When church bells at Immanuels United Church of Christ in Holstein ring out across the community, people stop to count the bongs.
Back in the days before telephones, that was the way word spread that someone had passed away, explained David Schomberg, caretaker of the circa 1880 bells. And it’s a tradition current members have continued.
“Someone tolls the bells one time for every year the person lived,” he said. “If it’s an older person, it’s rung half their age, then you pause, then ring the other half their age.
“So you could count the first half or the last half and know how old the person was and think, ‘Who in the community was sickly and that age?’ ”
The bells also are rung after funerals. When the hearse leaves to carry the casket to the cemetery, two members stay behind to toll the bells during the procession.
Depending on the wind and weather conditions, the bells can be heard as far as five miles away, Schomberg noted.
Founded in 1839
Immanuels UCC was founded 175 years ago. Church records indicate Feb. 27, 1839, was the day, said current pastor the Rev. Jeanne Lischer. In the beginning, it was known as the German Lutheran Church on Charrette.
According to a church history book written for Immanuels 150th anniversary, two men, Herman Boemker and John Hackmann, were chosen as delegates to go to the church at Femme Osage to invite the Rev. Herman Garlichs to Holstein to preach.
“He came the very next day, and that encouraged them to organize a church,” said the Rev. Jeanne.
In 1839 Holstein was a bustling, thriving community, said longtime Immanuels member Gene Cornell.
“It wasn’t like it was a church out in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “At one time, there were two general stores, a hotel, several doctors, a bank, a tinsmith, a shoe repairman . . .
Treloar didn’t exist yet, not until the railroad came, said Cornell.
There were 30 charter families who founded Immanuels. (See sidebar for names.) There are current members are descendants of founding members, said the Rev. Jeanne.
Their first church was a one-room log structure located across the street and south a little from the present church. It burned in 1855.
Members then built a brick church on the same spot, but membership outgrew it within 30 years, and the current church was built in 1884.
Some of the wood from the second church was used in building the altar for the current church.
Immanuels “art glass windows” are another feature that make it quite unique. In the church’s 150th anniversary book, it reads, “The Rev. and Mrs. Treese informed the congregation that in all their travels and visiting churches in many countries, there was only one church in Germany with a design as ours at Immanuels.”
The windows show a lace-like pattern when the sun shines through them.
The parsonage was built in the early 1880s.
Less than 10 years after the church was founded, members organized a Sunday school in 1848 under the leadership of the Rev. Joseph Rieger. It is the oldest organization in the church.
Immanuels’ members also organized a parochial school in 1866 in order to educate their children. After the public school system was established, the parochial school continued, at first just in April, May and June when the public schools were on break, then later just for two months, then six weeks until it ended in 1934.
Immanuels organized a women’s guild in 1895.
A church choir is first mentioned in the records in 1880, when a Manner-choir was organized.
A Young People’s League was started as early as 1895.
Historic Organ, Other Additions
The pipe organ, which is still in use today, was installed in 1909 at a cost of $1,440. Before the church had electricity, someone was required to pump the organ by hand to provide the air needed to make the music.
“It was a hard job for a 13-, 14-year-old boy to keep up with whomever was playing,” said Schomberg.
An electric blower was added in 1939, ending the era of someone being required to pump air throughout the service to make the organ work. The handle still remains.
“The organ tuner last fall said it was worth $240,000 because that’s what it would take to replace it,” Schomberg commented.
The organ is registered in the Organ Historical Society. In June 1979, more than 200 visiting organ historians attending a national convention in the area came just to hear it played.
It was proclaimed one of the 10 most historically significant and musically important instruments in America by the Society.
The church was remodeled in the 1960s, with an educational building added on the back in 1963, just in time for the 125th anniversary.
Over the years, the church has added a summer kitchen, where members cook some 42 bushels of apples each fall to make over 100 gallons of apple butter.
The summer kitchen also is used every year for Vacation Bible School and every October for the Immanuels annual chicken dinner. This October, Immanuels will hold its 46th annual chicken dinner on the first Sunday of the month.
