At home on the Island

Renewal under the sun

Blessed with a warm summer breeze, Black Creek MB Church celebrated its 75th anniversary on the August holiday weekend. More than 200 guests congregated under the tents clustered around the church to rejoice in the theme “Renew faith, hope, & love.”

Of the 17 charter members who arrived in 1934 and organized the church in 1935, three children of the original members attended the anniversary: Tina (Unger) Thiessen from Tofield, Alta., her sister Mary (Unger) Warkentine from Abbotsford, B.C., and Hilda (Matthies) Unger from Courtenay, B.C. In addition, we had numerous children and grandchildren attending, whose parents arrived soon after. Some of the families were the Haaks, Klassens, VanBergens, and Falks.

Activities kept everyone moving. Besides visiting with old friends, we had a wonderful evening of songs from each decade the church existed – from the 1930s to the present time. The entire extended family of Herman Falk (uncle of pastor Barry Falk) gave us several wonderful hymns, as did the gathered choir, raising voices in praise, gratitude, and belief.

We scattered throughout the area to visit some of the original Mennonite homesteads, up to our wilderness camp at Roberts Lake, hiking in Paradise Meadows, looking at a woodlot, and other sights to remember. And always, reviving old friendships, offering prayers of encouragement and forgiveness, and worshiping God as an enduring community of faith.

During the weekend, we also shared the bounty of meals together, consuming 120 pounds of salmon, 24 buckets of KFC, vats of borscht, dozens of perogies and vareniky, 600 pancakes, and numerous sandwiches, cakes and cookies washed down by gallons of coffee and juice.

The weekend opened with Ron Penner,  president of Columbia Bible College, giving an inspirational message and closed with a mass choir made up of voices from all ages and history. Our church is built on a solid foundation as this celebration attests. We are grateful to all who worked on the organization and to those who came from afar to attend.

Harold Macy is a member of Black Creek (B.C.) MB Church.

A brief history of Black Creek MB Church

In the early 1930s, the Comox Colonization Society was selling hundred-acre parcels of recently logged-off land for agriculture. Some of the buyers were Mennonites searching for cheap land to continue their farming lifestyle. They were refugees from the Ukraine, and from parts of Canada affected by the Depression.

Henry Schulz and his family were the first settlers. He placed notices in a prairie German-language newspaper encouraging others to join them. Many of the 29 original pioneer families from Saskatchewan and Alberta had all their household goods, including livestock, shipped to Courtenay, B.C., by train. Some families were recent immigrants who sought to establish a compact and exclusive Mennonite settlement as they’d lived in Ukraine, but the reality of making a living among the huge fir stumps in this new raw land resisted this.

The mild climate encouraged the farmers who hoped to live off the land and become self-reliant. However, battling the mountains of logging residue to clear land and build houses was an enormous task even with the herculean cooperative effort. Once the land was cleared, the soil proved less fertile than hoped, necessitating the men to find other means of earning cash.

Nearby logging camps provided opportunities to work but also exposed the men to different cultural values and expectations. Language was a barrier for many of the settlers, who spoke only Low German. Being on an island brought a further sense of isolation from larger Mennonite communities in the Fraser Valley and the prairie provinces. Because of these challenges, there was an urgent need to create a strong sense of community and fellowship.

In January 1935, several families of Mennonites from Russia formally organized Black Creek Mennonite Brethren church. They deliberately choose that date because it was also the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Mennonite Brethren denomination in Russia. Finding suitable pastors was not easy, so the church developed strong leaders from the congregation. During World War II, young Mennonite men from across Canada came to the district to undertake their alternative service (in lieu of joining the military). Many worked in the old fire burns, establishing the forest we see today. Some of these youth took the opportunity to serve in the church, bringing a boost to the programs.

Through the ensuing years, Black Creek and the MB church have undergone tremendous changes. German language was phased out in the early ’60s as the congregation enfolded many seekers from other walks of life and belief. The church building grew from the original small structure (still standing) to a larger one which has undergone several expansions. Traditionally, Mennonites are known for their love of singing and music. Worship has evolved from the choir established in 1937, to the contemporary songs and instruments of today.

Black Creek MB began a celebration of 75 years by inviting the community to an open house Jan. 10, 2010. Starting with a service at 10 a.m., the church served a soup lunch at noon and was open for drop in till 3 p.m. On the August long weekend, July 30–Aug. 1, the church hosted a double celebration – for the founding of the local church as well and the larger faith family of MB. Friday night’s service of praise and worship, with Columbia Bible College president Ron Penner as speaker, was themed “renew faith.” Saturday, themed “renew hope,” featured a slate of activities from sports and children’s games, to tours of the area, including one tour of Mennonite homesteads, and another of Camp Bob. A slide show and music at the evening service complemented the sharing of memories. A volunteer choir formed for the event sang at Sunday morning’s “renew love” closing celebration service.

For more information, visit http://sites.google.com/site/celebrate75atblackcreekmb/.

Psalm 66: 5, 16
“Come and see what God has done…,
Let me tell you what He has done for me.”

Harold Macy is a member of Black Creek (B.C.) MB Church.

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