Seeds of a beginning: Ministry to Swedish immigrants on Kansas City’s west side.
1899 – Swedish immigrants organize The Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel Congregation in 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 west side.
1910 – Saddled with staggering debt, the congregational finally moves to the sanctuary of the new church from the still unfinished basement.
June 1913 – Worshippers call Victor Spong as pastor.
A changing context for a changing ministry: 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. But members are encouraged when they are together at their church – and they have fun! Women’s and men’s organizations, youth groups, Boy Scouts, athletic teams and Bible studies keep the congregation connected.
A foundation 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 World War II 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 the metro.
1960s – The congregation supports Cuban refugees, studies ecumenism, and participates in the formation of the new Lutheran Church in America.
Serving the community by creating community: 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 is retired.
1976 – Ruth Spong Sarli is elected the first woman president of the congregational council. Pledges and a mortgage on the parsonage fund off-street parking and a 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 time.
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 century.
1988 – The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America forms.
Spiritual, social, 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 sees growth in membership and ministries, and ends in 1999 with the celebration of Immanuel’s first 100 years.
1990 – Members contribute generously 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 years!
2000-presenst: Responding to God’s presence and grace in the 21st century
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, including
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, industrial kitchen, 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 expenses.
2008 - Immanuel begins more intentionally opening its expanded facility to nonprofit groups,
including the Metro Lutheran Ministry Christmas Store, which it hosts each December.
The congregation allies with nearby neighborhood associations to oppose the spread of payday loan stores, and to 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; that group worships at Immanuel until moving closer to its congregation members in 2017. 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,
every race, culture and ethnicity, every age and level of physical and mental ability, every sexual orientation and gender identity, every economic status and educational background.”
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. The congregation continues its commitment to the liturgy in the ELW and uses multiple settings, but also mixes it up with alternative worship formats and music. Luther Hall and Spong Common Room continue to provide space for congregational fellowship, potluck lunches, community events, talent shows, 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 , a project of Immanuel’s Kenyan Chrildren’s Fund, raises funds to drill a the first clean-water well and tap system in Masii. Mission 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
Ruth 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!”
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