In 2001, an expansive church kitchen was completed.
“It’s the best church kitchen anywhere in the state of Missouri,” more than one member remarked.
“If this church ever goes defunct, we’re going to make it as a restaurant,” Cornell joked.
More recently, the metal ribs of the church steeple were painted so it shines like a beacon.
The church grounds cover about 12 acres, which includes four cemeteries.
“The cemeteries tell part of our story because this church had a schism at one time,” said Cornell. “Those people who went with the new way of thinking were not allowed to be buried in the regular cemetery.
“Then that healed, and I think that’s part of our spiritual genealogy, the fact that we can all look back and see that we’ve not always been together on everything, but we are together in our worship of Jesus Christ.”
Today membership at Immanuels has grown to some 240 members, about 50 of whom attend services regularly each Sunday, some driving in from as far away as Washington.
Membership has gone up and down over the years. It was at its highest point in the early part the 20th century when families were larger, said David Schomberg.
Back then the church and school were the center of everyone’s life, Cornell added.
Today’s members are mostly older, but there are a few young families.
Members describe themselves as a fun-loving group that likes to eat and socialize. Food is central to many church meetings and gatherings.
“Church is over at 11, but by 11:45, there’s probably still 30 people here,” said David Schomberg.
“We like to sit around and visit,” the Rev. Jeanne remarked.
One of the things that stands out about Immanuels today is its “ecumenical flavor,” said Cornell. People from neighboring churches of different faiths often come together for shared events and activities, which is a nice feeling.
“We have a Vacation Bible School here that over half of the kids and half of the workers come from the Catholic church at Concord Hill,” he said. “Their priest is often a welcomed visitor into this congregation and church, and I’ve always felt welcome over there too.”
That attitude wasn’t always the case. Fifty years ago or even less, the different faiths didn’t interact, said Mary Ruth Schomberg.
Back in 1983, Immanuels began hosting a twice-a-month lunch ministry for the community. A group of women from Immanuels, St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Church at Concord Hill, Smith Creek United Methodist Church and others work together to prepare a homemade meal for just $3 a person, the Rev. Jeanne said.
The lunch was started as an outreach to new residents and a way to bring people together, she said. It’s mostly older people who attend, although a good contingent from Emmaus Homes often come too.
Many times people stay after lunch and play cards.
“Somehow there’s always enough food,” said the Rev. Jeanne. “(The cook) doesn’t know from week to week how many people are going to be here . . . One week it might be 40. It might be 90. But there’s always enough.”
The quilters who meet nearly every Monday at Immanuels is another ecumenical bunch.
They provide their hand-quilting services for a fee and at least three times a year they donate handmade quilts to events like the Emmaus Homes quilt auction, Festival of Sharing quilt auction in Sedalia and the church’s annual chicken dinner.
Anniversary Service, Events
A special worship service will be held Sunday, Feb. 23, at 10 a.m., followed by a birthday celebration dinner. The church will provide roast beef and guests are asked to bring a dish/dessert to share.
Anyone attending who is not a member is asked to RSVP to ensure enough meat will be available (call 636-932-4646).
The worship service will feature re-enactors portraying Immanuels’ organizing pastor, the Rev. Herman Garlichs, and his wife, Adalhied.
Other anniversary events will continue throughout the year.
On the second and fourth Sundays of each month Immanuels will have an “Anniversary Moment” during worship. Members of the congregation are invited to share their favorite stories and memories.
In the spring, Immanuels will celebrate Women’s Sunday where women of the church serve as greeters, liturgists, collect offering and deliver the morning message. Special guests will be re-enactors portraying Lisette Lehmberg Pepperling, who was born the same day the church was formed, Feb. 27, 1839, and her granddaughter, Delia Stuart.
A Confirmation reunion is scheduled for June 8, which is Pentecost, the birthday of the Christian Church. Everyone who was confirmed at Immanuels is invited to attend. Members of the congregation will provide the meal following worship.
Cemetery tours are being planned for warmer weather, although dates have not been set.
And there will be more events as the year progresses. Watch The Missourian for details.