OUR HISTORICAL JOURNEY THROUGH THE AGES
We are a church with a new message but we have a long history here in Kitchener and in Waterloo Region. Many people have been members here over the years and many, we are proud to say, have made important contributions to our community.
In 1833, Kitchener was a tiny, pioneer hamlet called Berlin. A group of people began to meet regularly in the apple orchard of Mr. Christian Enslin, a book binder by trade, at the present-day location of King and Benton Streets downtown (where the Four Seasons Hotel now stands). They gathered to study the books of Emanuel Swedenborg who wrote about the inner meaning of the Bible and the inner unity of all religions.
This made those first church members not only pioneers of the soil but pioneers of the Spirit, too. On fire with their new insights, their numbers grew. In 1842, they joined with three other congregations to build a small wood-frame building that also served as Berlin’s first public school. The first minister, Rev. John Harbin, was already serving a small missionary church in Markham. Harbin had been a military surgeon during the Napoleonic Wars and often assisted Dr. John Scott, Berlin’s first doctor, in his operations. Dr. Scott joined the church and later became the first Warden of the County of Waterloo when it was created in 1853. The Ruby family were also founding members of the church and Charles Ruby became manager of the Mutual Life Company (Sun Life today).
The congregation soon needed a bigger building. Land was purchased from Joseph Schneider and the building was erected for the princely sum of $400! Dedicated in 1857, that was the same year that Rev. Frederick Tuerk was called. He would be our longest-serving minister to date, an incredible 44 years, from 1857 all the way to 1901.
The church continued to grow and be active in the community. Then came a major milestone: 1867, Canada’s year of Confederation and also the year that the church resolved to build a new building, its third, for ten times the cost of the previous one. The new church was to be a much more imposing and solid stone structure in the gothic style with a tall steeple. It was completed in 1870 and was located on the corner of King and Water Streets. It boasted a new organ, the first in the community.
During this time – the latter part of the 19th century – Berlin was still very much a German-speaking community although an English-speaking element was also present. In 1881, English-speakers in the church petitioned for a service in English once a month. By 1887, English services alternated with German on Sunday mornings.
Unhappily, the church suffered a setback in 1891, when members could not agree on whether to invest in owning and operating its own school (there were, of course, already Sunday School and youth programs at this date). Some members decided to leave and start their own church, plus school, in another location. The descendents of this group are known today as the Carmel Church. They are affiliated with another Swedenborgian group and their lovely church and small school are located in the south end of Kitchener.
Meanwhile, Church of the Good Shepherd continued serving its community. New names became prominent such as J.M. Schneider of Schneider’s Meats and also the Zeller family (of the former Zeller department store chain). Church members were prominent in supporting the arts and the new hospital, too. With the passing of Rev. Tuerk in 1901, an era came to an end in that all future ministers would be English-speaking only. Moreover, church records ceased to be kept in German and the language rapidly faded from use in the church.
The onset of World War One (1914-18) brought great changes, not least the re-naming of the city, from Berlin to Kitchener, due to anti-German feeling at the time. Many church members enlisted while the “Ladies Aid” engaged in Red Cross work and nursing and helping with the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers at Freeport Hospital.
The end of the war brought some big changes. Women began to assume important administrative and decision-making roles within the church for the first time. Also, the congregation decided it was time for yet another move, still downtown (we have always been a downtown church) but in a less cramped location. The site chosen was our present-day location at Queen North and Margaret in Kitchener.
This new church, which we now use, was completed in 1935 and dedicated the following year. It was a remarkable expression of faith and trust in God, given that this was the era of the Great Depression, with another world war looming on the horizon. For people hit by financial disaster and facing the threat of war, it might be thought that building a church would not be uppermost on their minds. But it was and they did.
Some features of the previous owners of the property (the Roos family mansion had been built there) were retained. Most notably these included Ross’ coach house which still stands as the caretaker’s home today and the fancy wrought iron railing around the property, erected by Mr. Roos in 1888 and now a designated heritage artifact.
Once again, the church was faced with war (World War Two, 1939-45) and once again church members rose to the challenge, serving and helping on the home front. When it ended, people were in a mood to celebrate. Elizabeth Johnson, wife of minister Rev. David Johnson, began to organize some well-received musical revues at the church. Her work became the foundation of K-W Musical Productions today, which stages a magnificent show every year.
In the 1950’s we, like many other churches, embarked on something of a growth spurt, so much so that one lawn was sacrificed to become our present-day parking lot. These were the days of the Cold War and the church received a letter from the “Coordinator for Emergency Measures and Civil Defence for the County of Waterloo”, requesting our permission to conduct a survey to determine how much assistance might be extended to us in the event of a nuclear attack. It turned out we didn’t qualify for any help!
The tumultuous 1960’s brought much change. The world began to catch up with our beliefs about love and the unity of all religions as paths to God. Many called us “the hippy church”! However the Sixties were also notable for us due to the arrival of one of our most loved ministers – and, believe it or not, the first Canadian-born minister we’ve ever had – Rev. Paul Zacharias.
Under Rev. Paul’s leadership we began an open wedding ministry in the 1970’s which has proved to be a much-needed service in our community. It has also been the foundation of our open baptism ministry, an inclusive service offered to all families in KW region regardless of affiliation. We are proud to say that many families have found their way into our church home as a result.
Meanwhile, the church continued to experiment with new ways to serve, including the sponsoring of students in Africa and refugees from Central America. Members were active in the organizing of the Out of the Cold program for the homeless and in helping to set up the downtown social service network which became the Working Centre. Today the church actively supports the St. John’s Community Kitchen, Mary’s Place, Marrillac Place, the Food Bank and Habitat for Humanity, plus many other community groups and activities.
In 2008, the church celebrated its 175th anniversary with the slogan “Pioneers Then and Now”. We started as pioneers back in 1833 and we are still pioneering today, always seeking new ways to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).