Around the ArchdioceseEvangelizationFaith Formation

Parishes of Waterloo engage community at storefront

COR at 220 East evangelizes people ‘where they are’

By Jill Kruse
Witness Editorial Assistant

WATERLOO — “We cannot keep ourselves shut up in our parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel,” Pope Francis told a gathering of clergy and religious during an address at World Youth Day in 2013. Go out and “seek and meet the people,” he encouraged, and “look for them in the nooks and crannies of the streets.”

These words by Pope Francis served as part of the inspiration behind the launching of a new evangelization ministry last year by the Catholic parishes in Waterloo called “COR at 220 East.”

The ministry is intended to meet people wherever they are in their spiritual journey and invites them to literally come in off the city streets to learn more about the Catholic faith.

Renting a storefront at 220 East Fourth Street in downtown Waterloo, the city’s four Catholic parishes – Blessed Sacrament, Sacred Heart, St. Edward and Queen of Peace – have created a vibrant hospitality center, with tables and chairs and comfortable couches, that offers a casual, coffee-shop-style setting where anyone is welcome to stop in and spend time.

“The mission of COR is to bring the church and the broader community into closer contact with each other,” said Ellen Voegele, the associate director of young adult ministry for the Waterloo Catholic parishes.

“COR provides opportunities for conversation about life and faith, which enable growth, insight and spiritual discovery,” she said.

The history of COR can be traced back to January 2015, when Voegele stumbled across the space at 220 East Fourth Street while looking for a venue for the Waterloo parishes to host a monthly movie night. The faith formation staff at the parishes decided to rent the location for a trial period of two months during the season of Lent to discern if a long-term rental for young adult programs was possible.

Over time, though, the mission at 220 East evolved from being a space for young adult programs to a center for outreach and conversion. In June 2015, the Waterloo Catholic parishes signed a long-term lease, and a subcommittee of the Waterloo Catholic Faith Formation Commission was formed and tasked with development of a strategic plan for the new outreach. In November, the new ministry was launched and given its current name, “COR at 220 East.”

“COR” is an acronym for “Come – Observe – Reconnect.” “Cor” is also the Latin word for “heart.”

“Everything at COR strives to point to Christ offering his heart, and provides guidance when one is ready to offer their heart to him in return,” reflected Voegele on the significance of the ministry’s name.

When they were developing the COR ministry, Voegele said that, in addition to Pope Francis, she and others at the parishes received inspiration from a book titled “Forming Intentional Disciples” by Sherry Weddell.

“Weddell defines conversion as a dynamic process that begins long before the conscious decision to ‘drop one’s nets and follow Jesus,’” Voegele said. “It begins with bridges of initial trust, a positive encounter with something or someone Christian.”

COR strives to provide that positive encounter in several ways. It offers its space to the broader community as a venue for events such as art shorts, music concerts, festivals, fundraisers and organization meetings.

It also tries to engage the community through faith formation events. There are listening sessions for inactive or former Catholics and discussion times for gay and lesbian Catholics. People of any faith or no faith at all who are curious about learning more about the church can do so through programming and events such as Catholic Q&As.

In its first year, and while only offering a minimal amount of programing, COR has already been serving an average of 50 people per week in a variety of capacities. Those familiar with the new ministry look forward to being able to serve an even larger number of people in the community in the future.

“I am very excited that COR is here in Waterloo and can’t wait to see how it grows!” said Lee Kersting, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Cedar Falls who’s been attending COR events over the past year.

Agnes Kress, a volunteer coordinator for Catholic Charities who has used the space for her agency’s activities, said, “I’m excited to see how we can continue to grow our offerings and programs at the COR to compliment other events that happen in downtown all year long.”

Voegele said the pastors at Waterloo’s four Catholic churches have been overwhelmingly supportive of the evangelization efforts happening through COR.

Father Thomas McDermott, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish, said he’s excited for the potential the ministry has to invite young adults who have left the practice of their faith to reconsider Catholicism and its place in their lives.

“We can’t rely on the Catholic culture, family roots, adult responsibilities, nor even sacraments to bring them back to church,” he said. “This effort says we want to meet them where they are.”

“Pope Francis has invited us to get outside our church walls, go into the streets and propose the saving Gospel to all who have not heard it or long to hear it again,” added Father Scott Bullock, pastor of St. Edward Parish.

“Since it is unlikely that these folks will appear at our church doors,” he said, “COR is our place of welcome where this presentation of the message of Jesus can take place – where folks can COME, OBSERVE and RECONNECT.”

To learn more about COR at 220 East, or for directions to its Waterloo location, visit

“COR at 220 East” is a storefront ministry sponsored by the Waterloo Catholic parishes. COR is an acronym for “Come – Observe – Reconnect.” It’s also the Latin word for “heart.” (Contributed photos)