Our History AT A Glance …
Seeds of a beginning: Ministry to Swedish immigrants
1899 – Swedish
immigrants organize The Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel Congregationin a rented
storefront at 702 Southwest Boulevard.
1901 – With just more than 100 members, the optimistic congregation breaks
ground for a large stone church at 23rd
and Madison on Kansas City’s
1910 – Saddled with staggering debt, the
congregation finally moves to the sanctuary of the new church from the
June 1913 – Worshippers call Victor Spong as
A changing context for a
Moving to Westport and The Great Depression
The city begins to change around the congregation. Swedish immigrants begin
moving south, and Immanuel responds by establishing a Sunday School branch to
reach out to the Roanoke neighborhood. Two benefactors build a chapel to be
used rent-free for the Sunday School.
1918 – The congregation sells the
debt-ridden, still-unfinished stone building and moves to the current 1700
Westport Road location, worshipping in the historic Volker mansion (later
called Luther Hall) on the property.
1929 – The current sanctuary is dedicated just before
the stock market crash.
1933 – Membership quickly grows to more than 500
while contributions plummet due to the economy;
“dues” of 30 cents a month
don’t pay the pastor’s salary, let alone cover expenses. To help make
meet, women of the church - the DeborahSociety - sell handmade items and host
dinners at which they serve 250 people at each of two servings. And
despite tight budgets,
Immanuel members have fun! Women’s and
men’s organizations, youth groups, Boy Scouts,
athletic teams, and Bible
studies keep the congregation connected.
of hope during a storm of change:
World War II and forming the LCA
One hundred-twenty-one (121) of Immanuel’s men and women enlist or are
drafted into military service. Worship attendance and financial support
increase, and worship at Immanuel is full of hope.
1945 – As the war ends, Immanuel celebrates peace and freedom from debt by retiring the mortgage.
1949 – Immanuel grows to more than 700 members and is stunned
by Pastor Spong’s sudden death. He had served Immanuel, his one-and-only
parish, for 36 years.
1955 – Pastoral
interns begin supporting the congregation, and continue to do so for 12 years.
1956 – With 200 children in the congregation, Immanuel breaks ground for and
dedicates a sizeable building addition. Luther Hall, which had served the congregation since the
move to Westport Road, is razed to make room for the new building.
1959 – The first edition of The Parish
News debuts to better connect congregation members who now live throughout
1960s – The congregation supports Cuban
refugees, studies ecumenism (even with Roman Catholics!) and participates in
the formation of the new Lutheran Church in America.
Serving the community by
An international day care and small groups
1967 – An associate pastor briefly replaces interns, but the membership is smaller
than in years past.
1971 – The Immanuel
Lutheran Daycare Center opens to serve children from Vietnamese, Polish,
Egyptian, Turkish, Japanese, Taiwanese and American families. It operates for
more than a decade.
1972 – The mortgage on the educational wing
1976 – Ruth Spong Sarli is elected the first
woman president of church council. Pledges and a mortgage on the parsonage fund
off-street parking and the new pipe organ.
New technology, new
partnerships and a new denomination:
100 years and still ministering
During the 1980s, Immanuel ushered
in the digital age, entering the church’s records into a computer for the first
1981 – Phase III seniors group organizes.
1982 – Immanuel
partners with other neighborhood churches to found Westport House, a high-rise
home for low-income elderly and disabled people. Immanuel hires organist Ted
Stewart, who faithfully serves the congregation until his retirement in 2016.
Mid-1980s – Immanuel and other neighborhood churches kick off the first combined
Palm Sunday worship opening and outdoor processional, and the Immanuel Bach
Cantata Vespers series begins. Both continue into the early part of the next
1988 – The Evangelical Lutheran Church in
physical: A time of growth
During the 1990s, the congregation engages in recreational
activities, such as volleyball, softball and “broomball.” Ice cream socials and
jazz concerts are frequent in Immanuel’s back parking lot. Worship attendance
exceeds 50 percent of the congregation’s membership and financial giving is
generous. The decade saw growth in membership and ministries, and ended in 1999 with the celebration of Immanuel’s
first 100 years.
