George Cottenden, who has served for four years as stated clerk, is retiring from this position at this assembly. Rev. Ross Graham, former associate general secretary of Home Missions and Church Extension, has been appointed to succeed Mr. Cottenden. Mr. Graham assumed this position immediately after Mr. Cottenden gave his stated clerk’s report. The assembly expressed thanks to Mr. Cottenden for his service with a standing ovation.
The Work of Advisory Committees
All members of the assembly, except the moderator, clerks, and commissioners who give presentations in advisory committees, are assigned to an advisory committee. Advisory committees help the assembly with its work and are tasked with meeting with representatives of the various committees of the General Assembly and reviewing their reports and recommendations. When an advisory committee reports that it is “silent” with regard to the work of a committee under its review, this silence is understood to convey approval of the committee’s work and concurrence with its recommendations. However, an advisory committee may bring recommendations to the assembly that are at variance to a committee under its review, but not without conferring with at least one member of that committee.
While a good portion of the day was spent in advisory committees, the assembly did take a break shortly before lunch to hear a devotion. Pastor Roth Reason, pastor of Redeemer OPC in Danville, Pennsylvania, spoke from Acts 3:1-10, encouraging the assembly not to doubt the continued work of the Holy Spirit in enlightening hearts and minds to the work of Christ.
Report of the Stated Clerk
Mr. George Cottenden, stated clerk of the denomination, presented his report to the assembly. Mr. Cottenden has served the denomination for the last four years. The stated clerk, among many other things, helps to facilitate the flow of important information to the denominational committees, presbyteries and churches concerning important decisions of the assembly. He also oversees the publication of the OPC Directory, Minutes of the General Assembly, and the Ministerial Register.
Mr. Cottenden presented a number or recommendations to the assembly, which were approved. One of these recommendations authorizes the minutes of the assembly to be distributed electronically, while taking into account security and privacy.
It should be noted that Mr. Cottenden is retiring from the work of stated clerk at this assembly. Mr. Ross Graham, former associate general secretary of Home Missions and Church Extension, has been appointed to succeed Mr. Cottenden. Mr. Graham assumed this position immediately after Mr. Cottenden’s report. The assembly expressed thanks to Mr. Cottenden for his service with a standing ovation.
Report of the Trustees
The trustees of the OPC presented a brief report, represented by Mr. Stephen Phillips. Among other responsibilities, the trustees propose to the General Assembly a budget for the General Assembly Operation Fund, and suggest a per capita contribution for payment of assembly expenses.
This year, the trustees recommended to the assembly that the congregations of the OPC give $20 per communicant toward the General Assembly Operation Fund for 2015.
Report of the Statistician
Even for those who don’t believe they are numbers people, the report of the denominations statistician, Luke Brown, is always interesting. Whether it is charting the slow growth of the OPC from its inception, or mapping out the trends in benevolent giving to the church, Mr. Brown has a way of presenting the statistics of the OPC in a very edifying and understanding way.
Here are some highlights from Mr. Brown’s report:
1. Total membership of the OPC at the end of 2013 was 30,758 members, which consisted of 534 ministers, 22,493 communicant members and 7,731 baptized children.
2. Total giving in 2013 grew by 6.04 percent over the previous year to $54,068,500. These contributions supported all aspects of the ministry of the OPC.
3. The total number of ruling elders increased by four to 1,106 and 834 (75%) are currently serving on sessions.
4. The total number of deacons increased by 18 to 870, with 683 (79%) actively serving.
5. In all, with ministers included, there are 2,510 ordained officers in the church.
6. Local churches at the end of 2013 numbered 269.
Overall, Mr. Brown reported that the OPC continued the slow but steady growth that has marked it over the last ten years. Mr. Brown noted in the conclusion of his written report, “Each year the church experiences many changes at the local level, but overall there is a great degree of stability and some growth in total numbers, as the Lord guides and preserves his church. Thanks be to God for his faithfulness, which is new every morning.”
A Couple of Quick Surveys
Between committee reports, the opportunity was taken to test out the new polling/voting devices that commissioners were using. The first question asked of commissioners present at the assembly was, “In what decade were you ordained?” The results were as follows:
- 21 commissioners were ordained in the 2010s
- 44 commissioners were ordained in the 2000s
- 20 commissioners were ordained in the 1990s
- 26 commissioners were ordained in the 1980s
- 13 commissioners were ordained in the 1970s
- 10 commissioners were ordained in the 1960s
- 1 commissioner was ordained in the 1950s
The second question asked how many of the commissioners were attending their first General Assembly and the answer was 21.
The Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension (CHMCE)
Mr. John Hilbelink, president of the committee, and church planter in Rockford, Illinois, opened the report with the reading of 1 Timothy 3:16, and introduced members of the committee, as well as home missionaries that were present at the assembly.
Associate general secretary John Shaw then presented the report for the committee, and reminded the assembly that the committee exists to help presbyteries and congregations of the OPC to start new Presbyterian and Reformed congregations throughout the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean.
Mr. Shaw reported that at the end of 2013 seven new mission works had called organizing pastors, and thirty-nine mission works were provided with financial assistance from the committee.
