Emmanuel Episcopal Church is a welcoming parish dedicated to spiritual growth through worship and education for both adults and children. We are a living rainbow, with seniors, families with young children, couples, singles, and young adults. We enjoy being together—whether worshipping or just having fun—in the presence of God. We share a commitment to living out Christ’s message by helping those around us and making a difference in the world. People of all backgrounds are welcome here. Young and old, men and women, gay and straight, people of all races, together we are the people of God.
Emmanuel is sacramental church. As contemporary disciples of Jesus, we believe that we become integral parts of his Body and his life in our participation in the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist (also called Holy Communion or the Mass). Through these sacraments, we are infused with the power, the love, and the life of Christ.
Our congregation is made up of life-long Episcopalians and many who have come from other traditions, each one enriching the spiritual journey of the whole community. Our parish includes families from Wakefield, Reading, Stoneham, Lynnfield, Melrose, Malden and beyond. We are an inclusive community that values diversity.
In the Episcopal Church, there is room for your questions about God, faith, and the church. If you are looking for a community that will nurture your spirit and celebrate your gifts, there’s a place for you here.
Continue reading below to learn more about the history of this remarkable church community.
Beginnings in South Reading
Emmanuel Church traces its history to efforts by Episcopalians to establish a worshiping community in mid-nineteenth century South Reading, Massachusetts (as Wakefield was then known). The first rites according the usage of the Episcopal Church were held in 1849. Meetings and liturgies were undertaken in private homes and in the old town hall during these early years, with various clergy and lay readers of the diocese enlisted to offer support.
In 1869 an Episcopal mission was formally organized in the vestry of the Universalist church. Eventually the congregation secured a more permanent home in a hall owned by Daniel G. Walton, for a rent of $225 per annum. The name “Emmanuel Church” was selected in 1870 and the Rev. Samuel R. Slack was called as rector, serving from 1870 to 1873.
Although lacking its own building, in 1871 Emmanuel Church was admitted into union with the Diocese of Massachusetts. The community was growing, but the financial situation was not strong. An inability to meet its financial commitments led the parish membership to vote for closure in February 1875. However, the services of supply priests and lay readers allowed the congregation to continue on a diminished scale.
Building for the Future
Prospects for Emmanuel’s success improved with the appointment of the Rev. George Walker as rector later in 1875. He brought the stability the fragile congregation needed and renewed interest was aroused. Mr. Walker was succeeded by the Rev. Samuel Hodgkiss. Mr. Hodgkiss had come to Wakefield in 1879 as a lay reader and seminarian in the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge. His ordination in 1881 occasioned his appointment as deacon-in-charge.In April 1880 the congregation was renamed the “Mission of the Good Shepherd” with the belief that a fresh start was necessary if the church were to flourish.
Progress toward construction of a permanent building proceeded quickly. Land was donated on Water Street near the railway station in what was then the center of town. The building was a small wooden structure designed in the Carpenter Gothic style, built at a cost of $5000. The first services were held in the new building on August 21, 1881 and the previous name of “Emmanuel Church” was reestablished.
In the early years, energies focused on solidifying the congregation and beautifying the new building. Efforts to enhance the church culminated in an 1893 addition of a chancel and a choir room, designed by renowned architect Ralph Adams Cram. The addition was expensive, however, at $1,300, leading to another period of struggle.
On the Move in a New Century
By the turn of the century the situation had improved again. The congregation desired a more favorable location, as the area around the Water Street property was becoming too industrial. A prominent parcel of land near Lake Quannapowitt and adjacent to the Common was secured. The original building (with its 1893 addition) was moved to the new well-situated property on the corner of Main and Bryant Streets in June 1901. Mrs. Lydia Wright Pearson paid for the building of the Rectory and Parish House. On the church’s former site the L. B. Evans Shoe Factory was built.
Several enhancements were made to the church following its relocation. A beautiful wooden altar and reredos was donated and the previous entrance was transformed into a baptistry. The pipe organ was donated in 1903. Two Tiffany windows were also added in 1906 and 1915.
Situated in rapidly a growing area, Emmanuel drew parishioners from several surrounding towns. By the second decade of the 20th century parishioners from these neighboring communities desired churches closer to home. With the encouragement of the diocese, the Rev. James J. Cogan, rector from 1912-1923, aided Episcopalians in Reading and Lynnfield in their respective establishments of Good Shepherd (taking Emmanuel’s short-lived name) in 1913 and St. Paul’s in 1918.
The Parish Flourishes
Emmanuel became a self-supporting parish early in the rectorate of the Rev. Stewart C. Harbinson, called in 1926. A native of Ireland, he treated Emmanuel’s parishioners as his family and is remembered for his sense of hospitality and fun, as shown in the many parties he hosted in the Rectory. Known for his dedication to fostering reverent worship, Mr. Harbinson oversaw the further beautification of the church interior.
A particularly important ministry was the work of the Women’s Guild, which undertook various projects to earn money in support of the parish during the difficult years of the Great Depression and World War II. During the era of rebuilding and growth following World War II, the parish had an active Women’s Guild, Men’s Club, Boy Scout Troop, and a weekly young people’s fellowship. Regular social events included dances and card parties, luncheons, and plays, with annual celebrations such strawberry festivals, a May breakfast, and Easter and Christmas fairs.
Desiring better coordination with the important ministries undertaken by women, the rector asked two women to join the vestry as “co-opts” in 1950. In 1951 they were elected to regular vestry seats. Mr. Harbinson ministered in Wakefield for 25 years before retiring in 1951. A man with wide-ranging and international concerns, he died while on a mission trip to Zululand (South Africa) in 1971, at the age of 90.
