Mistissini’s Pentecostal community at odds with church organization

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After a year of controversy and legal proceedings over the rightful leadership of the Living Water Assembly Church in Mistissini, Court of Quebec Justice Robert Dufresne has ruled in favour of Pastor Johnny Dixon, his board of directors and interested party, the Pentecostal Assembly of Canada (PAOC).


Living Water in Mistissini

In question were the legal rights to the church land located at 304 Amisk Street, bank accounts, church assets, the name “Living Water Assembly” and a push by Pastor Joseph Blacksmith to disaffiliate the church from the PAOC. Blacksmith, Jeremiah Abel Mianscum and Roger Gingras were named as the defendants in the court case after incorporating the name “Living Water Assembly” as a Canadian non-profit. The three were accused of taking over the building on Amisk Street and attempting to separate from its parent organization over the course of the last year.

The root of the dispute dates back to the 1970s and the construction of the original Mistissini Pentecostal Assembly, pastored by Harry Mianscum and affiliated with the PAOC in 1976. According to an affidavit Mianscum signed on November 10, 2014, the Mistissini Band Council gave the land on Amisk Street to him. He also stated that the church was built through the labour and financial support of the congregation and the property was never relinquished to the PAOC or anyone else in the community.

In 1990, Mianscum led a movement away from the PAOC and formed the Perch River Fellowship, a church community independent of any provincial or national religious organization. In more recent years the church was lead by Dixon, who was replaced by Blacksmith on April 7, 2013. When health problems led to Blacksmith’s hospitalization later that year, Dixon stepped back in as interim pastor but was reportedly locked out of the church in January 2014 after Blacksmith had recovered. Blacksmith subsequently called public meetings January 20 and February 1, 2014, to discuss a “new vision” of Living Water’s future and address the possibility of disassociating the church from the PAOC.

Interviews with both Dixon and Blacksmith make it clear that the two church leaders have different visions for the Pentecostal community of Mistissini. Dixon is adamant that Living Water Assembly belongs with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada and has their full support. Blacksmith feels that the church has little to gain from affiliation with the PAOC and that the church belongs to the community of Mistissini, which has made significant financial contributions to the parent organization with little to show in return.

In a surprising role reversal since the court ruling, Dixon says he is hoping for reconciliation. Blacksmith, however, does not believe that to be possible as long as the church remains under the direction of the PAOC.

The Nation spoke to both pastors regarding their opinions on the situation, the conflict between the two groups, reactions to the court verdict and their individual take on the future of Mistissini’s Pentecostal community, here’s what they had to say.

Pastor Johnny Dixon

“I’m happy that it’s over with. It’s taken a toll on everybody and people were anxious to see the result. The main thing now is deciding how we will move forward, working with each other, understanding each other and not having any bad feelings towards one another. The goal [now] is to try and bring peace to the entire community, not just with our two groups.

“Personally, I think there will always be a divide. There already was a previous division before any of these issues. As long as that issue is not resolved we will continue to see this turmoil. I don’t really know how this whole thing started, why they wanted the Living Water name anyways, it’s always puzzled us. They always sort of looked down on us and then when they wanted to disaffiliate, all of a sudden the name became important.

“I believe that justice has been served and the judge’s decision was the right one. It’s something we had always believed in. Living Water [Assembly] has always been us, it’s our name, and the assets were ours. Hopefully [the court ruling] doesn’t separate us in a greater degree, the main concern our people had was reconciliation.

“When the ministers and pastors all came together in the wake of the Lake Bussy tragedy there seemed to be an opening and we were able to communicate again. I was happy but also I was cautious. I told some people that once the verdict arrives that will be the real test. I wrote Pastor Blacksmith a letter recently, telling him he’s welcome to use the church for weddings and things like that and that we should continue the openness that we had. I was glad Joseph made that effort [at the Lake Bussy memorial service] and hopefully it will continue after this verdict.

“On Sunday, June 7, we held our first service on Amisk Street since the conflict, there were mixed feelings and some people weren’t there. They [the other group] left it in good condition. We’re glad to be back in our building and have those bank accounts open after a year of being frozen. We’re really glad to have our identity back. It felt like we had that stolen from us but the judge made a just decision.”

Pastor Joseph Blacksmith

Pastor Joseph Blacksmith

Pastor Joseph Blacksmith

“We’ve decided not to appeal. They never took the time to gather all of the information and we never really had a chance to present our case. Our lawyer was only given 20 minutes [in court] and the other lawyer had a couple of hours.

“A lot of Elders who were involved in the community always hoped that someone would come and open the doors and allow the people to be free, out from under the PAOC. People are lost and hurt since the PAOC came in. When we sit and talk to the Elders they say, ‘Who are these people? Who do they work for? What do they do with our money?’ I know that most of that money doesn’t come back into the Native communities.

“I think the people who remain with the PAOC think that the PAOC is there to serve them. Some people almost see the PAOC as God. I know some people I’ve talked to sound as if they live in fear, bound by laws and regulations. We’re bound by God’s laws, not by the laws of the PAOC. The people who understand this, they want to get out from that, they want to be free to do what God wants them to do.

“The PAOC has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Native communities and they’ve done nothing in return to help. They only show up when situations like this happen, when the people rise up. When the people need help spiritually they never show up. They don’t know the community and they don’t even know the condition of the spirituality of the people. They don’t care.

“The community is and always has been affected by the spiritual leadership of the churches. It’s the same thing as how a chief runs a community. The spiritual leadership of a pastor, how a leader leads his people, that’s the way that they will go.

“There are people [in the community] who have been bringing in the gospel, people who have brought healing. When the PAOC came in they shut the doors on the people. They’ve always stopped these people from spreading the gospel to other communities, unless they were sent by the PAOC. People’s hands were tied.

“We’ve already talked to the band council about building a new church so hopefully we can get land granted to us to build on. Perch River [Fellowship] is willing to work with us and people that came out of the PAOC are ready to work with us. We’ll get organized again and start working with Perch River and see what happens from there.”

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