It’s been a painful but God-filled journey
Mountain Park Community Church – like many new churches – began in a school, then got a building of its own. But now MP is back in a school.
It’s a daunting task to tell the story of a church, because a church is like a large rope, made of many threads, each with its own story, which woven together make up strands. Braided together, the strands make a rope.
This story is not about the whole rope, only one strand.
Mountain Park Community Church in Abbotsford began on Sept. 8, 1991 with 250 people attending. It met in Yale High School. After three years, enough money had been raised to pay cash for a seven-acre property on Lower Sumas Mountain Road and a building project was undertaken.
It was an ambitious project, requiring the rate of growth the church had seen in its first three years in order to be viable. The MB Conference had some hesitancy in extending a mortgage in the amount requested, but witnessing the enthusiasm of those involved, opted to grant the mortgage. As occasionally happens when building, especially on the side of a hill, some unforeseen expenses were incurred. The Conference consented to add significantly to the original mortgage amount.
In December 1994, Mountain Park moved into their building. For several years, the congregation grew. These were years of life and celebration.
But the unforeseen doesn’t surface only during building projects. Mountain Park hit some turbulence, the eye of which centred on the vision and direction of the church. A time of transition settled on the church. It started with the associate pastor moving on, then several hundred people moved on, and finally the senior pastor retired.
But God can always be found in these situations. Vacated staff positions were filled, and the church carried on.
The after-effects of turbulence, however, linger for a while. As things settled out, those who remained now held a mortgage twice the size it should have been for the number of people attending. Concerned, the B.C. Conference recommended Mountain Park cut staff to reduce expenses and thereby meet its mortgage obligations.
That process was undertaken; deep cuts were made. This was a time of pain and grief. More people left. Instead of a remedy, it left the church with a mortgage three times the size it should have been for the numbers. It wasn’t that people weren’t giving; our giving per attendee was at a level of the most healthy of churches.
In times of turbulence and loss, Jesus is close. He was for Mountain Park as well. God’s word to the church was that He was going to redo some of our foundations. This would require some dismantling and rebuilding. We chose to align ourselves with this process.
As God refined us, He also took us into a deeper understanding and practice of worship. He led us down the path of learning to hear His voice and trust in His ability to lead us, individually and as a church family. All this was life-giving.
God asked questions of me, a pastor. What do you really want? Do you want a church that has what are traditionally seen as the signs of success? Will you be content with a church in which I am reshaping and refining? (Refining is an interesting process; it makes things smaller.) Will you be okay if I’ve called you here to shut the church down? (That looks good on a resume, doesn’t it?) These questions had the seeds of life in them.
Financially, the church couldn’t carry on with its debt load. Together with the B.C. Conference, we attempted to work at the situation with the Canadian Conference, but it seemed we were a problem the system wasn’t designed to address.
During this time, another life-giving decision was made. At the beginning of 2003, Mountain Park committed to tithing on its income. In September of 2003, still strangled by debt, God chose to act. Out of the blue, a member of our finance committee received a phone call from the local school district, inquiring if we would be willing to discuss selling our building so it could be made into a traditional high school. We established a negotiating committee and began to work at the details.
In January 2004, we agreed, with 99 percent in favour, to sell the building for an amount that would pay off the mortgage and leave us with money held in trust. Mountain Park would have exclusive use of the school building for services on weekends for 25 years at $1 a year, as well as one night a week for midweek programs. The baptistry and sound booth would stay, with improvements to the sound system. (It’s probably the only school with a baptistry!)
The school district supplied us with 4,000 square feet of space on the south side of the property, and we added another 2,000 for a 6,000 square foot ministry centre which houses our offices, our preschool, several meeting rooms and a youth centre.
For some, the school district’s offer to purchase the building was the death of a dream, one for which they had worked hard. But as they prayed and worked it through, they came to see that this new direction was also infused with life by God.
What defines us?
It made us consider what it is that defines us. Is it a building? Our programs?
We concluded that what gives life and definition to a church is the Holy Spirit. We are a community of the Spirit, called together by the Spirit, infused by the Spirit and empowered by the Spirit for Kingdom purposes.
We asked God to make the time of transition (we met in another school while Mountain Park was renovated into a school and four portables were renovated into our ministry centre) a time of increase, and He did. We experienced a growing sense of community. We grew in numbers, our giving increased, we experienced God’s faithfulness, and grew spiritually. Last October, we moved our Sunday services into the Abbotsford Traditional Secondary School.
Another life-giving event occurred this March. Steve Berg, the B.C. Conference minister, came to speak. He started his sermon with an apology for how the B.C. Conference had handled our situation. That was a healing moment for many in our congregation. At the end of the service, our leadership team came forward and we owned our part in the challenges we had faced, and we laid the foundation for a renewed relationship. It was a precious life-giving moment.
God is a God of life! His questions of us contain the seeds of life; His actions toward us are life-giving. He brings hope to the hopeless, healing to the broken, and life to the dying. That’s what He has done for Mountain Park Community Church.
—Terry Kaethler has been lead pastor of Mountain Park Community Church, Abbotsford, since 1999. He shared this strand of the Mountain Park story at the B.C. Mennonite Brethren convention April 29, 2005.