In the 1800s, church clergy were often called “Sky Pilots”, possibly in reference to the heavenly themes from the pulpit.
Gerry Binnema has recently become the new pastor at the United Mennonite Church in Black Creek and brings a contemporary meaning to this old nickname. He is part of a new trend of bi-vocational pastors who work part time for the church but also have another occupation. Aside from his duties at UMC, Binnema is also a professional aviator and safety consultant to the industry. His wife, Elaine, is a counsellor who has started her practice out of their home in Storries Beach.
Pilots require a clear vision and good planning to fly safely. Binnema recently brought these skills to the church in a visioning process. The goal was to find the place where the gifts and passions of the congregation intersect with the needs of the community. Many ideas arose in the day-long session.
“We realized our rural community was no longer the country paradise with nuclear families it was in 1937 when our church was founded by German-speaking immigrants from the Soviet Union,” said Binnema. “Much has changed. There are many low-income single-parent families living out here because of the less expensive rents. In many ways, we are a rural community with inner city issues.”
The vision identified an opportunity to serve the area by providing a break for parents by looking after their kids for an evening. Also UMC hopes to open the church building for use by other people and groups in the community.
“We want to have music evenings, hootenanny style, for all budding and accomplished musicians to drop in with guitars, accordions, ukuleles or just voices,” said Binnema.
One of the challenges is the lingering notion that you have to be from an ethnic Mennonite background to feel welcome. Some picture Mennonites as rural folks who wear bonnets and travel in horse-drawn buggies. Nothing could be farther from the truth. People at UMC come from all circumstances but share the common beliefs in peace, service, community and putting faith into action.
One of the church’s projects is called “Beyond our Doors” supporting soup kitchens in Campbell River and Courtenay, the Miracle Beach School Breakfast Program, Communitas Supportive Housing as well as international development and relief programs through Mennonite Central Committee.
“We are a small church, very friendly and easy-going,” said Binnema. “Our worship is not especially slick, loud or rehearsed, but we welcome you just as you are; coming to hear real teaching from God’s word for our everyday lives.”
The Black Creek United Mennonite Church is on Enns Road just off the highway north of Black Creek Store. The church’s web page is http://www.umcbc.ca/index.html.