A longtime B.C. pastor and church leader is making a transition to a different kind of ministry.
After 30 years as a pastor, most recently of Level Ground Mennonite Church in Abbotsford, Karen Heidebrecht Thiessen began a new career chapter on Aug. 1 as dean of students at Columbia Bible College.
“After 20 wonderful years at Level Ground, I felt it was time for me to move on to new challenges in a different sort of context,” she says of the move. “[I am] ready to be stretched in new ways and to apply my gifts in a fresh context.”
Thiessen received her master of divinity degree from Mennonite Brethren Bible College, a founding college of Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) Winnipeg, in 1990 and she pastored at River East Mennonite Brethren Church in Winnipeg for a decade. She became part of Mennonite Church British Columbia when she and husband Richard and their family moved west in 2000.
“At that time, there were no opportunities for women to serve in lead pastor positions in B.C. in the MB denomination,” Thiessen says. “West Abbotsford [Mennonite Church] was looking for a pastor, and I was looking for a people to serve.” She continued as lead pastor at the new congregation of Level Ground Mennonite Church, formed when West Abbotsford merged with Wellspring Mennonite Church in 2009.
As she transitions to her new administrative role, Thiessen looks back fondly on her two decades serving her Level Ground church family, including the unique ministry to Kinghaven Treatment Centre residents living next door to the church.
“I will miss the opportunity to work with a very diverse and eclectic group of people at Level Ground who are seeking to follow Jesus,” she says of her years with the congregation. “I will especially miss the opportunity to walk with people from recovery as they learn what it means to surrender their lives to Jesus as the higher power in their lives.”
In addition to her pastoral duties, Thiessen has taken an active part in MC B.C. She served as secretary for a short time and as vice-moderator for several terms. She also represented MC B.C. on the MC Canada General Board for a term and sat on the boards of CMU and Mennonite Central Committee B.C. She was also a prison chaplain.
Thiessen sees her new role of dean of students as one of both service and ministry. “Like my work at Level Ground, my work as dean of students at Columbia is all about transformative discipleship, creating opportunities for people to follow Jesus more fully and wholeheartedly,” she says. “My work as dean is more administrative in nature, and it gives me incredible opportunities to mentor, train and empower staff who are directly involved in discipling the young adults who study at Columbia.”
Thiessen acknowledges that her job transition comes at a challenging time. Level Ground had planned an appreciation celebration for her in mid-March, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the church to suspend public events, and the congregational farewell had to be cancelled, much to everyone’s disappointment. However, a small group of church leaders did host a small backyard gathering in July to share together, remember and celebrate Thiessen’s 20 years at Level Ground.
“[It] helped me find a sense of closure to the two decades of ministry that have irrevocably shaped my life,” says Thiessen. “I will always remember my time at Level Ground with a sense of deep gratitude for the opportunity I had to be part of this amazing community of Jesus followers.”
Now Thiessen is part of what she calls “an amazing team” at Columbia that has the challenge of adapting to the unexpected reality of offering in-person residential education during a time of pandemic.
“I am looking forward to working with an incredible community of people at [Columbia] in a shared ministry that provides the opportunity for young adults to explore their faith and ultimately commit their lives to following Jesus in transformative ways,” she says.
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