Popular Emmanuel Episcopal Church rector will be missed

Published in the November 2, 2020 edition.


WAKEFIELD — On Sunday, Nov. 1, the Reverend Dr. Matthew Cadwell delivered his final sermon after 12 years of leadership at Emmanuel Episcopal Church at the corner of Main and Bryant streets.

After a two-week break, he will continue his ministry at the Old North Church in Boston beginning Monday, Nov. 16, where he will serve as vicar-in-charge.

Rev. Cadwell had served the church since August 2008 and held the distinction of being the third-longest-serving rector in the parish’s 150 years. The two other ministers were the Rev. Stewart C. Harbison and the Rev. John V. Thorp.

“This position will be both similar and different from my ministry at Emmanuel,” Rev. Cadwell said. “It will include leading weekly church services, preaching, pastoral care, baptisms, weddings, teaching and community life, but all in a national landmark that is the busiest tourist site in Boston.”

Bishops from the Episcopal Diocese first approached Rev. Cadwell about a reassignment to Old North Church several months ago, but the coronavirus pandemic significantly delayed the process. Coincidentally, the previous vicar had also served as rector of Emmanuel Episcopal. The Rev. Steve Ayres left Wakefield in 1997 and retired from Old North Church last Christmas.

Given Rev. Cadwell’s deep interest in history, there was a strong draw to Old North. The church was built in 1723 and is the oldest church building in Boston.

“In 2023, the church will celebrate its 300th anniversary,” noted Rev. Cadwell. “I look forward to planning and participating in those celebrations. Then, in 2025, the church will celebrate the 250th anniversary of that night when beacons of light shone from the steeple, igniting the American Revolution. It is a tremendous honor to think that I will have the privilege of sharing in those observances of such national significance.”

Rev. Cadwell said he was excited by the thought of welcoming guests from around the country — and world — to Sunday services.

“The regular congregation takes this role very seriously, and I know that I will as well, preaching not only to the community that keeps the church alive but also to those who come from great distances to experience something very special in a place of deep significance in our national consciousness,” Rev. Cadwell commented.

He added that part of being a church of such age and significance is confronting its less glorious past. The church has long known that some early parishioners were slave owners, while others were enslaved.

“We know that Black attendees at services — both enslaved and free — were forced to sit in the cold balconies,” he explained. “In recent years, historical research has uncovered even more disturbing facts and the extent to which some early parishioners were engaged in the transatlantic slave trade. Some were slave ship captains and traders who met at the church to make deals and plan their voyages. These same men were generous donors to the church. Parishioners are rightly disturbed by these discoveries and have made a commitment to grapple with this history.”

In light of these discoveries, one of Rev. Cadwell’s responsibilities will be to walk this path with his parishioners as they learn more about the church’s past and the ways it has benefited from slavery and the ongoing realities of racism.

“We will work together to become beacons of true light, liberty and love for all of God’s people of every color and background,” he said.

The early days of his service at Old North will be devoted to getting to know his church family. “This time of pandemic will make it more challenging than usual. But I also know that the congregation joins me in wanting to build a strong and lasting relationship, so it will happen in a new and different way,” he said. Meeting parishioners in person, as opposed to via Zoom, is something he said he was looking forward to most.

While serving in Wakefield, Rev. Cadwell enjoyed many accomplishments along with the Emmanuel Episcopal Church family.

He said he was proud of his role with the Wakefield Interfaith Clergy Association. In 2010, he was elected president and remained in that role for 10 years, working with his colleagues to plan services and events for the town.

In 2011, the Association organized an Interfaith Service on the town’s Veterans’ Memorial Common to mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. More recently, in 2018 and 2019 when the nation and world were again stricken by terrorism, the church gathered for prayer at Temple Emmanuel, on the Common and at Emmanuel Episcopal Church.

“Together we stood up against hate of any kind and offered our prayers and support to those who were hurting,” he said.

In 2017, he and Emmanuel Episcopal’s parishioners forged a relationship with Horizon House on Water Street, preparing and hosting a monthly community dinner for people who suffer from various forms of mental illness.

Among other projects were a re-envisioning of the church’s Christian education programs and overcoming a devastating heating oil leak that had been in progress before he arrived in 2008. The remedy drained most of the church’s resources.

Over the past 12 years of Rev. Cadwell’s service at the Church, there has been steady improvement to such a degree that over $500,000 in building repairs were accomplished.

“Our endowment has grown by over 300 percent, parishioner giving has increased and my position became full-time,” he said. “Thus, I leave Emmanuel in good financial shape. There are always uncertainties, especially now, but there’s no question that the church is on a far more solid financial foundation than we were 12 years ago.”

Some of that strength comes from new families and individuals who have joined the church over the years.

According to Rev. Cadwell, the community today is more diverse than it was in 2008. Parishioners come from Wakefield, Reading, North Reading, Lynnfield, Stoneham, Melrose, Malden and Tewksbury.

“A good number of younger families have joined the church, especially those who initially contacted us looking for a place for a baptism, only to find that the community is warm, welcoming and enthusiastic,” he said. “We have attracted a number of gay and lesbian families, and in 2017 we celebrated the first same-sex wedding in the parish. Many parishioners came to the wedding, even some who likely were on the fence about their support of marriage equality. But they were not on the fence about their support of this couple. That makes all the difference — when it’s not about politics, but about people you care for.”

Rev. Cadwell said that the people of Emmanuel are what he will miss most.

“After 12 years, they have become part of my life, and it is tremendously hard to think that I won’t be seeing them each week, hearing their stories and laughing and praying together,” he said. “I will also miss our beautiful church and its idyllic setting by the Common and the Lake. I have worked hard with parishioners to make it especially attractive and inviting.”

Rev. Cadwell recalled that when he first came to Wakefield, he could not have imagined that he would be “blessed” to share such a full life with the parish and community for what he called “12 extraordinary years.”

“It is tempting in times like these to focus on accomplishments, and they are many. But even more important is the way our lives have been knit together over these years. God has drawn us close and given us the priceless gifts of grace and love, which will enrich us forever.”

His parting words were from the heart: “It has been an indescribable pleasure to share these years with you. Even more, to share life with you. You have graciously welcomed me in your homes, to your dinner tables, to share joyous moments of births and baptisms and heart-wrenching tears as lives of loved ones come to an end and are drawn closer to God. Through it all, you have welcomed me into your hearts. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”