Cloverdale United Church pastor Matthew Emery is seen along with the church choir. (Photo: Ursula Maxwell-Lewis)

Cloverdale United Church pastor Matthew Emery is seen along with the church choir. (Photo: Ursula Maxwell-Lewis)

COLUMN: Historic Cloverdale United Church, signs of the times

Heritage church has donned its gospel armour determinedly moving forward

While recently marvelling at a plethora of Best of Baroque musical talent (including five-year-old organist Adela Meng playing Haydn’s German Dance in D Major), it occurred to me that Cloverdale United Church is a heritage church with many new faces.

Historically, the white stucco building began service to the Cloverdale farming community town centre in 1949. Later it was relocated to its current Hwy 15 bypass location.

Pioneering family names still appear on the congregation roster along with parishioners who told me they dropped in years ago when they were new to the area, found it a friendly church, “and just stayed.”

Despite Covid, this small heritage church has donned its gospel armour determinedly moving forward, reaching out to the larger community and thriving.

New to the Cloverdale United Church staff since April is Rev. Matthew Emery. Originally from Michigan, he spent the last decade pastoring in Connecticut. In March 2020 his spouse, Rev. Adam Yates, was offered a position as rector at Vancouver’s St. Faith’s Anglican Church. “Neither of us had ever even set foot in Vancouver or anywhere else in B.C.,” says Rev. Matt. “Nevertheless, we decided to take the proverbial ‘leap of faith’ and go where we felt the Holy Spirit was calling us. By the end of the summer, Adam (accompanied by our pet beagle, Daniel) was on his way to Vancouver.”

In January 2021, with business commitments completed in the US, he says, “One thing led to another, and in what felt like a lightning-fast process, I and Cloverdale United Church search committee mutually discerned that we were feeling called to start this next season together, with me as their lead minister.”

I ask him about his well-known enthusiasm for music. “I’ve had the opportunity to sing with some truly excellent groups over the years,” he says. “In university, I sang with the Men’s Glee Club, one of the university’s mixed-voice ensembles, and a prominent church choir. In both northern Illinois and Connecticut I sang with a number of accomplished choral ensembles. As what will likely be a once-in-a-lifetime highlight of my choral singing journey, during a sabbatical term in 2017, I had the opportunity to spend some weeks as a member of the Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, one of England’s acclaimed Cambridge University choirs. It was an immersion into the wonders and demands of the treasured English cathedral and collegiate choral tradition.”

SEE ALSO: Ursula Maxwell-Lewis chats about life, travel, and her start in journalism

Starting ministry in a new congregation during the pandemic brought challenges. “I haven’t had nearly the same ability to get to know people as I normally would, and ever-changing protocols and procedures make it feel like every time I figure out how we’re going to do something, it changes.”

He also notices that the pandemic experience brought opportunities. Determined not to leave people behind, or out of the loop, staff and administration redoubled their commitment to maintaining inclusivity and excellence for the betterment of their congregation and worship.

“We made a significant investment into professionally-installed audio-visual and live-streaming technology in our sanctuary,”he says. “With our new systems we’re able to provide a high-quality video and audio live-streaming experience to worshippers joining us from any location. We also installed new mounted display screens in the sanctuary. We have state-of-the-art technology within the context of a traditional space.”

English and Korean text is now standard inclusion in bulletins and onscreen plus translation is often included during services.

Dr. Emma Rui-Xuan Shi, is the church’s new Music Director. Born in Taiyuan, the capital city of Shanxi Province, China, Dr. Shi is a solo and chamber pianist, piano teacher, and adjudicator.

Her extensive qualifications lead me to ask if musical talent runs in the family. “No, I am the only musician in my whole family,” she says. “I started to learn piano when I was three years old. My parents never thought I could be a musician. Learning piano was a hobby. That was the original idea. But God lead me onto this road giving me all the talents that I need to be a musician.”

Following last week’s successful Best of Baroque, Dr. Shi has arranged A Christmas Carol Sing-along and Community Concert on Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. This is an open community in-person event with standard protocols, of course. The concert will also be live-streamed.

Newcomers to the community are also invited to connect with the intercultural programs via Intercultural Ministry Coordinator Chohee Won.

“Currently, an average of thirty students and ten volunteer instructors are participating in small group English Language Learning classes. ELL classes are open to all foreigners who want to learn English,” says Mrs. Won.

“Learning English in the classroom is not everything. We also invite newcomers to other programs so that foreigners can learn English in various practical ways not only in the classroom.”

An Intercultural Club also meets monthly offering not only a chance to expand English usage but to learn more about Canadian culture and society.

I imagine those early pioneers would be mighty intrigued with the changes in the little church they built on Cloverdale’s once dusty unpaved main street.

For more information about Cloverdale United Church concerts and programs go to or call 604-574-5813

Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is the founding publisher and managing editor of the Cloverdale Reporter. Contact her at

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