The new Tabor Village seniors’ care complex in Abbotsford will have a chapel that will be named in memory of an Abbotsford pastor who died on Nov. 18.
Vern Heidebrecht and his wife Carol served for 15 years – from 1988 to 2003 – as the lead pastoral couple of Northview Community Church on Downes Road.
Heidebrecht, who battled Parkinson’s disease for many years, died at the age of 77 after a long career in ministry.
His career in Abbotsford began in 1988 after a 25-year stint in the U.S. (mostly California), where he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees.
Over the years, he developed his oratory skills, becoming an adept and engaging public speaker.
At one point, Heidebrecht was conducting up to five sermons a week, in addition to weddings, teaching seminars and leadership conferences.
Northview Church, which held its first service in Mennonite Educational Institute in 1980 before purchasing its own land in 1982, grew considerably under Heidebrecht’s leadership, becoming one of Canada’s largest evangelical congregations.
During his time there as senior pastor, the church’s membership grew from around 400 to almost 2,000, with four services offered. In 2000, there were 12 pastors and 35 full-time staff.
Around that time, Heidebrecht began to notice changes in his body. He became increasingly anxious before his sermons and speaking engagements, and his voice became weaker.
His walking also became more laboured, and a visit to the doctor, followed by a referral to a neurologist, resulted in a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.
Heidebrecht then took a four-month break from work, during which time he wrote a book titled Journalling is for Real People. It depicted the therapeutic and spiritual role that journal writing can play in people’s lives.
His second book, Hearing God’s Voice, was published in 2007, followed by his memoirs, The Best is Yet to Be, in 2012.
Heidebrecht continued to serve as senior pastor at Northview but resigned from that position in 2003, when he felt that he could no longer keep up with the demands of the job. He then served as associate pastor of discipleship and prayer, and retired around 2012.
Heidebrecht returned to his speaking engagements after his diagnosis, often using his life with Parkinson’s as a theme of his presentations.
“I think that when all is said and done, people will forget my sermons, but they’ll remember how Vern dealt with life,” he said in a 2005 interview with The Abbotsford News.
He spent the last four years of his life at the Valhaven location of Tabor Village in Abbotsford. The seniors’ care complex is currently in the midst of a campaign to raise money towards the construction of a new “Centre for Living” complex-care facility.
A new chapel in the facility will be named in Heidebrecht’s memory, and his family has asked that memorial contributions be designated to the campaign. Donations are accepted online at campaign.taborvillage.org.
A memorial service for Heidebrecht takes place Wednesday, Nov. 28 at 1 p.m. at Northview Community Church, 32040 Downes Rd.