Thirteen people with the faith to believe
13 people – 90 years
That’s how it all started. Thirteen people with the faith to believe that, as they met together, God would do great things in them and through them. And God did immeasurably more than they could ask or even think!
That decision to begin a new church in Barrie was made on June 14, 1927, and the very first worship service was held on July 3 rd of that year in the rented Congregational church. With special guests, there were thirty-five in attendance that day at the new Collier Street Baptist Church, and because of a strong commitment to the Word of God, that small group of faithful believers began to grow!
By 1953 the congregation had grown to around 200.With newcomers now coming from Barrie and the surrounding areas, the need for more space became apparent, and so the first building committee began to make plans for relocation. On Emmanuel’s 27 th anniversary, a recommendation was made to purchase four 50 foot lots on St Vincent Street for $6,000; this was a huge leap of faith for this still growing church, but as they trusted, God supplied!
On April 1 st , 1956 the sod was turned for the new church building at 128 St Vincent Street. The new $115,000 facility was dedicated on June 16, 1957 and with the new location and new building came a new name: Emmanuel Baptist Church.
The 60’s and 70’s were marked by more growth, and by 1976 the small sanctuary on St. Vincent Street was packed! Barrie was a growing area, and God was working in lives. This time the church decided on expansion, and work began on a new auditorium that could seat 475, as well as new Christian Education space to handle the growing Sunday school needs. This was a massive undertaking, and thanks to the hard physical work of so many volunteers, the first service in this new sanctuary was held on February 13 th , 1977.
Emmanuel’s commitment to be a multiplying church began in the 80’s as they started the plans for a daughter work in Midhurst. The new Willow Creek Baptist Church began meeting in a public school, with Emmanuel’s Pastor preaching in both Barrie and Midhurst on a Sunday morning. Soon Willow was able to call their own pastor, and they opened their own church building on October 4 th , 1992. Emmanuel then went through a time of transition in the 1990’s, and was without a Lead Pastor for several years. In 1996, Pastor Rick Buck began his ministry in that role, and soon after began a Staff to Grow philosophy of ministry. Would we have the faith to hire additional staff and trust God to build His Kingdom as a result? We trusted, and He answered! And God did more than we could have imagined!
In 2003 Emmanuel launched our ‘Share the Vision’ Stewardship Program, with the goal of raising $2.25 million over three years – a huge risk of faith! We each began to pray, “Lord, what do You want to do through me to accomplish Your will here at Emmanuel?”
As the congregation prayed, the Lord led us to property on Salem Road. There were a number of incredible ‘God moments’ on the journey to acquire this land, including the land going from ‘not for sale’ to ‘for sale, but not to a church’ to ‘motion to sell to Emmanuel for $260,000’ – the exact amount we had saved for land. Praise God for His provision! God also directed us to a bid of $150,000 for adjoining property – which turned out to be the exact amount needed to secure the sale. God’s planning and provision was evident, and on May 30, 2004 we met on our new property for the official ground- breaking celebration!
With God’s leading, the people of Emmanuel gave sacrificially and laboured together to build a new building to the glory of God. We started building in July of 2004, and opened our doors at the Salem Road location in the fall of 2005. We held a Grand Opening Celebration on November 20 th , 2005; praising God for all that He had done in leading us in to greater ministry opportunities in our new facility.
Pastor Rick recalls:
“When we first moved into our new building in the fall of 2005 we all looked at this enormous building and wondered in anticipation at the next steps of our journey. We needed to pay down a significant amount of debt to keep our commitments. The total repayment amounted to almost two million dollars. Could this be possible? Would the cavernous new 50,000 square foot building be used to impact our region? Would we be able to fill the new huge facility that was double the size of our old church? Would we keep focusing on the mission of “winning, teaching, and equipping others to passionately follow Jesus” or would we, in tiredness, relax and get comfortable? The answers to these questions are so incredible and all the glory goes to God. In God’s amazing providence the monies came in throughout the year just in time to make our principal repayments. Also, we were so grateful and humbled by one of the greatest years of spiritual harvest in the life of our church. On a weekly basis we received reports of people professing faith in Christ among our children, youth and adults.” God did more than we even asked!
That was over 10 years ago, and since then God’s blessing continues to be abundant. On September 8, 2013 we celebrated the completion of the new Kids’ Wing of Emmanuel, enabling more families to benefit from our Woods Children’s Program on Sunday mornings.
One of the most exciting challenges and opportunities of 2014 was the responsibility of closing Bethel Baptist Church in Orillia and beginning the planning of a completely new work in the city of Orillia. At the time that we were considering this huge step of faith, God was working in Dave and Chantel Whitelaw’s lives to lead them into church planting. Dave had originally come on staff as Youth Pastor, had transitioned to Outreach Pastor, and now God was raising up the new leader for the new work as we were prayerfully considering taking this journey of faith. In 2015, after a prayer-filled process which displayed courage, faith and careful planning, God launched Emmanuel//Orillia. Who could have imagined what God would do? Emmanuel//Orillia is now running well over 200 in average attendance, is gaining strength, and is making an impact in their city as they gather and scatter on mission. God did immeasurably more than we asked!
We look forward in anticipation to what God will do as we continue our mission to further expand His kingdom through church multiplication. We are so excited about the opportunity we will soon have to partner with a family from the Middle East as we seek to impact the growing number of refugee and transplanted families now moving to our area. The Lord is bringing the world to our doorstep, and we have the amazing opportunity to show them the love of Christ.
Today, 90 years after those first faithful 13 met, over 2500 people call Emmanuel home. We are
grateful to God for how He continues to grow His kingdom for His glory. While numbers are not important, these are lives all being impacted for God’s glory. Through our Sunday Worship services, Small groups, Men’s and Women’s Bible studies and Outreach ministries, men and women continue to come to know Jesus in a real and personal way and grow in His grace. Our Youth Ministries have almost 200 students attending on Sunday mornings and midweek, and our Sunday Woods and Midweek Kids Ministries give our kids more opportunities to grow in their knowledge and understanding of God’s Word and His World. We hear stories like the family who brought a neighbourhood boy to our Kids’ ministries and as God is working in his life, he is being used to impact other neighbours! A young woman, invited by a friend to church, began coming Sunday after Sunday for over a year, and recently trusted Christ as her Saviour! As we are faithful to God’s Word, God continues to give us countless opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
Emmanuel has existed ninety years only because of the greatness of our God – to Him be the glory! We are an imperfect group of forgiven sinners, saved by the grace of God, who are seeking to know Christ and make Him known. We are so thankful for our heritage of faithful believers who wanted to be true to God and His Word; we would not be here without their courageous faith. May we continue to seek God’s glory for His kingdom – and may all who come behind us find us faithful!