Twenty kilometers north of Courtenay on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, nestled within the trees and lawns of a small rural acreage, sits the United Mennonite Church of Black Creek (UMC). Although the early Mennonite settlers in Black Creek, beginning in 1932, moved directly from the Prairie Provinces, they were part of a wave of immigrants from the Mennonite settlements in the Soviet Union. They worked at mixed farming as well as in logging camps and lumber mills. Their reputation as honest, hardworking men and women was soon established and many were offered jobs simply by virtue of the faith community to which they belonged. The original families included Henry and Elisabeth Schulz, Jacob and Margaret Brucks, Aron and Justina Enns, Jake and Anna Nickel, William and Elizabeth Hamm, Jacob and Maria Dirks, John and Aganeta Kroeker, Jacob and Maria Penner, George and Katherine Wedel, and Peter and Anna Hildebrand.
In 1937 a group of Mennonites that had been meeting in homes and the local school decided to formally organize as a congregation with 34 members under the leadership of Henry H. Schulz. At the same time, the decision was made to build a church. Bil Halbe donated the land for the church and also donated land for the cemetery and school (now Halbe Hall) for a total of three acres. Elder Jacob H. Janzen helped to raise funds for the church, collecting half of the $200 needed for the construction of the 24 by 36 foot building. United Mennonite Church was built by a group of men and women who, despite the challenges of cultural barriers and the Great Depression, were determined to have a central meeting place to worship God. The foundation was laid on 24 March 1937 and Rev. Janzen dedicated it in the fall when he arrived.
United Mennonite Church of Black Creek is one of the oldest churches affiliated with Mennonite Church British Columbia, one of seven BC churches that are listed as attending the first provincial conference in 1936. Like several other Mennonite congregations in British Columbia, this congregation also started services in cooperation with settlers who were Mennonite Brethren. Perhaps more than any other Mennonite Church, it has maintained close ties with its sister church.
Jacob Brucks, who came to Black Creek in 1936, became the first lay minister at the United Mennonite Church, leading meetings, reading sermons, and teaching Sunday school. In 1939 Nickolai N. Friesen came to serve the church at their request. During his first two years, Friesen taught students at a winter Bible school. During the war years many Mennonites went into the Alternative Service Program for Conscientious Objectors. Due to the close proximity of many of these camps to Black Creek, the congregation became involved in ministry to them. Friesen ministered to them on many occasions. Friesen was the first ordained pastor in the congregation, serving in that role until 1954.
Friesen was followed by Walter Dirks, 1954-1959. During Dirks’ ministry, the congregation sponsored a Sunday school mission at Oyster Bay where a mission chapel was built in 1957. In the early 1960s the church was again without a pastor, so they called Gerhard I. Peters of Chilliwack to come to Black Creek on weekends. He did this for two and a half years, making at least 100 trips and visiting 156 homes. Jacob Enns served from 1963 to 1968.
On 15 December 1963 the church dedicated its new sanctuary, moving from the small original building to a new and much larger facility located on land donated by Ben and Tina Enns. This building easily accommodated the growing families of the original settlers and other Mennonites who had been attracted to the community.
Jacob Enns and his family moved in 1969 and he was followed in the pastorate by Jacob Schmidt, 1969-1970, and Abraham Koop, 1970-1978. After Abe Koop’s term, it was some time before Black Creek was able to find a permanent pastor. Short term and interim pastoral care was provided by Peter Froese, Hugo Scheffler, Steve Dick, Nick Dyck and Paul Koehler. In 1985 Peter Neudorf arrived from Calgary to re-established pastoral continuity.
The late 1960s saw a strengthening of the effort to reach out to the broader community. The more frequent use of English in worship services helped; by 1971 English was the first language of worship and the 1970s and 1980s witnessed a greater cultural diversity within the congregation. Peter Neudorf continued the focus on community outreach and under his leadership the church experienced growth that resulted in a significant expansion of the church building in 1994, having 93 members.
The congregation had an exceptionally strong youth outreach program from 1994 through 2005 under the supervision of Lynn Magee that saw many youth not only participate in social activities, Bible study and mission trips, but also come to faith in Christ and baptism. The youth group was large enough that UMC hired Scott Cosman as half time youth leader, 1998-1999.
Peter Neudorf left in 1996 to accept a position at Greendale Mennonite Church and Marv and Tanell Wirzba shared the pastorate at UMC, 1996-2000. Abe Buhler was called and served as pastor from 2001-2003 and was followed by the return of Peter Neudorf who served a second term from 2003 until his retirement in 2007. Steve Isaac was called to fill the pastoral position and served until 2009. Walter Dirks (1954-1959) and Gordon Carter (2010-2013) are both members of the local church to be ordained to pastoral ministry.
In the summer of 2012, the Church celebrated its 75th anniversary. The church motto was "Follow Thou Me."
On 7 July 2013, the congregation joined Mennonite Church Canada after having withdrawn from the conference approximately 10 years earlier.
Canadian Mennonite (10 January 1958): 5; (23 August 2010): 26; (30 September 2013): 23.
Churches in Profile. Conference of Mennonites in British Columbia, 1978: 13-15.
Koop, A. B., ed. United Mennonite Church: Black Creek, BC, 1937-1987. Black Creek, BC: United Mennonite Church, 1987.
Lehn, Cornelia. Frontier Challenge: A Story of the Conference of Mennonites in British Columbia. Clearbrook, BC: Conference of Mennonites in British Columbia, 1990: 16-17, 110-111.
Mennonite Reporter (20 February 1989): 12; (13 October 1994): 12.
Stobbe, Ben. "The Way We Were: Settling in Black Creek." Roots and Branches: Newsletter of the Mennonite Historical Society of BC 10, no. 1 (April 2004). http://www.mhsbc.com/news/2004/2004v10n1.htm (accessed 19 May 2008).
Stobbe, Ben. "The Way We Were: Settling in Black Creek: Part 2, The Establishment and Development of Mennonite Churches." Roots and Branches: Newsletter of the Mennonite Historical Society of BC 10, no.2 (September 2004). http://www.mhsbc.com/news/2004/2004v10n2.htm (accessed 19 May 2008).
Archival RecordsMennonite Heritage Centre: United Mennonite Church (Black Creek, B.C.) fonds.
Address: 2277 Enns Road, Black Creek BC V9J 1H7
Conference of Mennonites in British Columbia /(1936-present)
Conference of Mennonites in Canada /
General Conference Mennonite Church (1938-1999)
United Mennonite Church Leading Ministers
|Nickolai N. Friesen||1939-1954|
|Gerhard I. Peters||1961-1963|
|Abraham B. Koop||1970-1978|
|Steve Dick (interim)||1978-1979|
|Nick Dyck (interim)||1979-1982|
|Paul Koehler (interim)||1983-1984|
|Tanell & Marvin Wirzba||1996-2000|
|Gordon Carter (interim)||2010-2013|
United Mennonite Church Membership
|Author(s)||John A. Goerz|
|Date Published||March 2014|
Cite This Article
Goerz, John A. and Gordon Carter. "United Mennonite Church (Black Creek, British Columbia, Canada)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. March 2014. Web. 9 Oct 2015. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=United_Mennonite_Church_(Black_Creek,_British_Columbia,_Canada)&oldid=115304.
Goerz, John A. and Gordon Carter. (March 2014). United Mennonite Church (Black Creek, British Columbia, Canada). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 9 October 2015, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=United_Mennonite_Church_(Black_Creek,_British_Columbia,_Canada)&oldid=115304.
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