Covenant Mennonite Church began as a church planting effort by the Winkler Bergthaler Mennonite Church over thirty years ago. After weekly Sunday evening worship services, followed by discussions, in June of 1981, the basic direction of the new congregation was determined, although the official launch didn’t happen until September 1981.
Planning resulted in a number of key commitments for the new congregation: strong participation by all; lay leadership which included both men and women (initially no paid pastor); an informal, family-oriented worship style; and meeting in a rented facility (at least at the beginning). In these ways the new fellowship was seen as an alternative congregation in Winkler, with the hope that it would attract people who were interested in exploring this new worshiping community.
The original core group committed to getting the new church started was very small – only twelve people. At the charter membership service, in June of 1982, when Covenant Mennonite Church became an independent congregation, the membership stood at twenty-seven. The group was made up of many young families and the worship services were often rather noisy with as many children as adults attending. The church met at the Winkler Bible Institute for the first fifteen years.
Life in the congregation was busy. Various people took on all the necessary tasks: preaching, teaching adults and children, leading worship, doing committee work, organizing a youth group, participating in care groups, supporting mission partners, etc. The church met regularly for intergenerational fellowship activities as well – occasions intended to develop a strong sense of community.
After a number of years the workload was becoming burdensome. Voices were raised in support of hiring a pastor. It took until 1992 for the church to hire its first pastor on a half time basis. Barry Lesser and his family moved to Winkler from Saskatchewan to take up the job, while needing to support his family with other work as well. By the time the first pastor arrived on the scene, the congregation was going through some difficult times which, unfortunately, later led to some people leaving the church.
The greatest crisis for Covenant developed in the spring of 1997. Within a very short period of time, the congregation learned that their pastor, Barry Lesser, had resigned and that the Winkler Bible Institute was closing. This left the congregation without pastoral leadership and without a facility to meet in. The church cried out to God for help. Within a matter of months, the congregation, with the help of some people outside the church, was able to purchase the old Lutheran Church building on 8th Street, where they continue to worship today. In addition, the pastoral needs of the church were also supplied when Kelvin Dyck (formerly a teacher at WBI) was hired as their second pastor, a role in which he continues to serve today.
With its own building the congregation is more visible in our community today. Long-term pastoral leadership has also brought stability to Covenant. Many people have found the congregation to be a wonderful church home, even if only for a short while before moving away from the community. A few of the charter members still belong to the church. The group has experienced the gracious goodness of God for over thirty years and looks forward in anticipation to God’s leading in the years ahead.
Garry Bueckert, February 18, 2015