Home Street through the Decades - A history shared on the occasion of Home Street Mennonite Church's 60th Anniversary, held on October 22, 2017.
Photos taken by David Neufeld
Home Street Mennonite Church 1957-1967 (The 1st Decade) By Betty (Wiebe) Klassen Come with me down Memory Lane to the 1950’s. There was a lot of excitement, energy, enthusiasm – a time of new beginnings! There were 19 Bergthaler congregations in Manitoba. The bishop, David Schulz from Altona, envisioned the formation of another one in Winnipeg. Why? Young people, young couples and families had moved to the city for employment or education. They were requesting organization of a Bergthaler Church. Studies were undertaken, enough interest was expressed, committees were formed and the Bergthaler Mennonite Church of Winnipeg was begun.
Ernest Wiebe, my husband, had been chosen and ordained as a minister at Lowe Farm; however, since he was at Teachers’ College during 1957, he was drawn into these momentous decisions and became the founding pastor of this congregation. For a few years his salary was earned by teaching in N. Kildonan, so the challenging church work was done on a voluntary basis during evenings and weekends. After several years he received a half-time, and eventually, full-time salary.
At Elim Bible School God's words to Ezekiel had been impressed upon him: “I have made you a watchman . . . so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me." The summary of the words that followed was that, if you warned people of their evil ways, you were safe, but if you did not warn them, God would hold you accountable. This emphasis put a heavy load of responsibility for the salvation of all on Ernest's conscience, so he worked diligently. Also, always generous, he tended to give help to anyone in need. His motto was: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2: 15.
A group of 84 met for the first worship service on November 10th, 1957, at a rented church on Edison Avenue. In less than a year, we moved to a small church on Simcoe and St. Matthews. Then, after 3½ years, in 1962, due to lack of space, we moved to the church at Sherbrook and Ross. In 1963 Rev. D.H. Loewen and a few older couples started a German church on a trial basis. By 1966 the membership, mostly under the age of 40, stood at 246. Many more attended. We were a young, vibrant congregation. Over the years there were many weddings. In 1964, we had a record: 34 babies were born – one of them was our son! In a short time the walls were closing in on us again, so, in 1967, in co-operation with some other churches, the Fort Garry Mennonite Fellowship was formed. At least 30 of our members became a part of it. (Ft. Garry celebrated its 50th last week-end.)
In 1962 Ernest was ordained as bishop, so his responsibilities increased, as, for example, with the serving of communion and baptism in Bergthaler town or country churches. Other ordinations: Bernie Wiebe, in 1960, to serve as an evangelist - he left to study in the States. Also in 1960, Henry Isaak and Abe Goertzen were ordained as deacons. In 1963 Henry Isaak (the deacon) was elected and ordained as a minister - he went on to serve in the Carman church. Lawrence Klippenstein was ordained to the ministry in 1967 – moved on to help the Ft. Garry M. Fellowship, to study, and to serve elsewhere – is back in our midst again. In 1966, Abe Wolfe, Frank Klassen and Peter Dyck were ordained as deacons. Edwin Brandt, ordained as a minister in 1967, took on the role of an interim pastor briefly after Ernest resigned.
There were many activities – it was very busy! Ernest’s responsibilities included chairing church council and brotherhood meetings, even preparing and duplicating the Sunday morning bulletins. There was no receptionist at the church office, so the calls came to our home – often I had to handle them. During the first years, both English and German were used. In addition to Sunday School, there were mid-week children’s classes and in summer, very many children participated in Daily Vacation Bible School. There were Young People’s meetings and choir practices and projects at Camp Assiniboia. There were Sunday morning and evening and mid-week services. There were evangelistic services and peace and mission week-ends or conferences, also services at the Union Gospel Mission, at Stony Mountain and at Bannock Point (a minimum security rehabilitation prison camp where we saw a bear roaming around at the edge of the woods during a ball game with the inmates). Eleven personal workers were elected to contact people who lived in the vicinity of the church. They were to proclaim the gospel and to invite everyone to come to church. In those days most women did not have jobs, so they met once a month, and in addition to their MCC projects, they visited those in hospital, as well as new mothers and babies at home, they sent many cards, and hosted Christmas banquets at church, as well as birthday parties for the patients at the Selkirk Mental Hospital. On the whole, there was a heavy emphasis on outreach. Today's vision of mission "across the street and around the world" was very real at the beginning! During those early years, as in later times, not all went smoothly – the dark thunderclouds of trouble stormed into our midst now and then. Ernest worked conscientiously and carefully, but the pressure of those who held dissenting opinions mounted to the extent that he was physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. He resigned to attend CMBC.
