Jacob “Jasch” Tilitzky, longtime pastor and leader in Mennonite Church British Columbia and the wider Mennonite church family, died on Nov. 9 in Abbotsford.
He was born in Gruenfeld, Ukraine, on October 21, 1925, the youngest of eight children, and immigrated to Waldheim, Sask., with his parents when he was less than a year old. The family moved to B.C. eight years later and became part of West Abbotsford Mennonite Church.
He was baptized in 1947 at West Abbotsford and he soon was called to various ministries of the church: Sunday school, daily Vacation Bible School, youth leadership and choir director. He studied at Bethel Bible Institute, Mennonite Brethren Bible College, Canadian Mennonite Bible College and Mennonite Biblical Seminary.
As a teenager, Tilitzky spent the summer of 1942 installing the runway lights at the Abbotsford airport. Always an aviation buff, he would often visit the Canadian Museum of Flight in Langley, B.C., in his retirement years.
On Nov. 22, 1952, he married Erna Derksen, whom he had met as a child in 1936. Together, they created a beautiful home on 1.2 hectares of land on Queen Street in Abbotsford, and lived there for 54 years. In January 2020 they moved to the Mayfair Senior Living and Care facility.
In 1963, Jake and Erna were called to the newly formed Eben-Ezer Mennonite Church to serve as a pastoral couple in 1963. Here Jake was affectionately called “JT.” He served as pastor at Eben-Ezer until 1977 and again from 1982 to 1990. During that time he performed hundreds of baptisms and weddings.
He also served as interim pastor of Port Hardy, Sherbrooke, Bethel and Eden Mennonite churches, and helped start Langley Mennonite Fellowship.
He chaired the Conference of Mennonites in B.C. from 1963 to 1966 and again from 1969 to 1971. Other leadership positions included serving as conference representative for Mennonite Church Canada, chairing the General Conference Mennonite Church North America, and as conference representative to Mennonite World Conference.
Through the years he had service opportunities in Mennonite colonies in Mexico, Umsiedler ministries in Germany, in the former Soviet Union and in South America.
In his retirement he enjoyed playing tennis and golf, and built model airplanes, but he also continued in ministry by serving as interim pastor in several congregations.
A service of remembrance was held on Nov. 18 at Eben-Ezer Mennonite. He is survived by Erna, his wife of 69 years.
Commenting on Tilitzky’s life, Garry Janzen, MC B.C.’s executive minister, said: "The ministry of Jake Tilitzky with the Mennonite church extended from the local church, nationwide and globally. . . . We are so thankful."
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In this 1983 photo, Jake Tilitzky, left, moderator of the General Conference Mennonite Church, and Ross Bender, moderator of the (Old) Mennonite Church, lay their separate stones on the one stone (symbolizing Jesus Christ), as the two denominations moved toward union. (Mennonite Library and Archives photo)