History: Emmanuel Welcomes New Millennium with Diamond-Jubilee Celebration

August 13, 2020

This year, as we celebrate Emmanuel’s eightieth anniversary, we will be posting monthly articles on the history of the College.

The academic year of 1999 to 2000 was one of special excitement for Emmanuel Bible College. In addition to the anticipation of the new millennium, the College was completing its sixtieth academic year.

Much had changed since 1940, when Emmanuel had held its first classes in the basement of the Mennonite Brethren in Christ church in Stouffville, Ontario. Several years later the school had moved to Ahrens Street in Kitchener, and in 1964, under the leadership of President Bruce Wideman, it had moved to the current Fergus Avenue property. Over the next three decades, enrollment had increased, and Emmanuel had become a major Ontario undergraduate theological institution.

Dr. Tom Dow, who had been the president since 1988, led the College in marking the year with a multifaceted diamond-jubilee celebration. One important component was the completion of a detailed history of the College. Dow entrusted this task to Kevin Oates, an alumnus from 1981 who had previously served, along with his wife and fellow Emmanuel graduate Margaret Oates, as a missionary to Haiti. Using a combination of personal memories, archival research, and interviews, Oates completed the book, which was entitled 60 Years of “God with Us.” It remains the most thorough written treatment of the Emmanuel story.

The main diamond-jubilee festivities took place from April 28 to 30, 2000, with the climax being the Millennium Graduation 2000 ceremony. Five hundred alumni participated in the weekend celebration, with nearly a thousand people in total attending the Graduation  on April 29.[1] The graduation address was given by Randy Steinward, who was then the president of Youth for Christ (Canada).

On that weekend, the College officially named Alf Rees the “alumnus of the century.” Rees had graduated in 1949 and had gone on to become a missionary to Calcutta with his wife, Lela. He had later played a role in the establishment of the Missionary Church of Canada and had served as the new denomination’s first president. Three years before the diamond jubilee, he had been the subject of a biography.[2]

The diamond jubilee also marked the beginning of some changes for the College. At the graduation ceremony the College thanked God for the service of Jim McDowell, who concluded his work as academic dean and was replaced by Dr. Stephen Roy. The next year, Dr. Dow stepped down from his role, being replaced in 2002 by Dr. Derrick Mueller. Under the leadership of Mueller and Roy, the College took the bold step of constructing the J. H. Sherk Education Centre, which has ever since been the main hub of academic activity on campus.

Emmanuel’s sixtieth anniversary was thus a time with contrasting yet complementary focuses. On the one hand, the school looked back with appreciation at what God had done through the school and the lives of its students. On the other hand, Emmanuel expectantly welcomed the new millennium and began going through changes that would shape the future of the school as it continued carrying out its mandate.

The featured image shows Margaret Oates, Kevin Oates, and Dr. Tom Dow, each with a copy of 60 Years of “God with Us.

[1] Eileen Lageer, Common Bonds: The Story of the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada (Calgary: Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada), 97.

[2] Wayne Shirton, Tried, Tested, Triumphant! The Eventful Life of Alf Rees (Markham, ON: Stewart, 1997).