Life in a remote B.C. congregation

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Gerry Binnema was invited to share news about United Mennonite Church, the con­gregation he pastors in Black Creek, B.C. Here is his creative and tongue-in-cheek response.

Greetings from this far-flung western outpost of Mennonite-ness here on the edge of the untamed northern Vancouver Island. I have been posted to this remote location now for six years, and what a struggle it has been. Having lived for many years in the populous lower mainland of B.C., the transition to island life has at times been difficult. For instance, people here drive at the posted speed limit! Can you imagine? Behaviour like that in Abbotsford would get you run off the road.

When you go to Costco here, the line-up is seldom more than five minutes. Quite often, you just walk up to an open till. The locals clearly have not yet understood what modern life is supposed to look like.

When I arrived, I was determined to activate a tremendous growth strategy. I convened brainstorming meetings, launched Alpha programs, networked, socialized, interacted and lots of other things. But to no avail. The people here seemed impervious to modern-day church growth strategies. I began to feel disheartened.

About a year ago, I pretty much gave up. People seemed so happy if I just preached the Word and visited my congregants. So that is what I did. Sure, we had established connections in the community and we had a choir practising in the building on Wednesday nights, and we opened our doors to the little community food bank that runs on Tuesday mornings. Our youth worker had established a great Friday Night drop-in for kids that was popular with community kids.

Then this weird thing happened. New people started just showing up on Sundays. Not people drawn from other congregations (well, maybe a couple), but some people came who hadn’t found a church to call home for 20 years. People who had not felt safe in a church but felt safe in our little community.

Over the last year, there has been a renewed sense of community at UMCBC. If you come to visit, you will find a pretty laid-back Sunday service, complete with missteps and the odd shouted comedic comment from the peanut gallery. Our church has quite the cast of characters! But when people are asked to greet one another near the beginning of the service, the roar of conversation carries on until the service leader shouts it down and orders people back to their seats.

After church, the coffee and cookies keep people hanging out and talking for a good long time.

So, we don’t have cell groups, or a missional strategy, or a five-year outreach plan. And in all honesty, I feel a little guilty about that because I feel like I should be doing that stuff. Our worship style is—impossible to define. But we do have a group of really wonderful, gracious Christians trying to do life together.

The Friday Night drop-in for kids has been popular with community kids in Black Creek. (Photo by Gerry Binnema)

The United Mennonite Church building in Black Creek is used for a community food bank. (Photo by Gerry Binnema)

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