In memory of Ernest, I close this reflection with his favourite blessing: “May the Lord bless you and keep you and give you his peace. Amen”.
Home Street Mennonite Church 1968 to 1977 ( The 2nd Decade) by Phyllis Wiebe
Setting the background
Let me take you back to1968. How many of you were not even born yet then? 1968 is recognized as the most historic year in modern American history. Among other things…..
Revered leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated
With the Apollo 8 mission, for the first time in history humans orbited the moon
Meanwhile, at the unobtrusive corner of Sherbrook and Ross, just a short two blocks north of the Children’s Hospital and Health Sciences Center, a group of over 200 worshippers, primarily of rural Manitoba Bergthaler congregations, met several times a week…Sunday mornings, of course, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday evenings.
I will begin with some memories and then report on some of the major changes that happened during the 2nd decade of the life of this congregation.
I remember the first Thanksgiving we experienced there…it was 1968. , with a full turkey meal with all the trimmings and pies. I don’t know how the women did that because the kitchen was big enough for only 2 or 3 people and all 200+ managed to squeeze up to the long tables which completely filled the basement.
Much of our social life revolved around the church, with boys and girls clubs, youth events, Sunday school, evening church services…..oh, I do remember that we did have to schedule Sunday evening services around the 6:00 Walt Disney TV programs.
In 1968 Clarence and Tena Epp and their 4 children had only recently moved from Prince Albert, SK to Winnipeg where Clarence would be the new pastor. In 1972, when Clarence chose to go into a different line of Christian service, the David Wiebe family moved from Swift Current to become the next pastor.
I well remember the announcement one Sunday morning by the congregational chairperson, who prided himself in being ‘correct,’: “Next Sunday we will have a picnic in the park where we will say goodbye to the Epps and welcome to the Wiebes. We will do this altogether next Sunday, and in that way ‘we can kill two birds with one stone.’”
SIGNIFICANT CHANGES THAT HAPPENED OVER THAT DECADE
The makeup of the church went from a primarily rural Manitoba born and bred Bergthalers, to a much more eclectic group of Christians (mostly from other Mennonite groups).
Change from the hierarchy of the bishop system for baptizing etc. to ministers or pastors
We went from a Bergthaler Gemeinde to a Mennonite congregation.
Went from a “Brotherhood” to a “Membership” which gave women equal rights and responsibilities within the church. This motion to give women the right to vote had come up numerous times over the years but was defeated each time. In June 1968, the motion was brought up again and was finally passed with the congregational chairman breaking the tie vote.
Went from deacons being elected for a lifetime to deacons having terms.
Went from all male leadership to allowing at least one unmarried woman on the Deacons Board, then called Ministerial. By the way, we were known as Mrs. Ernest Wiebe, Mrs. Clarence Epp or Mrs. David Wiebe. Later, we finally got our own first names.
Although women weren’t part of the leadership, that didn’t mean they were not involved. They were an active organization who took responsibility:
for all food events,
decorating the sanctuary and altar
sending flowers and cards and often meals to the bereaved, the sick and new mothers
and many other things.
Now this is done by church committees and other volunteers.
Went from a membership of 246 in 1966 to 188 in 1973 (partly due to a number of members transferring to the newly formed Fort Garry Fellowship, and partly due to a review of non-resident and inactive membership).
Went from a skeptical view of Westgate (they were too liberal) to supporter with some youth even attending.
These changes didn’t all come easy, and some people left the church when it was too much for them.
One of the most significant changes was the move to this building. And the change of name from Bergthaler Church of Winnipeg to Home Street Mennonite Church in 1973.
