River East Church (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada)

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River East Mennonite Brethren Church, ca. 1964.
Source: Centre for MB Studies, Winnipeg, Manitoba (NP154-01-111).
River East Church, August 2017.
Photo: Bert Friesen.

The River East Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba began services in 1962, and formally organized in 1963. It started when Jacob Ens befriended Japanese families and began Sunday School classes for the children because they did not know German -- the language of all the Mennonite Brethren churches in the area. The classes grew and soon the parents requested that worship services be held. Initially services were held in a school and the group was known as the Princess Margaret Fellowship. In 1962, the leadership committee was asked if it was possible to organize a church. Many people in the congregation were part of the North Kildonan Mennonite Brethren Church. Five couples from the mother church were released to organize this new congregation.

In 1963, the congregation had a chartering service and renamed themselves the Springfield Heights Mennonite Brethren Church. In 1964, Sunday School was held in the school for the last time before moving to their new building. To avoid confusion with the Springfield Heights Mennonite Church, the name changed in 1964 to McLeod Avenue Mennonite Brethren and later that same year to River East Mennonite Brethren.

In summmer 1990 the River East congregation divided over theological differences within the church, with approximately half of the membership leaving to form Eastview Community Church. The pastoral staff both resigned at that time. In fall 1990 the congregation hired Karen Heidebrecht Thiessen to be their associate pastor, and she was named pastor in 1992, thus becoming the first female lead or sole pastor of a solely Mennonite Brethren congregation in North America.

In 2017, the name of the congregation changed to River East Church.

In September 2020 the church concluded a time of discernment dating back to 2007 and approved their Inclusivity Statement, which states that "all persons, whatever their ability, age, ethnicity, family status, gender identity, income level, race, sexual orientation, or other identity distinctives" are invited to join in living out the church's mission as followers of Jesus in the Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition. The statement was published on the church's website in January 2021.

In March 2023 the church sent their "Borderland Congregations" proposal to the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba, proposing that churches like itself -- a welcoming and affirming congregation -- could stay in the Conference. River East could "remain part of MBCM and yet pursue understandings and practices that may border on the edges of common interpretations of the Confession of Faith." This could be for a period of five to seven years, at which time all parties could discern a way forward on the topic. If no common ground could be found, churches like River East could be asked to leave the Conference. The proposal was not accepted.

On 3 May 2023 the River East Church congregation was formally suspended by the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba due to the church's position on welcoming 2SLGBTQ+ persons as outlined in their Inclusivity Statement. The church held two open meetings that were broadcast online on 26 November 2023 and 14 January 2024 in which they told the story of their journey to inclusion.

At a special session of the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba held on 20 January 2024, delegates voted 83.3% (261 for and 52 against) to remove River East Church from the conference, effective 30 May 2024. The Conference stated that each of its member churches had chosen to journey together with every other member church and had agreed to uphold the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches Confession of Faith. This commitment included an explicit promise not to pass or accept resolutions in conflict with the Confession of Faith. River East Church had broken this commitment, thus damaging the unity, purpose, and mission of the Conference, and that the Conference had an obligation to remove River East Church.

Bibliography

Fast, Karl, ed. Fiftieth Anniversary of the Mennonite Settlement in North Kildonan. Winnipeg: The Anniversary Committee, 1978, 128 pp.

"Mennonite Brethren Conference Responds to Borderland Proposal: The Answer is No." Time to Tell. 10 June 2023. Web. 21 Janary 2024. https://timetotellcanada.blogspot.com/2023/06/mennonite-brethren-conference-responds.html.

Mennonite Brethren Herald (27 May 1988): 42.

Mennonite Reporter (15 June 1992): 9.

"River East Church in Winnipeg Formally Suspended by the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba." Time to Tell. 19 May 2023. Web. 21 January 2024. https://timetotellcanada.blogspot.com/2023/05/river-east-church-in-winnipeg-formally.html.

"The River East Church Story: A Journey Toward Inclusivity." Time to Tell. 25 March 2023. Web. 21 January 2024. https://timetotellcanada.blogspot.com/2023/03/the-river-east-church-story-journey.html.

"River East Tells the Story of its Biblical and Theological Foundations for Inclusion of LGBTQ+ people." Time to Tell. 15 January 2024. Web. 21 January 2024. https://timetotellcanada.blogspot.com/2024/01/river-east-tells-story-of-its-biblical.html.

"River East Church Tells the Story of its Journey to Inclusion." Time to Tell. 29 November 2023. Web. 21 January 2024. https://timetotellcanada.blogspot.com/2023/11/river-east-church-tells-story-of-its.html.

Toews, John A. A Brief History of the Mennonite Brethren Church: Pilgrims and Pioneers. Fresno, CA, 1975: 162.

"What to do about River East: Report about the January 20 Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba Special Session." Time to Tell. 21 January 2024. Web. 21 January 2024. https://timetotellcanada.blogspot.com/2024/01/what-to-do-about-river-east-report.html.

Archival Records:

Records at Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies.

Additional Information

Address: 755 McLeod Avenue, Winnipeg, MB R2K 0B8

Phone: 204-663-5096

Website: River East Mennonite Brethren Church

Denominational Affiliations:

Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba (1963-2024)

Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (1963-2024)

General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (1963-2002)

River East Church Ministers

Minister Years
Ernest A. Isaac 1965-1973
John B. Epp 1976-1987
Norm Neufeld 1988-1990
Karen Heidebrecht Thiessen 1990-2000
Christine Longhurst 2000-2006
Wesley Toews 2000-2001
Connie Epp 2000-2009
Gerry Derksen 2001-2012
Mary Anne Isaak 2011-present

River East Church Membership

Year Members
1965 179
1985 328
1995 187
2000 197
2010 218


Author(s) Marlene Epp
Richard D. Thiessen
Date Published January 2024

Cite This Article

MLA style

Epp, Marlene and Richard D. Thiessen. "River East Church (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. January 2024. Web. 22 May 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=River_East_Church_(Winnipeg,_Manitoba,_Canada)&oldid=178148.

APA style

Epp, Marlene and Richard D. Thiessen. (January 2024). River East Church (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 May 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=River_East_Church_(Winnipeg,_Manitoba,_Canada)&oldid=178148.




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