Historical Sketch: Black Creek United Mennonite Church

Twenty kilometers north of Courtenay on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, nestled within the trees and lawns of a small rural acreage, sits the United Mennonite Church of Black Creek (UMC). Although the early Mennonite settlers in Black Creek, beginning in 1932, moved directly from the Prairie Provinces, they were part of a wave of immigrants from the Mennonite settlements in the Soviet Union. They worked at mixed farming as well as in logging camps and lumber mills. Their reputation as honest, hardworking men and women was soon established and many were offered jobs simply by virtue of the faith community to which they belonged. The original families included Henry & Elisabeth Schulz, Jacob & Margaret Brucks, Aron & Justina Enns, Jake & Anna Nickel, William & Elizabeth Hamm, Jacob & Maria Dirks, John & Aganeta Kroeker, Jacob & Maria Penner, George & Katherine Wedel, and Peter & Anna Hildebrand.

In 1937 a group of Mennonites that had been meeting in homes and the local school decided to formally organize as a congregation with 34 members under the leadership of Henry H. Schulz. At the same time, the decision was made to build a church. Bil Halbe donated the land for the church and also donated land for the cemetery and school (now Halbe Hall) for a total of three acres.

Elder Jacob H. Janzen helped to raise funds for the church, collecting half of the $200 needed for the construction of the 24 by 36 foot building. United Mennonite Church was built by a group of men and women who, despite the challenges of cultural barriers and the Great Depression, were determined to have a central meeting place to worship God. The foundation was laid on March 24, 1937 and Rev. Janzen dedicated it in the fall when he arrived.

United Mennonite Church of Black Creek is one of the oldest churches affiliated with Mennonite Church British Columbia, one of seven BC churches that are listed as attending the first provincial conference in 1936. Like several other Mennonite congregations in British Columbia, this congregation also started services in cooperation with settlers who were Mennonite Brethren. Perhaps more than any other Mennonite Church, it has maintained close ties with its sister church.

Jacob Brucks, who came to Black Creek in 1936, became the first lay minister at the United Mennonite Church, leading meetings, reading sermons, and teaching Sunday school.

In 1939 Nickolai N. Friesen came to serve the church at their request. During his first two years, Friesen taught students at a winter Bible school. During the war years many Mennonites went into the Alternative Service Program for Conscientious Objectors. Due to the close proximity of many of these camps to Black Creek, the congregation became involved in ministry to them. Friesen ministered to them on many occasions. Friesen was the first ordained pastor in the congregation, serving in that role until 1954.

Friesen was followed by Walter Dirks, 1954-1959. During Dirks’ ministry, the congregation sponsored a Sunday school mission at Oyster Bay where a mission chapel was built in 1957. In the early 1960s the church was again without a pastor, so they called Gerhard I. Peters of Chilliwack to come to Black Creek on weekends. He did this for two and a half years, making at least 100 trips and visiting 156 homes. Jacob Enns served from 1963 to 1968.

On December 15, 1963 the church dedicated its new sanctuary, moving from the small original building to a new and much larger facility located on land donated by Ben & Tina Enns. This building easily accommodated the growing families of the original settlers and other Mennonites who had been attracted to the community.

Jacob Enns and his family moved in 1969 and he was followed in the pastorate by Jacob Schmidt, 1969-1970, and Abram Koop, 1970-1978. After Abe Koop’s term, it was some time before Black Creek was able to find a permanent pastor. Short term and interim pastoral care was provided by Peter Froese, Hugo Scheffler, Steve Dick, Nick Dyck and Paul Koehler. In 1985 Peter Neudorf arrived from Calgary to re-established pastoral continuity.

The late 1960s saw a strengthening of the effort to reach out to the broader community. The more frequent use of English in worship services helped; by 1971 English was the first language of worship and the 1970s and 1980s witnessed a greater cultural diversity within the congregation. Peter Neudorf continued the focus on community outreach and under his leadership the church experienced growth that resulted in a significant expansion of the church building in 1994, having 93 members.

The congregation had an exceptionally strong youth outreach program from 1994 through 2005 under the supervision of Lynn Magee that saw many youth not only participate in social activities, Bible study and mission trips, but also come to faith in Christ and baptism. The youth group was large enough that UMC hired Scott Cosman as half time youth leader, 1998-1999.

Peter Neudorf left in 1996 to accept a position at Greendale Mennonite Church and Marv & Tanell Wirzba shared the pastorate at UMC, 1996- 2000. Abe Buhler was called and served as pastor from 2001-2003 and was followed by the return of Peter Neudorf who served a second term from 2003 until his retirement in 2007. Steve Isaac was called to fill the pastoral position and served until 2009. Gordon Carter who, along with Walter Dirks, 1954-1959, is one of two members of the local church to be ordained to pastoral ministry.

In the summer of 2012, the Church will celebrate its 75th anniversary. The church motto is “Follow Thou Me.” The church has always valued its relationship with MCBC and its affiliated churches.

Names of the current congregational leaders are: interim pastor – Gordon Carter, congregational chairperson – Judy McCulloch.

 

 

United Mennonite Leading Ministers

Minister Years of Ministry

 

Jacob Brucks 1936-1939

Nickolai N. Friesen 1939-1954

Walter Dirks 1954-1959

Gerhard I. Peters 1961-1963

Jacob Enns 1963-1968

Jacob Schmidt 1969-1970

Abraham B. Koop 1970-1978

Steve Dick (interim) 1978-1979

Nick Dyck (interim) 1979-1982

Paul Koehler (interim) 1983-1984

Peter Neudorf 1985-1996

Tanell & Marvin Wirzba 1996-2000

Abraham Buhler 2001-2003

Peter Neudorf 2003-2007

Steve Isaac 2007-2009

Gordon Carter (interim) 2010-2014

 Gerry Binnema 2014-present
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

United Mennonite Membership

Year Members

1936 34

1940 20

1947 32

1949 54

1952 65

1959 83

1965 54

1970 38

1975 82

1980 52

1985 51

1990 74

1995 93

2000 73

2005 75

2010 90