In the 1800s, church clergy were often called “sky pilots,” in part in reference to their heavenly themes from the pulpit.
Aviator Gerry Binnema has recently become the new pastor of United Mennonite Church in Black Creek, B.C., Mennonite Church Canada’s most westerly congregation, and brings a contemporary meaning to this old nickname. He is part of a new trend of bi-vocational pastors who work part-time for the church but also have another occupation. Aside from his duties at United Mennonite, he is also a professional aviator and safety consultant to the industry.
His wife Elaine counsels individuals and couples, and has started practising out of their home in Stories Beach.
Pilots require a clear vision and good planning to fly safely. Recently, Binnema brought these skills to the church in a visioning process. The goal was to find the place where the gifts and passions of the congregation intersect with the needs of the community. Many ideas arose during the day-long session.
“We realized our rural community was no longer the country paradise with nuclear families it was in 1937, when our church was founded by German-speaking immigrants from the Soviet Union,” Binnema said. “Much has changed. There are many low-income, single-parent families living out here because of the less expensive rents. In many ways, we are a rural community with inner city issues.”
The visioning process identified an opportunity to serve the area by providing a break for parents by looking after their children for an evening. The congregation also hopes to open its church building for use by other people and groups in the community.
“We want to have music evenings, hootenanny style, for all budding and accomplished musicians to drop in with guitars, accordions, ukuleles or just voices,” Binnema said.
One of the challenges to the church is a lingering notion that people have to be from an ethnic Mennonite background to feel welcome. Some in Black Creek picture Mennonites as rural people who wear bonnets and travel in horse-drawn buggies. Nothing could be farther from the truth. People at United Mennonite come from all circumstances, but share common beliefs of peace, service, community and putting faith into action.
One of the church’s projects is called “Beyond our Doors,” which supports soup kitchens in Campbell River and Courtenay; the Miracle Beach School breakfast program; Communitas Supportive Care Society; and international development and relief programs through Mennonite Central Committee.
“We are a small church, very friendly and easy-going,” said Binnema. “Our worship is not especially slick, loud or rehearsed, but we welcome you just as you are, coming to hear real teaching from God’s Word for our everyday lives.”
The 77-year-old congregation is a member of MC British Columbia and re-joined MC Canada in 2013. Up to 50 people gather for worship on any given Sunday.
—Posted Jan. 14, 2015