Despite sharing a name with a cult from the past, a new church in a Winnipeg home is aiming to do good for the community. – David Seburn
The Heaven’s Gate Church, a three-person congregation based out of a private residence in Winnipeg, affirms that it is not connected with the notorious Heaven’s Gate cult.
“We knew there’d be an issue with the name when it was given to us three years ago,” said Jannette Honke, senior pastor with the church. “But the name is scripturally based.”
The name refers to their belief that Jesus is the gate to heaven and as Jannette’s husband, and fellow church member, Dale Honke explains, the connection hasn’t been an issue for their parish.
“In our conversations with people, however, no one has ever brought up the other (cult) entity,” he said.
In 1997, 39 followers of Marshall Applewhite committed suicide in San Diego, Calif. as part of the Heaven’s Gate UFO cult.
The similarly named Heaven’s Gate Church in the United Kingdom has also had to clarify the meaning of the term for curious members of the public.
“It is an interesting question, and I have been asked before (about the name),” said UK Pastor Christopher Cass. He also notes that the name choice is scripturally based.
The Honkes hope their work with the Heaven’s Gate Church in the city will redeem the term.
Long-time residents of Winnipeg, the couple first started preaching in the Dakota Community Church. Dale notes that even though they are a house church affiliated with a religious denomination, they do pay property taxes on their home.
The Heaven’s Gate Church is licensed through and affiliated with the Pentecostal Holiness Church of Canada (PHCC), which was formally incorporated in Canada in 1971. There are 29 other churches and home groups across Canada affiliated with the PHCC.
“There is absolutely no connection between our denomination and the tragedy that occurred several years ago involving a cult in the United States called Heaven’s Gate,” said Gordon McDonald, general superintendent of the PHCC.
“At no time nor in any way have our churches or home groups been affiliated with or similar to the cult that ended in the destruction of life and the burden of pain laid on family members of the victims.”
While it is licensed, the name, “Heaven’s Gate Church,” has not yet been registered, Jannette explained. The group has officially gone under the title The Road of the Righteous Ministries for the past 10 years.
Even though the Honkes hope to work more closely with their surrounding community, they recently removed the large sign displaying their name. They did not feel they were equipped to deal with the influx of visitors who believed that their church provided meals and other social services.
“We are sensitive to the capacity of this house, emergency exits and entrances, and the number of bathrooms,” Dale said. “We’re still a small congregation, but we’re hoping to move into a larger facility eventually.”