Although the question of moving from Sherbrook and Ross had come up several times, it was In 1973 that the city offered the congregation $90,000 for the building at Sherbrook and Ross. The congregation voted 57 to 1 to sell the building and move to this building at 318 Home Street. With the sale of the Sherbrook and Ross building, the purchase of the Home Street building, and after all the renovations, our net cost of this building was less than $500.
The building was quite a mess as it had been empty for a number of years. Every square inch had to be cleaned and painted.
A dozen or so people with hammers and nails, nailed down the creaky well-worn wooden floor and glued the broken pews together. The stage was enlarged …the part in front of the choir loft was only large enough for the pulpit…in case you’ve wondered why there are two sets of stairs .
The organ needed extensive repairs and the windows were in rough shape. Dividers were installed downstairs to accommodate the large Sunday school of over 200, and the kitchen was made useable.
It seemed everyone wanted to be a part of the revitalizing the new church building….I remember we even had vigorous discussions about the colour of the carpet which has now been here for nearly 45 years…
If you want to see what the walls looked like, take a look into the furnace room downstairs. That is about the only part that didn’t get refinished.
So much more could be said, but you’ll have to read the book, The Story of Home Street Mennonite Church 1957-1982, to find out more.
Home Street Mennonite Church 2008-2017 (The 6th Decade) By Arlyn Friesen Epp
A surprising amount of water runs under the bridge in 10 years. At Home Street, since 2008, that probably means 600 sermons – how many do you remember? 200 youth events. Hundreds of small group gatherings. 5 dozen potlucks. Baptisms. Child dedications. Communion services. Weddings. Funerals. And, surely, over a thousand meetings. I will only offer a couple of snapshots from the past decade.
Just over 10 years ago, Tym Elias, Shane Perkinson and April Braun were our staff team. Kathy Giesbrecht, Ken Bechtel, Jared Redekop, Terry Zimmerly have followed. And, today, Cindy Paetkau, Khalid Ahmeed, Judith Friesen Epp, and Melissa Miller are currently on staff.
Over a decade ago, several founding members were still in active church leadership positions. The past 10 years has seen a generational shift in leadership. One indicator being that our 4 congregational chairpersons this past decade were all individuals who have come to Home Street within the last 10-20 years.
Although in the last decade our membership count has remained relatively steady (up slightly from 2008), the actual people in attendance has certainly changed. By my rough count, about 60% of those in attendance last Sunday were not here 10 years ago. Given that our membership numbers are steady, the reverse is then nearly the same – about 60% of those in attendance 10 years ago were not here last Sunday. Comings and goings root us in a never-ending cycle of transition and rebirth. As we have often said upon receiving new members, “the addition of one person changes the whole. The church is changed by the composition of its family.”
One notable demographic change in the past decade is that many of us new to Home Street live in these neighbouring communities. Perhaps our growing collective proximity to this building has in part led to our recommitment to this neighbourhood. I recall as recently as 10-15 years ago, we had serious conversations as a congregation about whether 318 Home Street was a viable location for us. For much of our history we have been a “church of the neighbourhood” – whether in St. Matthews, at Sherbrooke and Ross, or here on Home Street, but for various reasons a decade ago this was being re-evaluated.
Third Usher (now “Coffee and Conversation”), Pastors’ Pantry, Winnipeg Harvest distribution, (now “Home Plate”), relationships with other groups who use our building, including another congregation, have all been significant connections of the past decade – and has helped link our congregation to our neighbours.
Further, a vision of “radical hospitality” has taken hold in a variety of ways. The completion of several major renovations has helped make this building accessible to a wider range of people. Last year, we affirmed a formal position of “welcome” to persons with same-sex orientation. And, Vision 2020, a guiding statement for us as a congregation and our leadership is having us ask again, among other things, What does it mean to be a neighbourhood church? Constant change. Yet a growing rootedness.
Each person who walks through our doors, Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday is a gift. And each person changes the community. We’re not the same congregation we were, even 10 years ago. And, though there is pain and grief in our goodbyes and in our wrestling to remain faithful, the future, in God’s hands, is good. May God grant us wisdom, grace and love to become the new community we’re being called to be.