Historical Sketch: Kamloops Mennonite Fellowship*

In 1963 the Missions/Service Committee of the Conference of United Mennonite Churches of British Columbia began looking at Kamloops as a new area of mission work. It was soon joined by the Missions Board of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada. Since the Mennonite Brethren Conference was also interested in openings in Kamloops, consultation between the two groups also took place.

In the summer of 1966, John Hiebert, a seminary student in Elkhart, Indiana, was approached to do a preliminary study of the potential for a self-supporting congregation affiliated with the General Conference, but with strong community involvement. In September 1966 three families in Kamloops began a Bible study group, and February 1967 saw the placement of John & Lydia Hiebert as local leaders by the Conference of Mennonites in Canada.

In 1968 the group began to grapple with its identity, as well as to find ways to involve the community. John Hiebert was given half-time support by the Canadian Conference. The Fellowship worked on aims and purposes, organized a community peace conference, and held weekly Sunday morning devotional services, midweek discussion meetings, and a few weekend retreats.

Under the auspices of the Board of Missions of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada, on November 24, 1968, all this work culminated in ordaining John Hiebert as a minister and the Kamloops Mennonite Fellowship becoming a Conference congregation with a membership of 12. Kamloops, a somewhat transient community, saw the numbers drop by about half the following year, but the next years saw an influx of couples and families. The group preferred the intimacy of a house church, while it continued to work closely with a number of community agencies, meeting on Sunday mornings in the home of John & Lydia Hiebert. After the departure of the Hieberts in 1972, the group continued meeting in various members’ homes on a rotating basis on Sunday evenings. A November 1972 letter to the Conference of Mennonites states, “The Kamloops Mennonite Fellowship is a house church consisting of eighteen adults and twenty-two children. Most of the participants of our group are young married couples with children.

The children often created a high demand on adults for babysitting, finding suitable teaching material, and causing disruptions. Group membership kept fluctuating. Some people came, tried it, and moved on. Being sensitive to new people’s concerns remained a constant challenge. The interaction of a small group at times attracted those critical of the traditional church. Further, the lively group interaction had the potential for tension in some discussions or in some worship practices.

In its earlier years, some members felt somewhat of a disjunction between the formal Conference desire for growth and the group’s own strong interest in community service. The small group allowed great participation in sharing ideas and spiritual concerns and in supporting personal expression. The supportive environment allowed members to explore their theological and spiritual reflections and experiences and to have a very open group process, both for its weekly programming and for its future planning. The fellowship provided a time of significant personal, spiritual, and group growth, permitting members to address diverse issues at both the personal and group levels. Because of its theological openness, the group attracted people from a diversity of backgrounds, many of whom might otherwise not have attended an established church, especially one with a Mennonite orientation.

Following the departure of John Hiebert in 1972, the Kamloops Mennonite Fellowship turned to four coordinators, chosen to guide worship and education, with a focus on including children in the process. The Fellowship struggled with questions of official affiliation with the Conference of Mennonites in Canada, even with Conference remuneration to their pastor, and when Hiebert left in 1972, they wrote the Conference, “We, as a group, have decided that we would very much like to keep in contact with the Conference of Mennonites in Canada, even though about half the group are of non-Mennonite background. We have decided that we would not like to have any formal ties with the Conference."

The Kamloops Mennonite Fellowship formally dissolved in 1976, by which time so many had moved away from Kamloops that the remaining members could no longer sustain the group.