1990 – Members
contribute $1,000 to refurbish the church’s parsonage as a home for women
struggling with psychological disorders.
1991 – Immanuel embarks on its largest
capital campaign to date, raising $176,000 for heating and air conditioning,
remodeling, and deferred maintenance.
Mid-1990s – Sunday School and choir rooms under
the sanctuary are renovated. and Fellowship Hall gets a new floor and fresh paint.
A multi-use space, Spong Common Room, is dedicated to the memory of Immanuel’s
influential, longest-serving pastor. The church’s main entrance is renovated
with pavers, a fire pit, retaining wall signage, and a ramp. Immanuel raises
funds to purchase the east Westport Road parking lot to meet city parking requirements.
1999 – Immanuel celebrates its first 100
2000-2015: Responding to God’s presence and grace in the
The turn of the 21st century sees growth continuing at Immanuel. Vicars enrich the
congregation’s ministry, the most recent serving during 2012.
2003 - Facility improvements begin with renewal of Immanuel’s sanctuary,
enhancements to the organ and improved lighting. Later, the
former Fellowship Hall
is transformed into staff office space, the library is relocated to the
lower level, and former offices
become vestry and nursery spaces. The
congregation purchases the two lots north of the church
building and moves the
houses on those lots to available space in east Kansas City. The then-vacant
lots provide space for construction of our current Luther Hall, large elevator,
lower-level classrooms, and additional restrooms. The congregation
assumes significant debt to
complete the expansion and gives thanks for the
Endowment Trust Fund, which helps offset ministry
2008 - Immanuel begins
more intentionally opening its expanded facility to nonprofit groups,
including the Metro Lutheran Ministry Christmas Store, which it hosts
each December. It allies with nearby neighborhood
associations to oppose the spread of payday loan stores and lobby for the
collective good as gentrification and commercial expansion increase in the
area. During this time, the congregation also welcomes the Oromo Church of
Kansas City, an Ethiopian immigrant congregation, to share its building, and
Immanuel members create the Kenyan Children’s Fund to help support AIDS orphans
in the Masii region of Kenya. Congregational membership declines during the
second decade of the century, while per-member giving remains strong.
2013 – Adopting an
inclusive welcoming statement leads to Immanuel’s Reconciling in Christ
designation: “We welcome people of every family
structure and marital status,
culture and ethnicity, every age and level of physical and mental ability,
every sexual orientation and gender identity, every economic status and
2014 - The congregation again refurnishes the former parsonage, this time as
an Oxford House
for women emerging from substance-abuse treatment. The Kenyan Children’s
Fund launches Water for Life to bring clean water and improved health to Masii.
2015 and beyond:
Building a faithful future
Today, the people of Immanuel remain committed to:
Meaningful worship and fellowship. Amid
significant leadership changes, Immanuel hires a new choir
singers crowd the loft. The congregation continues its commitment to the
liturgy in the ELW
and uses multiple settings, but also mixes it up with
alternative music. Luther Hall and Spong Common
Room continue to provide space
for congregational fellowship, potluck lunches, community events,
youth group fund raisers and our annual Oktoberfest.
Ministry to the community and world. Following
the Supreme Court decision, the congregation council
confirms that Immanuel
welcomes same-sex weddings. Water for Life pays to drill a well in Masii, and
closer to home includes support of Metro Lutheran Ministry, a social-service
agency serving the
needy; Children’s Memorial Lutheran Church, offering
fellowship/support for homeless and low-income people; Westport House
apartments for seniors and disabled; Bessie’s House, serving low-income people;
and CROP Walk, raising funds to fight hunger. Immanuel also is the summer home
for YouthWorks staffers and hundreds of volunteers who complete crucial
volunteer service throughout the Kansas City area. The congregation
participates in a variety of “God’s Work Our Hands” service projects.
Spong Sarli, a lifelong Immanuel member, always reminded us that Immanuel has a
special place in so many hearts because it feels like home. Today, we echo
something Ruth also believed and reminded us of regularly: “Our past may be
glorious, but the best is yet to come!”