Immanuel Lutheran Church - a 135-Year Heritage

Vol. I No. 2 - WINTER 1988

By: Gloria Evenson

1988 has been a year of special celebration at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1500 W. Elmdale, marking its 135th anniversary. Immanuel was originally founded in 1853 by Rev. Tuve N. Hasselquist, in response to an urgent need for a Lutheran church to serve the growing number of Swedish-speaking immigrants in Chicago.

The congregation held its first meetings in a Norwegian Lutheran Church on Superior Street, between Wells and LaSalle, and purchased the building one year later when the Norwegian church needed a larger structure. In 1856, a parochial school was added at the rear of the church. By 1868, Immanuel itself needed a larger building and moved to the southwest corner of Sedgwick and Hobbie (near Division).

A resilient congregation with stubborn faith typical to Scandinavian immigrants at that time, Immanuel endured the 1854 Cholera Epidemic, the 1857 Panic and the 1871 Chicago Fire. Though its entire building was destroyed by the fire, Immanuel’s church records were salvaged by parochial schoolteacher, A.P. Monten. He reportedly piled the documents into a pushcart and fled to the west side of Chicago. Today Immanuel treasures those early records in a vault in the present Elmdale building.

After the fire subsided, nine-tenths of the congregation was burned out, its insurance company was bankrupt and the church owed $22,600 on a previous property debt. Bankruptcy was suggested at an emergency Board meeting October 16, 1871. The minister, Rev. Erland Carlsson, responded by saying: “If you intend to go into bankruptcy, I will no longer be your pastor. But if you will be honest and put your trust in the Lord, I will do my utmost that we may both get a new church and pay our debt.”

The Immanuel people gathered at the charred ruins of their church October 23, 1871, and held a service with Rev. Carlsson’s wagon serving as a pulpit. The service closed with the singing of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” A new church building was constructed in 1872, after an extensive fund drive which brought contributions from as far away as Philadelphia, New York and Sweden.

By the turn of the century, many of Immanuel’s members were moving to the newly-developing Edgewater area and the ethnic makeup around Sedgwick and Hobbie was rapidly changing to non-Swedish-speaking groups who were not of Lutheran faith. In 1918, Immanuel decided to merge with the “Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church” in Edgewater (which had begun there as a mission in 1907).

Because maintenance of two church buildings so far apart was extremely burdensome, Immanuel purchased land for a new building at the corner of Elmdale and Greenview in 1920; it deeded its property on Sedgwick to the Illinois Conference in 1922.

The present Immanuel building on Elmdale was constructed in 1952 and designed by the firm of Adolph Hanson and Einor Olson. It is an impressive modified Gothic style of red brick, with Indiana limestone trim. Its interior sanctuary contains a wealth of artistic symbolism. An obvious feature is a 32-foot red granite cross at the altar, against an elaborate stained glass window which bears the words, “HIS NAME SHALL BE CALLED WONDERFUL, COUNSELOR, THE MIGHTY GOD, THE EVER-LASTING FATHER, THE PRINCE OF PEACE.”

More than 25 stained glass windows seem to appear in every nook and cranny of the building, depicting scenes of scriptures, theological concepts and Immanuel’s history. (It is fun to go on a “treasure hunt” and discover them!)

Also of special attraction is the 46-rank, 3-manual Schantz pipe organ in the rear balcony. This magnificent instrument was installed in 1977 and its 2,633 pipes frame a carved rose-shaped window at the center of the balcony, with heavenly musical figures in its stained glass.

Immanuel has formed several Lutheran-based organizations during its history and provided building facilities for others. These include the Augustana Book Concern, now in Rock Island, Augustana Hospital, Augustana College and Theological Seminary and eight other Lutheran churches - Salem, Gethsemane, Zion, Sharon, Ebenezer, Concordia, Irving Park and, most recently, the Chinese Lutheran Church at 1022 W. Argyle.

A notable figure in the mission work of Immanuel was Mrs. Emmy Evald, wife of its second minister Dr. Carl A. Evald. As a result of her numerous accomplishments in Lutheran women’s organizations, women’s rights, missions and various charities, she was decorated with the medal of the Order of Vasa by the King of Sweden in 1921.

Immanuel has welcomed some rather unique visitors to its services, including Princesses Birgitta and Desiree of Sweden on November 13, 1960 and Prince Bertil of Sweden on November 21, 1965. It has also had as guest speakers two persons who have served as Bishop of Uppsala and Primate of the Church of Sweden - His Grace, Yngve Brilloth, on August 24, 1954 and Archbishop Gunnar Hultgren on January 16, 1972.

Today Immanuel is no longer a strictly Swedish church and provides a wide variety of activities to the Edgewater community, such as Bible study, tutoring programs, Al-Anon, Scouts, a Moms & Tots program, Immanuel Women, Jr. and Sr. Choirs and a food pantry which contributes to “Care for Real.” It also occasionally hosts meetings for EHS and ECC.

Immanuel’s 135th anniversary year has been observed by a series of “Reunion Sundays,” with special guests and a “Homecoming Weekend” dinner dance last June, according to the current pastor, Rev. Carl McKenzie. Immanuel has experienced a rich history to look back on and continues to look ahead to its mission in years to come.