The parish’s next rector was the Rev. John V. Thorp, who served from 1951 to 1980. Mr. Thorp led Emmanuel during a period of rapid growth throughout the Episcopal Church. Through the course of Mr. Thorp’s leadership Emmanuel grew as well. Several building projects were undertaken in the 1950s and 1960s to enhance the church’s beauty and better meet its needs, including rebuilding the pipe organ; installation of new stained-glass windows throughout the church, designed by stained-glass artist and parishioner Wilbur Burnham, Sr.; and an addition to the Parish House resulting in a new church office complex and narthex.
Most significantly, in the 1960s the parish explored opportunities for increasing its ministry to the wider community through a daycare and pre-school facility, establishing the Canterbury School in 1966. The facility became a fully licensed day-care, preschool, and kindergarten in 1981, with the name changed to the Canterbury Children’s Center.
In 1979 the parish elected Mrs. Olga Packard, a local business woman, as its senior warden–the first woman to hold the position. Mr. Thorp, who had offered 29 years of faithful ministry to God among the people of Emmanuel, retired to North Carolina in 1980.
Emmanuel celebrated the 100th anniversary of its historic building in 1981. Among the lasting fruits of the centennial celebration year are eight needlepoint kneelers designed for the altar rail and chancel.
The Challenge of Change and Renewed Stability
Following more than fifty years of stable clergy leadership, the parish experienced a period of turbulence in the 1980s. External ecclesiastical developments (the ordination of women, and a new Prayer Book and hymnal, especially), coupled with the first change in clergy leadership in almost 30 years (and only the second in over 50 years), likely meant that differing opinions on the future of the church and its place in society were inevitable, with some desiring a stronger emphasis on mission and outreach, while others preferred a more traditional pastoral approach.
Yet in the midst of these difficulties, important ministries prospered. A deeper outreach to the wider community was developed through participation in the Bread of Life ministry to the homeless and those in need and the parish’s founding membership in the Wakefield Interfaith Food Pantry. A core of dedicated parishioners, supported by prayer and the hope for a brighter future, guided the church through the challenges and disappointments of the 1980s and into a new, more positive decade. In 1989 the church's building was added to the National Register of Historic Places, along with several buildings surrounding or near the Wakefield Common.
Life at Emmanuel stabilized during 1990s with the ministry of the Rev. Stephen Ayres, who came in 1991. He helped the parish heal and look toward the future with renewed confidence. He served until 1997, when he was appointed Vicar of the Old North Church in Boston. Emmanuel had been growing into an older congregation for some time. An in-flux of younger families dramatically reshaped the make-up of the parish in the 1990s. The artistic talents of Emmanuel’s parishioners blossomed as well, with the founding of the “Emmanuel Players,” comprised of several members who had backgrounds in the dramatic arts.
Building a Twenty-first Century Church
In 1999 the parishioners chose their first woman rector to lead them into the 21st century. The Rev. Katharine C. Evans's ministry focused on developing the church’s welcome to visitors, leading to the incorporation of new families into the parish and its leadership. Parish diversity increased and mission and outreach ministries also were expanded.
Plans to rebuild and improve the church’s historic organ and reconfigure the traditional chancel to better reflect the theology and liturgies of the 1979 Prayer Book were under serious consideration. However, a heating oil leak, contaminating soil on the church’s property, diverted resources and hindered efforts to undertake other physical improvements. Fiscal restraint and fervent prayer sustained Emmanuel during this period, allowing the parish to weather this latest storm.
The Rev. Kay Evans retired from full-time ministry following Christmas services in 2005. The Rev. Elizabeth Berman was appointed to serve as interim priest. With the vestry and lay leadership, she guided Emmanuel to renewed spiritual and financial health.
Looking to Future
Emmanuel celebrated its 125th year of ministry in its historic building in 2006. It approaches the second decade of the 21st century in a position of strength, poised for further growth. The Rev. Matthew P. Cadwell began his ministry as rector in August 2008. He came as a doctoral candidate in Anglican theology at the University of Toronto, with ministry experience in several parishes, most recently associate priest at Christ Church Deer Park in Toronto. He was installed as rector on Oct. 9, 2008 by Bishop Roy F. Cederholm.
2008 also saw the parish undertaking building repairs, particularly to the church’s roof, following which the church, Parish House, and Rectory were all painted. During Lent of 2009, focus turned to needed repairs to the church interior, including a badly damaged portion of the ceiling. The church interior also underwent its first repainting since the early 1980s. The result is a bright, warm, and inviting worship space.
On August 21, 2011, as the the parish celebrated the 130th anniversary of its historic building a newly renovated chancel was used for the first time. A new free-standing altar was crafted from woodwork installed in the 1930s, the communion rail was repositioned to the front of the chancel steps to be fully accessible, and the space was given a brighter and more open feel, while maintaining the church's beautifully carved high altar, pulpit, and lectern.
Now Emmanuel Church is beginning to write a new chapter in its story. God has drawn together in this beautiful New England town an inclusive and diverse family of Christians–a living rainbow. People of all backgrounds find a vibrant environment for faith development, friendship, inspiration, and service. God’s people here are harvesting the fruits planted by the faithful of generations past, while anticipating opportunities for growth and abundant life long into the future. Most especially, the extraordinary good news of God in Christ is being proclaimed and shared with passion, conviction, courage, and hope. You could help us write this next chapter.
We invite you to come and grow with us.