- 1936-2011 (Creation)
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Initially called United Mennonite Church of Abbotsford, this congregation was founded on 28 December 1936 as the first Mennonite General Conference congregation in the Abbotsford-Matsqui region with a membership of 45. Peter P. Epp (1936-1937) was founding pastor. The municipality donated land on the corner of King and Townline Roads, on which they built their first structure out of lumber from the dismantled Mill Lake Lumber Mill in 1937. Dramatic growth occurred while Heinrich M. Epp (1946-1958) was congregational leader. Building programs in 1946 and 1949 sought to accommodate the influx of post-World War II refugees and refugees from Paraguay and Mexico. The resulting so-called “long church” was overflowing by 1952 with a membership of 430. To relieve their growing attendance, Clearbrook Mennonite Church and Peardonville Mennonite Church were established as daughter churches, both of which later secured their own autonomy. In 1950, the church changed its name to West Abbotsford Mennonite Church.
During P. J. Froese’s (1958-1967) term as pastor the issue of language during worship became a concern. A group of post-war immigrants desired to retain the German language during worship and requested assistance from West Abbotsford in establishing a new congregation. The request was granted, and Eben-Ezer Mennonite Church was dedicated on 14 July 1963. As it happened, however, a dual worship service model, accommodating both German and English-speaking members, was implemented while Peter Harms (1968-1971) was pastor beginning in 1968.
Dietrich Rempel (1972-1981) became pastor in 1972 and introduced women deaconesses and a new structure was built in 1976 under his leadership as well. However membership stood at 242 in 1980 and in 2005 it was 148. In 2000, Karen Heidebrecht Thiessen became West Abbotsford’s first female pastor and continues in this position to the present. Some other pastors who served the West Abbotsford Church were C.G. Tiltzky, 1938-1945; Paul Boschman, 1983-1988; Stan Martens, 1988-1990; David Friesen, 1990-1996; Egon Froese, 1997-1998 and Jake Thielmann, 1998-2000.
Level Ground Mennonite Church was formed in 2008 when members of two churches, West Abbotsford Mennonite, established in 1936, and Wellspring Christian Fellowship, started in 1992, came together to form a new congregation. The congregation's charter service took place on 25 January 2009 with 172 charter members, and the congregation was accepted as a member of Mennonite Church British Columbia on 21 February 2009. The congregations, led by co-chairpersons Christine Dahl (Wellspring) and Ben Falk (West Abbotsford), began holding discussions at the beginning of 2008 to explore the idea of a merger. The congregations worshiped together for four Sundays in the spring of 2008 and then each voted to unite. The churches agreed to worship on Sunday mornings in the West Abbotsford sanctuary with West Abbotsford’s Karen Heidebrecht Thiessen serving as the lead pastor.
Two churches, stretched in resources, volunteers and paid personnel, formed one dynamic church. Both had a similar vision: to be the church reaching out. They merged their visions and programs and amalgamated assets and finances, and above all they united a church with many elderly people with a church brimming with younger people and children. The new name was taken from the book of Ephesians where all are equal, where the ground is level at the foot of the cross for Jews and Gentiles, for slaves and free.
Level Ground Mennonite has a variety of ministries but tries to be volunteer-driven and has a well-developed network of cell groups (Journey Groups). Staff includes lead pastor Karen Heidebrecht Thiessen, worship and young adults pastor Dan Loewen, youth pastor Robin Mauthe, administrative secretary Rita Ewert, and Tippytoes Preschool teacher Wanda Hildebrandt.
Level Ground’s worship services include a sermon, a contemporary style of worship, a time of sharing and prayer, and a variety of multimedia features. For some time it had a second service of a more meditative nature which included some hymns, but this service was discontinued at the end of 2011 due to declining attendance. Children’s work is done by volunteers but the church continues to offer Tippytoes Preschool in its building.
Many of those who are welcomed by the church are the marginalized and the church has a semi-autonomous ministry to drug and alcohol addicts in Lifebridge Ministries, pastored by Keith St. Jean. The church is located next door to Kinghaven Treatment Centre, a drug and alcohol treatment center for men, and many of the men attend the service and participate in Bible studies while receiving treatment. The congregation also offers Sunday morning transportation for women at Peardonville House, another drug and alcohol treatment center in the area.
Sources: Adapted from an article written by Andrew Klager in “Congregational Write-ups” which will eventually appear in GAMEO.
Dave Loewen was also a donor.
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1) Constitution & Bylaws - 1936, 1953-1959, 1962, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1977-1979, 1986-1989, 1996-1999, 2002, 2004 - (3 files) - Box 63
2) History - 1963-1964, 1986-1988, 1979-2009 (4 files) - Box 63
3) Minutes - 1936-2000 - (30 files) - Box 63-65
4) Correspondence - 1936-2011 - (65 files) Boxes 65-68
5) Financial Records - 1947-2006 - (30 files) - Boxes 68-70
6) Legal Documents - 1964-2008 - (5 files) - Box 70
7) Reports - 1941-2007 - (14 files) - Box 70
8) Lists - 1936-2006 - (15 files) - Box 70
9) Vital Statistics - 1934-2008 - (15 files) - Boxes 71-72
10) Personnel - 1979-2006 - (14 files) - Box 72
11) Certificates, including membership transfers - 1948-2008, 1971-1996, 1958-2006 - (5 files) - Box 72
12) Publications - 1941-2008 - (41 files) - Boxes 73-75
13) Lectures & Sermons - 1957-1996 - (3 files) - Box 76
14) Education - 1948-2009 - (45 files) - Boxes 76-77
15) Youth - 1956-2007 - (13 files) - Box 78
16) Music - 1960, 1963, 1973, 1975, 1976-1989, 1990-1997, 2006 - (2 files) - Box 78
17) Service - 1950-2007 - (26 files) - Boxes 78-80
18 Missions - 1957-2004 - (6 files) - Box 80
19) Construction - 1965, 1975-1976, 1982, 1984 - (2 files) - Box 80
21) Clippings - 1961-2008 - (1 file) - Box 80
22) Guest Books (4) - 1972-1993 - (2 files) - Box 80
23) Ephemera - (1 file) - Box 80
24) Conference of Mennonites in Canada - 1949-2007 - (5 files) - Box 80
25) Conference of Mennonites in BC - 1936-2008 - (5 files) - Box 80
26) Confidential. (Permission is required to access these files). - (4 files) - Box 81
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- West Abbotsford Mennonite Church (Creator)
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Record modified July 23, 2015