Death and rebirth at Emmanuel United Church

Submitted by Emmanuel United... on February 21, 2013 - 6:36pm
A conversation with a faith group in Waterloo

We are not a perfect church and never will be. But we do hope that we are, at least in some small way, letting the Word become flesh through our faith community. As I tell our story I am not suggesting that everyone should do the same things that we did. I know it doesn't work like that. I know that so much depends upon the people who make up our particular group, the skills available and even the level of interest and commitment. Of course, it also depends on the location of the church building. I remember a spiritual director once telling me that you gotta plough with the horses you got. So, all I can do is tell what happened in our very specific situation with what we got.


It was in the spring of 2009 that Emmanuel actually had a vote on whether or not we should close. The three options on the ballot that day were: 1 Close, 2 Amalgamate or 3 Stay and Grow. Overwhelmingly people voted for number three.

Now the voting itself was easy enough but how exactly were we to stay and grow? Well, it did not come about through any brilliant strategy on our part. Rather, a number of people and organizations found us. It had occurred to me that, regardless of what the fate of the church was to be, that we should honestly be who we are. And, who we are is an inner city church with some real need just beyond our doors. So, I made several calls to all of the outreach programs in the area that I could think of and offered our services. None of them could think of anything that we could do but thanked us for our interest. Once we had practically despaired of ever finding someone to help something surprising happened. People started calling us. Even one of the organizations I had called earlier approached us as if I had never made that earlier contact. Oh well, it all turned out. It was the Kitchener Working Centre wondering if I could attend a meeting of local clergy to see if we could find a place to have a drop-in centre in uptown Waterloo. I told them to forget the meeting and just hold it at Emmanuel and that's what happened. At this point we've been running for four years and this is the only space in Waterloo dedicated to offering people from the street a place to go especially on a winter afternoon.

And, at about the same time, we were approached by the Women of Worth, which was a group of women from Afghanistan, Liberia and Sudan who needed some support and a place to meet. In this case some of the ladies from the church organized themselves to teach the WOW sewing and English while I helped out with the childcare. This work lasted for two years and then we started the Circle of Friends, which is a group from Mary's Place in Kitchener.

Then, we were also contacted by the Joonim Church (Korean Presbyterian) who needed a place to rent for worship. We were already hosting the Seventh Day Adventists on Saturday, so this made three faith communities sharing space at Emmanuel. Along the way we were also contacted by Embassy Church, which is made up of students from the University of Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier. When we entered into an agreement with them there were then four worshipping communities within our walls.

When the medical clinic, also run by the Working Centre, needed a new place to be held they were invited to make Emmanuel their home.  Following this we were interested in becoming a food distribution point for the Waterloo Region Food Bank. We were accepted and we started in April on Friday the thirteenth.  With this we became the newest, and probably the smallest, food distribution point for the Waterloo Region Food Bank that is operated by Emmanuel volunteers.

There continue to be a number of local outreach projects that can be viewed by going to our website at and clicking on Activities

We have also tried to have fun along the way. For example, when we needed more socks for those attending the drop-in we started the annual Emmanuel Sock-Throw event. You can check out this most recent effort on YouTube by entering Emmanuel Sock Throw 2; Return Fire

So, the question will remain: How are we to be the Church in the twenty-first century? We are convinced that the answer has everything to do with community. Our journey continues and we wish you every blessing in yours.

Rev. Dr. Bruce Sweet


Emmanuel United Church, Waterloo ON




Hi Bruce,

I'm glad to meet you here. I've heard bits of what Emmanuel has going on but did not know the extent of it. You're doing great work there! I'm a part of the Erb St. Mennonite Church community and many of us want to see similar things happening in our church building. One roadblock we often run into are "insurance concerns". Even for the almost monthly Fri night community suppers we've been hosting it has been raised as a concern that the children are not supervised by approved adults (with police checks and such) so if "something happens" then insurance won't cover it. To clarify, the kids are joyfully roaming the big church space while their parents chat in the eating area.

How do you respond to insurance concerns? Do you have some sort of understanding insurance provider?

Looking forward to learning from you,



Praise be!

Rev. Bruce Sweet,

Thanks so much for sharing this process with us. I imagine it was difficult- but, what a beautiful thing has been born! wow!

As someone who thinks a lot about what the role of the church is today- you have certainly given me lots to think about.

Thanks so much- looking forward to hearing more about your community :)