Historical Sketch: First Mennonite Church, Burns Lake

The first Mennonite settlers in the Burns Lake area were Old Colony Mennonites from the Hague–Osler and Toppingham areas of Saskatchewan who moved to the Burns Lake area beginning in 1940. Upon arrival they built two churches in Cheslatta and Grassy Plains. The churches were used as private schools during the week, but this important component to life apart came to an end when the government insisted that settlers enroll their children in public school. Of further concern to the elders was the long absences of fathers who worked in the sawmills. Consequently, most of this group moved to Fort St. John in 1958.

In the meantime, Mexican Mennonites moved to the area to work in the mills, as did Sommerfelder Mennonites from the prairies and General Conference (GC) Mennonites from southern BC. In 1952, a group of 15 families met in homes to worship from the Sommerfelder hymn book and the more modern Evangeliumslieder. In the absence of a minister, no one was willing to speak or pray aloud. When the Conference of United Mennonite Churches of BC became aware of this group in 1953, N. N. Friesen was sent to hold meetings. His visit was much appreciated and people were happy to come and had a wonderful time of fellowship.

Friesen encouraged Agnes Goertzen to start a Sunday school and soon 26 children attended. A year later, Elmer & Ruth Dick came as pastor and public school teacher for this group. As the remaining Sommerfelder and Old Colony groups would not allow other ministers into their gatherings, N.N. Friesen approached the provincial government, requesting that they place Mennonite teachers in the local public schools, and Ruth filled this need, also holding adult evening classes in the little Sunday school house. Altogether, six Mennonite teachers went into the region with the encouragement of the Mennonite Missions Committee, but they were paid by the British Columbia government. In 1955 they taught school in areas such as Burns Lake, Cheslatta, South Bend, Westeria, Vanderhoof and Bray Side. This recruiting and teaching continued for the next ten years.

In 1958, West Abbotsford Mennonite Church started Ootsa Lake Bible Camp south of Burns Lake as a youth service project. Soon, responsibilities were shared with a Burns Lake group of churches, among them First Mennonite Church of Burns Lake. British Columbia Mennonite Youth Organization supported underprivileged children to attend camp at Ootsa Lake and provided Christian literature for them as a follow up. Later the Ootsa Lake North committee took over the project.

On 30 May 1959, the church group formally organized with 33 charter members. The Dicks served until 1963, when John Friesen from Grande Prairie took over, followed by Ed Giesbrecht (1969-1975) and Abe Buhler (1975-1981).

Willing Workers sewing circle began in 1954 and faithfully supported the work with fund-raising auction sales of their sewing items, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) films, and baby, bridal and special needs showers. Some volunteered at the local hospital, and others did soap making for the MCC center in Yarrow. They held rummage and bake sales in store fronts and supplied snacks for the camp. In 1965, they sent members to the BC Women’s Conference.

A program started by Abe Buhler was the training of prospective leaders. The congregation also expanded into Sunday schools at Topley and Granisle, purchasing a van to transport children. The Topley venture closed in 1975, but Granisle became the Church of the Way. They also established a group home for adults with mental disabilities.

In 2010 the Burns Lake church had 75 members and continued to reach out with programs such as Alpha, Pioneer Clubs, Youth Church and Operation Blessing.

 In 2017 the congregation decided to leave Mennonite Church British Columbia and become an independent Mennonite church.

 

 
 

First MC Burns Lake Leading Ministers

Minister Years of Ministry

Elmer Dick 1954-1964

John Friesen 1964-1969

Edwin Giesbrecht 1969-1975

Abe Buhler 1975-1981

Gerald Klassen 1981-1988

Edward Funk 1989-1991

Abraham Buhler 1992-1998

John Neufeld 2000-2004

Abraham Buhler (interim) 2004

Roland Cataford (interim) 2006-2008

David Friesen (interim) 2008

Helmut & Eve Isaak 2009-2011

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

First MC Burns Lake Membership

Year Members

1959 33

1965 58

1975 107

1985 115

1995 125

2000 128

2006 107

2010 75