For 2014 the committee has budgeted for 8 new works, with 6 already being recognized as mission works and 2 in the process of calling a church planter.
Seven men currently serve as regional home missionaries and the Lord has used them to establish many new churches. These men perform many tasks such as meeting with interested groups or individuals, conducting public worship services mission works, leading Bible studies, as well providing counsel and oversight to organizing pastors.
Church planters Jim Stevenson (Tulsa, OK) and Jonathan Shishko (Queens, NY), and ruling elder Miguel Flower (Ponce, Puerto Rico) all addressed the assembly and rejoiced in the work the Lord was doing in their mission works.
Throughout the week, the assembly has the opportunity to hear from brothers in Christ from other denominations with which we have fraternal relations. The assembly received its first fraternal greeting from Reverend Jeff Kingswood of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP).
Mr. Kingswood outlined for the assembly his encouragement regarding the way the ARP has recently taken closer oversight of Erskine College, the denominational college, with the desire to see the college more faithfully reflect the denomination’s commitment to the historic Christian faith. The denomination is also in the process of revising its version of the Westminster Confession of Faith to bring it more into line with the Reformed tradition, seeking to remove, in particular two chapters that weaken the Calvinistic emphasis of the Confession.
Home Missions Report Continued
When the committee resumed its report Associate General Secretary Richard Gerber, who is set to retire at the end of this year, was given an opportunity to reflect on his 15 years of service for the committee. Mr. Gerber expressed his thanks to the assembly for allowing him to serve in this capacity and recounted that through both good and bad times, the Lord has been faithful to plant Orthodox Presbyterian Churches. He noted the prayerful waiting of those eager to start a work and the church planters and their families that have suffered for the sake of Christ, working to gather and establish Orthodox Presbyterian Church, far from extended family and friends and all with minimum compensation.
Mr. Gerber mentioned his wife Rita (who was watching his remarks via Skype), often during his remarks and took the opportunity to thank her for her unwavering support, even among struggles with her own health.
Mr. Gerber plans to return to Connecticut to be closer to family where he would like to help plant an Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
After his words of reflection, John Hilbelink presented Mr. Gerber with a framed copy of a lengthy resolution of thanks, which, on motion was placed in the minutes of this year’s assembly. Both at the end of his remarks, and after the reading of the resolution of thanks, the assembly expressed its thanks to Mr. Gerber with a standing ovation.
Report of the Committee on Foreign Missions
Mr. Mark Bube, General Secretary for the Committee on Foreign Missions, presented the report for the committee.
The committee distributed a prayer list for pastors, missionary prayer cards, and the 2014 foreign missions brochure to commissioners. All of these documents are provided to remind the churches to be in prayer for the work of our missionaries around the world. Any of these materials can be made available upon request from the committee.
Mr. Bube reminded the assembly that the goal for each mission field is the establishment of a healthy, indigenous national church
- that is firmly and fully committed to the Reformed standards
- that is self supporting, self governing, and self supporting
- with whom the OPC may have fraternal relations
- that is itself sending out foreign missionaries to other nations
- which no longer needs the services of the OPC
In 2013 the Lord provided much opportunity to share the gospel in Asia. Our missionaries have also been able to work with publishing companies to translate Reformed materials for the people of Asia to read. The committee expressed its thankfulness for the number of missionary associates that have been sent by the churches of the OPC to labor in these countries and covets the churches prayers for the work and safety of this men and women.
Mr. Bube then gave brief reports on the works in Ethiopia, Haiti, and Japan before inviting Mr. Ben Westerveld to speak about his work with the Reformed Church of Quebec at St-Marc Reformed Church in Quebec City.
Mr. Westerveld has been serving the St. Marc’s Reformed Church in the city for the last 13 years and noted the Lord’s steadfast love to this congregation over those years. This year church is celebrating its sixtieth anniversary and will be using this as an opportunity for outreach in the community.
Mr. Bube reviewed the work being done by Eric Tuininga at Knox Theological College in Mbale and by new missionary deacon Mark Weber. He also spoke of one opportunity for evangelism that had developed at the local bore-hole.
David Okken, who has been in Uganda just over 13 years, spoke to the assembly about the ministry in Karamoja. Mr. Okken reports that the light of the gospel is shining through the darkness that is in Karamoja. The Lord continues to give our missionaries a number of opportunities to share the gospel in village Bible studies and through the establishment of a pre-primary school.
Mr. Bube gave a quick overview to the assembly on exploratory fields and new field opportunities, mentioning particularly the current work going being done by Brian Wingard at Mukhanyo Theological College in South Africa, and efforts being made by Mark Richline in Uruguay.
Associate General Secretary Douglas Clawson reminded the assembly of the establishment of the Mobile Theological Mentoring Corps (MTMC) to assist qualified church bodies in their desire to implement Reformed doctrine and life and in their effective practice of Presbyterian polity. In 2013 the MTMC ministered to churches in Columbia and Malawi.
Rev. Daniel F. Patterson, Pastor, Second Parish Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Portland, Maine.