In the geographic area of Abbotsford, B.C., where there are at least 15 Mennonite Brethren churches, each church serves a certain demographic and has a unique culture. Some groups rely on drums and Powerpoint, but at Clearbrook MB, many find comfort in traditional hymns and the option of the German language. With an average age of 72, only 20% of its 361 parishioners are under 60 and 20% are over 90, the oldest being 104. Of 100 members who are “shut-ins,” 70 live in nursing homes. This church actively tries to meet their needs.
According to senior pastor Heinz Ratzlaff, the goals of the church are to provide spiritual fellowship for all members, to strengthen faith, to be involved in evangelism and mission at home and overseas, and to bring glory to God. “Providing spiritual fellowship to all” presented some challenges, but four years ago Clearbrook became one of the few churches in Canada with a licensed television church. It broadcasts all services to the community, and is hard-wired into the local condos. Pastor Eldon Defehr says, “CRTC granted the license because we are targeting disadvantaged people and an ethnic minority.” Viewers range beyond the Mennonite community.
Pastor Walter Wiens and his wife Edith visit the critically ill and organize a cadre of 18 “visitation” couples, each with lists of parishioners with whom they stay in touch on a regular basis. Wiens also has a publishing ministry that produces literature in German and English for hospital visitation, plus a 20-page monthly newsletter. “The Bridge” is full of church family news, and also has many stories and poems submitted by members. “These people have amazing life experiences and insights to share,” he says, “and all day to read.”
Members of Clearbrook MB travel all over the world doing person-to-person evangelism with Disciple Making International. “Fortunately, no one has told these 70 and 80-year-olds they are too old for this ministry,” says Wiens. The newsletter is full of missionary reports, and giving for the overseas mission budget is always generous. Annually, two groups sew over 2,000 blankets and quilts for Mennonite Central Committee. “These are people who remember what it is like to be cold,” says Defehr.
This past month the church held a series of evangelistic meetings with Larry Janz, and a group participated in the “Love Abbotsford: a kindness explosion expressing God’s love in practical ways to the community” celebration with other local churches. “Evangelism Encouragers” maintain a booth at the Abbotsford Agrifair and the MCC Festival each year, visiting with the public and distributing literature.
One of the services Clearbrook MB Church has become very proficient at is organizing funerals, about 30 each year. All three pastors are prepared to serve on a moment’s notice to provide meaningful memorials together with family members. A special kitchen committee prepares the luncheon. Sharing stories during the meal is encouraged and substantive.
“Our people’s faith has been tested, and faith runs deep,” says Wiens. “We get to know these folks late in their life, and to hear stories told about their past is so encouraging to us all. These are not heavy mourning sessions, but celebrations of life.”
—Helen Rose Pauls is a member of Sardis (B.C.) Community Church.