The Great Lakes-Gulf (GLG) Presbytery of the RPCNA met on November 5-6, 2021 at Southfield Reformed Presbyterian Church in Southfield, MI, a suburb of Detroit. Southfield is a historic Reformed Presbyterian Church, founded in 1834, three years before the Territory of Michigan was granted statehood!
The GLG consists of 23 congregations or mission churches covering a geographical span of 9 states. This is my second GLG meeting since being installed as pastor of the Orlando congregation in March 2021. Around 30 delegates were in attendance, as well as several visitors from around the presbytery.
A couple of highlights of the meeting included witnessing Jerry Foltz pass all of his examinations for ordination. His preaching was excellent and his two oral exams were very well done. One presbyter said he believed they were some of the best exams that they’ve had in a couple of years.
Another highlight of the meeting was the Psalm singing and times of fellowship.
The singing is always hauntingly beautiful as majority-male voices come together in a cappella praise. It is as if a window to heaven is thrown open.
The times of fellowship were sweet as well, despite some major disagreements and trials in the presbytery. The Lord loves unity around truth, and this is extremely important in the courts of the Lord.
The final highlight that I will mention is hearing student exams. I love participating in the examination of future ministers of the gospel, this is truly the most important part of presbytery: raising up qualified men and protecting the church from those that are unqualified. This began with an oral report on a man who was not sustained in his last church history exam and then was given a special written assignment instead of the oral exam. After he passed the written exam, he was licensed to receive a call and then began the process of transferring back to his original presbytery. The candidates committee wanted the court to know that, although irregular, the licensure remained.
We heard a good batch of examinations, ranging from church history to preaching to systematic theology. Allan Blackwood, Aaron Murray, Joe Smith, and Jonathan Sturm all were sustained in their examinations. Mr. TJ Patillo of the Atlanta congregation was also taken under care as a student of theology. Although far from perfection, there was much to be encouraged by in hearing the exams.
We heard two reports on church planting efforts. The work in Louisville, KY has “held its last worship service for the foreseeable future.” Several factors have gone into that difficult decision. Another report on a church planting effort in Gainesville, FL was reported. The Orlando session is overseeing a church plant with Rev. Tom Reid preaching weekly evening worship services and hosting mid-week Bible studies.
The presbytery has been working on a presbytery-wide child safety policy. The extensive safety policy was debated and amended on the floor, eventually resulting in a motion to have each session read the policy, comment, and provide feedback. The report will, Lord willing, be ready before the Spring meeting of presbytery.
Several communications to the presbytery were discussed, many of them heavy, even heart-wrenching. Most of the communications related to the conflicts over the handling of the case of a minister who left the presbytery over a doctrinal issue. The second batch of communications had to do with an abuse case in one of our churches. This is a matter of serious prayer. Another communication in this category was from a member who believed that this case was mishandled by the presbytery. All of these communications were difficult and the presbytery is not yet of the same mind on how to best handle the shepherding required in this matter. We need the help of the Spirit of God to heal all of these wounds.
Surely, there are other things that could be mentioned concerning the meeting. I could discuss the number of young couples and teens that sat through the meetings with great interest. I could mention the good food and warm hospitality from the Southfield congregation. I could mention renewed friendships and the need to rebuilt trust among those that disagree. But above all I want to mention that this church—this band of 23 congregations ranging from the northern most part of the peninsula of Michigan down to the central part of Florida—this church belongs to Jesus Christ. We are accountable to him. We seek to glorify him; we seek his honor.
This presbytery is struggling to agree on how some things best lead to God’s glory. We are not disagreeing on theology or the Bible, but on how best to apply these things with wisdom to very difficult situations. Would you commit the presbytery to prayer? We could use it. May Jesus build his church.
Nathan Eshelman, Orlando Reformed Presbyterian Church