On 24 January 1963, 52 members of the West Abbotsford Mennonite Church formed a new congregation. To emphasis divine help received in years past, they chose to be called “Eben-Ezer” (Stone of Help) and Mennonite because that was their larger faith community.
Jake Tilitzky, a minister in the West Abbotsford congregation, was called to be their leading minister. His wife, Erna Tilitzky, served as pianist when she was not directing the choir. By the end of the first year, membership nearly tripled to 146.
The large majority of this new congregation were recent immigrants arriving after WWII and, with few exceptions, had their roots in the Mennonite communities of the former USSR. They shared many similar experiences, language, practices, and worship preferences. All were grateful to find a new homeland, Canada, and a welcoming community, West Abbotsford Mennonite Church. But not all could embrace the cultural changes which their host church had to wrestle with.
By early 1963, their shared similar and common experiences, language, and preferences in worship, moved them to start a new congregation. They purchased land at the corner of Windsor and Marshall Rd, and by July 14, 1963 they were ready to meet in their brand new church. The numbers increased to about 500 by 1980. Facilities were added as required: an education wing in 1964, an enlarged sanctuary in 1970, and a gym in 1983.
For nearly two decades, this congregation could worship, grow in faith, and raise their families in ways they could affirm. However, the surrounding culture forced upon them the very same challenges they left behind back in 1963. In 1978 some 40 members announced that they were ready to organize and start what became the Emmanuel Mennonite Church in 1981. Others, in 2003, formed the East Abbotsford Community Church.
When refugees from Laos came to Canada in the late 1970s, Eben-Ezer sponsored 12 families . Members of the congregation offered to help materially and spiritually. Some of these Laotians eventually formed the Lao Christian Church which is still using our facilities to this day.
In recent years, new immigrants, young families mostly from Paraguay, have made Eben-Ezer their spiritual home. Seniors, too, from urban areas who prefer our style of worship, continue to join our congregation. Eben-Ezer Mennonite continues to be a dynamic church in the truest and literal sense of the word. And, yes, the challenges of 1963 remain with us, but more importantly, so does He, our Lord and Saviour, who knows how to handle them all. He still is our “Eben-Ezer”, the Stone of Help.