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Grey-haired congregation doesn’t slow down

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When Clearbrook MB Church, Abbotsford, B.C., started, 80 percent of its present-day members were around five years old. This month, the Fraser Valley church, with its largely grey-haired congregation, celebrates its 75th anniversary.

Clearbrook, originally called North Abbotsford MB, changed as its neighbourhood changed, says lead pastor Ron Berg, especially in the last couple decades. The church is a significant part of the history of what is now western Abbotsford. Its name and location reflect the place where Mennonite Brethren first settled in large numbers.

In more recent times, the Clearbrook community watched a proliferation of highrise apartment construction. Many of the new residents were seniors, and Clearbrook church adjusted accordingly. So it’s 80 percent over 80. The remaining 20 percent tend to be younger families drawn to Clearbrook’s more traditional service style, including its chancel choirs and monthly Sunday evening hymn sing (usually “packed out” with hymn lovers from far beyond the neighbourhood).

Berg says it’s fair to say the congregation, over its 75-year history, has adapted well to change. But one constant is its orientation to reach new believers through intentional outreach.

Today, the Sunday school program is designed as an outreach. The church runs a Vacation Bible School every summer, reaching community kids. Members take the annual “Love Abbotsford” outreach event so seriously, they don’t just hand out bottles of water – they put up 10 tents, feed people, give them literature, and talk to neighbours and passersby. Clearbrook’s overseas mission and relief support is legendary.

Speaking of outreach, this congregation is quite likely the only community church in Canada with its own television licence. Highrise residents who cannot get out to church can watch and listen on low-power CFEG-TV. Clearbrook broadcasts services in both English and German and even, at times (with the agreement of families), broadcasts funeral services and weddings. The programming is augmented with Christian music, Scripture readings, and announcements, providing “24/7” service to its viewers.

When the church was ready to raise a building in the early 1940s, the township sold them the land for one dollar. The current building is the second one on that piece of land.

Over time, the congregation grew to 700-plus before Clearbrook felt called to start new churches. It planted three of them – Bakerview (down Clearbrook Road), Ross Road (formerly East Aldergrove MB, to the west), and North Fraser Community (formerly Lake Erroch MB, across the Fraser River). Today, Clearbrook MB is the home of a fresh church plant, one of the campuses of Reda and Tahany Hanna’s ministry to Arabic-speaking people.

In year 75, some 300 people come to Clearbrook MB on a typical Sunday, but the TV signal extends the church’s impact far beyond its attendance figures.

So there is much to celebrate. Planning has been underway for months to welcome former members, including pastors and surviving pastoral spouses, during the event-packed weekend Oct. 7–9. It will be quite a party – suited to the vitality of a unique congregation.

A student from Japan attended Clearbrook during her time at Columbia Bible College and later wrote to thank the church. “While most church people are over 80, they act like 20s! Clearbrook MB Church is my good role model as a Christian.”

—Barrie McMaster

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