The Planting of an Anabaptist Church: Nova Scotia

from Issue #1, April 2016, page # 14

by: Galen Weber

Editorial Note: Galen Weber of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Canada wrote a 50-page history of the Lighthouse Mennonite Church. Recognizing Galen’s powerful choice of words and keen insights, I asked Galen if he would write an account of one of the New Testament churches, and then a shorter version of the Lighthouse Mennonite Church story (2000 words).

Galen’s Response: “Thank you for the research/writing assignment. I intend to take it up. Mark you, however, the last glorious article I produced was rejected, without comment, by the editor.”

Writing Challenge to the Readers: Write the story of an Anabaptist church that you know personally, and share it with the readers of Anabaptist Voice. Pictures could be included.

The story of the Lighthouse Mennonite Church in Nova Scotia began when Heather Putnam attended a Christian Light Homeschooler’s Training Seminar in Harrisonburg, Virginia. That week Heather made her first acquaintance with Mennonite people.

Heather boarded with John Paul and Catherine Campbell and family, who formed a lasting friendship with her. Then on Sunday morning, rather than searching out the Harrisonburg Mormon church, she went with her new friends to the Bank Mennonite Church.

Heather returned to Nova Scotia, much blessed, much instructed, and much-well, unsure. There were so many new experiences, so many new people, in just a week’s time! One thing for sure, she could never be a Mennonite. That white cap veiling that all the women wore, for example-ridiculous!

Heather studied the Bible and Sanford Shetler’s commentary, wrote many long letters to Catherine Campbell, and confronted many new truths in the CLP homeschool curriculum she was using. Long submerged questions resurfaced in her mind and she began to question the credibility of the Mormon faith she and Robert held. By the spring of 1995, Heather stood convinced. Joseph Smith had not been a prophet of God.

Then began many 1200-mile journeys to New Glasgow by Gospel teams, ministers, and bishops from Virginia. Once every six to eight weeks someone traveled to Nova Scotia to share the Gospel and encourage interested souls in the faith. Was it worth it?

“Absolutely,” says Brother Eldwin Campbell, remembering those years. “For a person such as Heather, whose family—her very dearest loved ones—rejected her, the church must become that person’s family. To survive, such a person must have our love and our fellowship. People like this must be welcomed into our homes, feel our hospitality and love, discuss with us the Scriptures and whatever issues they’re facing.

On Sunday, August 10, 1996 Heather was taken in as a member-at-large at the Bethany congregation in Virginia. Heather’s acceptance strained her family relationships. In between the Gospel team visits, Heather and one daughter, Alison, attended a Nazarene church, while Robert and two children continued to attend the Mormon church.

A number of Virginia families—Darrell Wadels, Clair Heatwoles, Lonnie Yoders—sought to move to Nova Scotia, but could never obtain the required visas to enter Canada to live and work there. When all these attempts to locate US families in Canada failed, the Virginia brethren appealed to the Ontario churches to send help. Kenneth and Mary Weber of Ontario answered the call and moved their six children to Nova Scotia in the summer of 1999. Teaching and outreach and fellowship from Gospel teams attracted other interested people to the church. School teachers came to add to the small number.

One of the families that showed interest was the Bonvie family. Clint and Darlene weren’t sure what to think. They said, “These have to be the oddest religious people on earth, but they sure seem to have something… something beautiful.” And, “Those people are really different. We’re not going back there next Sunday.” But the Bonvies kept coming back.

Over the years it was a rocky ride for the fledging church. Heather Putnam left for several years, repented and returned. Then she left for good and forsook all manner of righteousness. For a long time the church tried to operate without designated local leadership. A switch of church affiliation took place which called for new and different standards This change upset many. Bishops came from thousands of miles away to hold communion, baptisms, and membership issues. The devil actively troubled many people with distress and discouragement, and disallusionment.

Yet the Lighthouse Mennonite Church touched many lives with the Gospel—Fehrs, Lees, Grahams, MacCabes, Putnams, Barkhouses, Welches, Bents, Bonvies, Gunns, Dunnsters, Duncans, Elliots, Mortons, Ogdens, Vachons, Walls; and many more local souls—souls who might never have been confronted with the true Gospel of Jesus Christ if the Lighthouse Mennonite Church had not been there.

It took it all—revival meetings, youth activities, Bible studies, outreach efforts, work projects, phone calls, new contacts, brotherhood meetings, sewing circles, weekly worship, church cleanings, Bible conferences, fellowship meals, hosting guests, and often travel to somewhere or other. These “memory-rivers” swirl intermingled through God’s workings over the years.

Facing decisions and difficulties, the brethren built lasting relationships as they learned to know each other. Through working and sharing they discovered that loving means serving each other, and serving means humility. Something extraordinary is essential to blend ordinary people into unity, and that something is found in Jesus Christ.

The oracle for Lighthouse Mennonite Church, just as it is for every congregation of saints who give themselves to live the will of God is Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. 

Editorial Note: The work of the Lighthouse Mennonite Church goes on. Recently Ben and Michelle Thiessen were taken into the church as members. The following page contains a letter of introduction written to Vera Rose Campbell. In October 2015, Doris and I had the privilege of visiting in their home and learning to know and love the Thiessens. 


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