamilton gave highlights of other projects the women have been involved with during the past Synod year, which included partnering with Christian Education Ministries to hold a WM seminar during the same time as Northeast Presbytery’s Elder/Deacon Training. An Annual Focus Project was also created to keep Synod’s boards and agencies before the women, keeping them up-to-date about the mission and needs of each agency.
 
“We want to impact women’s lives for Christ,” she said. “And to help nurture them into being everything that God designed them to be. But as we plan for ministry, we have to
remember one very important thing: we need to understand we are competing for the precious
commodity of time in the busy lifestyles of women today.
 
In a challenge to pastors and elders, Mrs. Hamilton urged them to invite WM leaders to Session meetings. “We want your encouragement,” she said. “We want to know that what we are doing is in keeping with the mission of our churches. Bring us under the umbrella of the church. “It is my prayer that someday, every ARP church will support a purposeful ministry for
its women under the provision and protection of the pastor and Session. Our goal is not to
train and produce good ARP women, but to help women know, love and serve Jesus Christ.
This spiritual growth and maturity will then produce ‘the best’ ARP women.”
 
New Psalter Presented
The new Psalter song book, which has been in the works for some time, appeared in everyone’s seat on the floor of Synod. Delegates sang from the newly published book. Some readily decided they liked the new book and others did not. But like it or not, the first edition of the new Psalter was presented and approved. “This Psalter is the result of a tremendous amount of hard work,” said Worship Committee chairman Paul Mulner, applauding the efforts of Gabe Statom and David Vance. The RPCNA also contributed to the project. Every minister received one complimentary hard cover copy to take back to his church. Rev. Earl Linderman, who leads Psalmsinging during Synod and most conferences at Bonclarken, says he appreciates the hard work that went into the new Psalter and hopes it will be useful in our churches. Linderman likes that the page numbers match the Psalm numbers, and likes the slim, lightweight songbook because it’s easy to manage, with very thin (Biblelike) paper. “It’s not big and bulky,” he said.  “Accompanists will appreciate that too.” For each Psalm, there is New Testament scripture to highlight the message – “and a great index to identify the contents.” There are many familiar tunes, but there are those that are not familiar, he said. “Like anything new, it will take time for people to get used to it.” The familiar Bible Songs are at the end of the book. “Even in the new Psalter, we’ve still got the back of the book,” he said.
 
Chaplains Recognized
            ARP Chaplains were recognized on the floor of Synod for the final time under the
Presbyterian Council on Military Chaplains and Military Personnel (PCCMP). The  PCUSA dominated agency has endorsed our chaplains for decades. After an approved recommendation from the Minister and His Work Committee, Synod has requested that the Presbyterian and Reformed Joint Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel (PRJC), be the endorsing agency. The new agency currently endorses chaplains from the OPC, PCA and RPCNA; churches who share “a common theological and fraternal relationship with the ARP Church.” The committee’s report states that it is not financially possible for the ARP Church to support its own denominational endorsing agency. It stresses that the committee’s conclusion to change agencies was largely due to the recent policy change by the Department of Defense to make preparations to end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, allowing homosexuals to openly serve in the military. Among the chaplains recognized at Synod was Mike Yarman, who is retiring from the US Army chaplaincy after 30 years of service.
 
Defining Who We Are
A preliminary report was given by the Strategic Planning Committee, which speaks
to the question of who we are and the distinctive characteristics we seek to perpetuate and
develop in years to come. At a crucial time in our history, the ARP Church seeks to define its core values and commitments. Two great concerns, taught in Scripture, which flow directly and organically from our history and heritage, should be prominent in our witness as a church: the Lordship of Jesus Christ as Prophet, Priest and King over the Church, and the proclamation of a gracious gospel freely to all. The committee deemed the two concerns essential. “They bring together the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Committee Chairman Doug Petersen. “ If they have been lost, we need to recover and restore them to the prominence they deserve.” Petersen says the next questions to be answered are, “Where do we go from here? What kind of church should we be?”
 
           In order to do this, our small denomination, with many small churches and limited resources, must be governed by the following criteria: 1. Must be gospel-centered and gospeldriven. 2. Must empower the people of God to accomplish God’s purposes in God’s way.  3. Must marshal the resources of the church in a wise and prudent manner.
In light of this vision, the preliminary report lists five emphases needed at this time in our history: 1. Powerful gospel-centered preaching. 2. Church planting. 3. Christian education.
4. Multi-generational ministry. 5. Culturally-responsive ministry. The Committee recommends that all boards and agencies evaluate their ministries in terms of the vision, the three criteria and the five emphases previously outlined; and submit reports by Dec. 1. The Committee hopes to have a completed strategic plan by Synod 2012.
 
A Motion of Note
A motion worthy of attention, meticulously presented by Clint Davis, was  overwhelmingly approved. Davis read the statement issued to the Erskine Board (see Motion E, pg 11), which included a summation paragraph recognizing the historic and organic relationship between Erskine and General Synod: Synod’s right to delineate its aspirations for the institution; appoint all trustees to the Board; and remove trustees for cause.
 
Moderator-Elect
On Thursday, delegates voted Steven Suits in as Moderator-Elect. Suits is a Columbia, SC, physician and a ruling elder at First Presbyterian Church-Columbia. He was nominated by Dr. Mark Ross and Dr. Bill Evans. Arsenal Hill (SC) Church Ruling Elder Michael Evans ran against Suits. His nomination was made by Allen Derrick and Charles Edgar. After much encouragement and prayer, Suits says he is willing to serve as Moderator next year. “I want Christ to hold me up,” he said. “I am willing to serve Him.”