‘House church with a building’

Small size, remoteness characterize Dawson Creek fellowship

July 29, 2020 | News | Volume 24 Issue 16D
Amy Rinner Waddell | B.C. Correspondent
Northgate Anabaptist Fellowship members meet in their church building on the second Sunday of Lent, shortly before the pandemic forced them to worship from home. Ernie and Eileen Klassen, facing the front of the church, listen as Wayne Plenert leads worship, with Delores Plenert at the piano. (Photo by Esther Klassen)

With eight members, Northgate Anabaptist Fellowship of Dawson Creek is the smallest congregation in Mennonite Church British Columbia. It is also the most remote, located about 1,880 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, near the Alberta border.

Northgate was not always its current size. It began as a Mennonite Brethren church plant in 1962, first known as Dawson Creek Mennonite Brethren Church and later as Northgate Community Church. Membership peaked at 73 in 2000.

But due to the transient nature of life in B.C.’s north, most members eventually moved out of Dawson Creek, a town of about 12,000. Five years ago, the fellowship switched affiliation to MC B.C. because the MB stewardship model, which emphasizes evangelism and growth, did not fit it. 

With no pastor, the group has the feel of a house church, what in other congregations would be called a small fellowship group. It has had a meetinghouse since 1979, but no pastor since 2003. 

“We are a house church with a building,” says Eileen Klassen, Northgate’s administrator. However, during the COVID-19 isolation period, the members have chosen to meet by Zoom rather than in person, Klassen says, because of provincial protocols for cleaning the church building. 

On a typical Sunday morning, members connect by Zoom and take turns reading Scripture, giving the message and leading in prayer. Wayne Plenert and Ernie and Eileen Klassen take turns planning and leading worship, which includes discussion of the message and sharing. Having an online worship also allows others to join them, including participants from Pender Island and Vernon in B.C. and from Waterloo, Edmonton and even Pennsylvania. 

Despite feeling somewhat disconnected from other MC B.C. churches, Northgate members have maintained Mennonite connections as best they can. They coordinate worship services using the lectionary series for scriptures and themes from MennoMedia. Garry Janzen, the regional church’s executive minister, visits regularly. As moderator, Plenert attends pastors meetings and the tiny church sends representatives to MC B.C. annual meetings.

Because several have attended Mennonite postsecondary schools, Northgate’s Mennonite identity remains strong.

While its size is a challenge, the members believe it is also an asset.

“We like to think of ourselves as a thoughtful church,” Plenert says. “We see real advantages in a smaller group, in that we do not need to pay a great deal to maintain the group and can support our community and the organizations we respect more easily. The model we developed for church quite some time ago still works.”

Do you have a story idea about Mennonites in B.C.? Send it to Amy Rinner Waddell at bc@canadianmennonite.org.

Northgate Anabaptist Fellowship members meet in their church building on the second Sunday of Lent, shortly before the pandemic forced them to worship from home. Ernie and Eileen Klassen, facing the front of the church, listen as Wayne Plenert leads worship, with Delores Plenert at the piano. (Photo by Esther Klassen)

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Although Ben Heppner grew up in Dawson Creek before we moved here, we were told he attended the Alliance Church. Northgate only began in 1963.

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