Founded by Swedish immigrants in 1853, Immanuel is celebrating its 160th anniversary this year. The first Lutheran congregation in Chicago was organized in 1846 and served members speaking English, German, Norwegian, and Swedish; that congregation is now First St. Paul’s Lutheran Church near Carl Sandburg Village.
The Swedish membership felt a need for its own church. In 1853, Immanuel was organized by Dr. Tuve Hasselquist and a call was extended to Pastor Erland Carlsson in Sweden. The original church building was on Superior Street between Wells and LaSalle. Within a few years, the structure had been enlarged by the addition of a basement and an annex. An elementary school, a mission society, and a publishing house were established during the first decade of the congregation’s ministry in this neighborhood.
In 1860, Augustana College and Seminary, with 21 students and 2 professors, was opened in the church annex building. Three years later, the college and seminary moved to Paxton, Illinois. In 1875, the two institutions acquired a new campus in Rock Island, Illinois. The seminary was merged into the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago in 1962.
The cholera epidemic of 1854 created great stress for the new congregation. Pastor Carlsson devoted much of his time in caring for the sick and dying and was also able to create a temporary hospital. A permanent health facility was not created by the congregation until 1881, when Augustana Hospital was founded. That hospital merged with Lutheran General Hospital, which is now a part of Advocate Health Systems.
From an initial membership of 36, Immanuel had greatly outgrown its Superior Street facility by the time of the Civil War. A new edifice, seating close to 1000 people and with a 154-foot steeple, was built at Sedgwick and Hobbie Streets. It was used by congregation for less than two years, since it became a victim of the Great Chicago Fire in October 1871. Immanuel was able to rebuild the structure in virtually the same design as the burned building.
The arrival in Chicago of thousands of Swedish immigrants in the period from 1860 to 1880 greatly increased the size of Immanuel’s membership but also required the establishment of additional neighborhood Lutheran churches. Between 1868 and 1905, Immanuel was instrumental in the creation of 12 such congregations, and several others were developed through the personal ministry of Pastor Carlsson. Immanuel was also the source of at least two Evangelical Covenant congregations, as the Covenant movement had a major impact on its membership in the 1870s and 1880s.
Under the leadership of Dr. Carl Evald, who succeeded Carlsson in 1875, the congregation continued to grow and prosper. By the late 1880s, Immanuel had around 2000 members, with an additional 1500 students in its Sunday school. Over a dozen study groups, mission societies and community service organizations were organized by Dr. Evald and his wife Dr. Emmy Evald. Dr. Emmy was also a strong advocate of women’s rights and played a significant role in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. A founder of the national Augustana Women’s Missionary Society, she was responsible for building hospitals for women in India and China, and raised the current-day equivalent of $20 million for the Society’s enterprises.
By 1907, two trends were obvious to the leadership of Immanuel: their current neighborhood was becoming unsafe, and a large number of members had moved north and northwest of the current edifice. A mission congregation was established in the Edgewater neighborhood, at Glenwood and Rosedale. In 1918, the mission church was merged with Immanuel and, two years later, a lot was purchased on Elmdale Avenue. Construction on this new structure, which included a temporary worship space (now Founders Hall), a gymnasium and a parsonage, was completed in 1922.
The present sanctuary was constructed in 1952 and follows a modified Gothic design with significant influences from Swedish church buildings. The sanctuary interior, the chapel and the exterior include over a hundred works of art, including painted glass windows, sculptures and stone carvings. Of particular interest are the 32-foot cross of red granite at the front of the nave, the rose window in the rear balcony, wooden statues of four Medieval and modern saints in alcoves on the west wall of the nave, and clerestory windows depicting 102 soaring doves.
The Lanquist Memorial Chapel, to the east of the main sanctuary, contains a wealth of art and artifacts. Five windows depict significant events in the history of the congregation. The altarpiece is an eclectic assembly of middle-eastern style carvings and a Greek Christian icon. The door in the chapel chancel tells the story of the Exodus in wrought-iron figures.
The 46-rank Schantz organ, dedicated in 1977, shares the balcony with the rose window. The organ has 2,663 pipes, ranging in size from that of a lead pencil to 18 feet.
Throughout its history, Immanuel has dedicated a great share of its resources to the needs of its community. In the 19th century, this often took the form of creating new organizations and institutions. More recently, such efforts have been channeled through neighborhood-oriented programs for education, health and social justice.
Examples of this community involvement include the Edgewater Tutoring Program, the Together Program (founded by Parish Nurse Michelle Knapp), and various youth ministry events. Immanuel is a member of ECT (Edgewater Congregations Together), a consortium with Ebenezer Lutheran and Unity Lutheran for the sharing of educational resources. The congregation also makes grants to community groups and projects through its Mission Resources Allocation committee.
Since the organization of ECRA (Edgewater Community Religious Association), Immanuel has been active member of this ecumenical group and a strong supporter of Care for Real, the neighborhood food pantry. Especially firm ecumenical ties exist between Immanuel and two of its neighbors, St. Gertrude Catholic Church and Congregation Emanuel (Reform Jewish).
Immanuel shares space with two other religious assemblies. St. Elias Christian Church is an Arabic-speaking congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler is a congregation in the Episcopal, Covenant, and Baptist traditions. Among other space-sharing groups is the Families Together Cooperative Nursery School, a not-for-profit non-religious organization, and Vovinam, a Vietnamese martial arts training program.
In connection with its 160th anniversary, Immanuel has conducted a capital fund drive to make necessary repairs to its physical plant, and is also engaged in an intensive study of the congregation’s vision and mission. A major ingredient is this study is an evaluation of community needs and priorities.