Standing in the back of the new Immanuel Lutheran Church sanctuary in Washington, even while it is still under construction, one of the first things you are impressed by is its size.
It’s quite large — 2 1/2 times the size of the old sanctuary — able to accommodate 500 people on the floor plus another 100 in the choir loft.
This is only the third church Immanuel Lutheran has built in its 150-year-history, each one larger than the one before. The previous church, built in the early 1880s, served the congregation well for some 130 years, but the 500-plus members now worshipping there each weekend across three services have outgrown the space.
Pastor Mark Bangert, who has toured many of the great cathedrals and churches of Europe, said the design of the new church is one that will serve the congregation well for the next 130 years, maybe longer.
“We had three driving principles in the design of the new church,” he said, “principles that have been used forever to guide the building of churches.
“You want a church to say something even before anyone inside ever says anything.”
The first principle is verticality.
“Height,” said Pastor Bangert, “so the eyes are drawn upward to heaven.”
The second principle is permanence, having a structure that is built to last.
“It reflects the permanence of God, our faith and salvation,” said Pastor Bangert.
The final principle is beauty — stained-glass windows, statues . . . the details.
The old stained-glass windows from the previous church will be moved into the new church, and a new 8-foot-wide round stained-glass window has been commissioned for over the altar.
“It will explain who we are,” said Pastor Bangert of the new window. “Our name is Immanuel, which means ‘God With Us.’ From our perspective God is still with us . . . in His Word, in our baptism and the sacraments, in the Lord’s supper.”
An arch with the word “Immanuel” will be placed over the round window.
The baptismal font will be located in the center, “at the heart of the congregation,” said Pastor Bangert. On the floor around it will be a custom mosaic design.
Outside there will be two statues — one, a Thorwaldsen “Welcoming Christ” statue (Jesus with arms open) at the new main entrance, which will be located on the south side of the building, and a second, a statue of Jesus with children, on the north side of the building at Fifth Street.
“That speaks to who we are with our school,” said Pastor Bangert.
The altar and pulpit from the old church are being rehabbed and will be placed in the new church.
A refurbished tracker (mechanical) action pipe organ will be installed in the choir loft. It was purchased from a church in Chicago, after that church merged with another, and is being refurbished by Martin Ott Pipe Organ Company Inc. out of St. Louis, which originally built the organ.
“It’s neat how God provided this to us,” said Pastor Bangert. “We needed a new organ. Our old one was worn out, but a new organ can cost three-quarters of a million.
“We found this one in good condition that was left behind when two churches merged, and we’re getting it for a quarter of the price.”
That includes the cost of moving and refurbishing, he noted.
The cornerstone of the new church, which will be dedicated this Sunday, April 29, in a special ceremony following a special 9 a.m. service in the school gym, is made of Jerusalem stone, which is a type of stone quarried in Jerusalem, Israel.
A new addition to the sanctuary will be a pair of video screens on either side of the altar to project lyrics, Scripture and other visual aids for members.
Pastor Bangert sees the video screens as another way to engage the congregation and draw them into the service, but also as a useful resource for some members, like parents who may be juggling children or elderly members for whom holding a hymnbook can be heavy or difficult.
Nine Founding Members
If the nine founding members of Immanuel Lutheran could see how the church has grown, they would, no doubt, be proud, said Pastor Bangert.
Not only has the church grown in number of members, size of its sanctuary and school, it supports three full-time missionaries around the world and has members taking part in short-term mission trips.
Prior to Immanuel Lutheran being founded in 1862, Lutherans living in Washington worshipped with other Christian faiths in a German Protestant Church, according to a church history compiled by members of the Immanuel Lutheran 150th anniversary committee.
“These immigrants gathered together without any denominational affiliation, which resulted in the forming of a congregation with different interpretations of biblical teachings,” the history reads.
Then in April 1862, nine Lutheran members came together to organize a new church, the Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel Congregation Unaltered Augsburg Confession.
These charters members were:
H. Walkenhorst, Christian Wehmueller, W. Bohle, H. Langenberg, Casper Gehner, Fr. Nierdirk Sr., Henry Klingsick, Frederick Fricke and William Fricke.
Their pastor was Wilhelm Matuschka who had been assistant pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Augusta and occasionally took the ferryboat to Washington to conduct services.
In the beginning, the new church had about 50 members. The first services were held in the Presbyterian Church and later in the Methodist Church, but the young, growing congregation wanted a church of its own, the history notes.
“A lot was purchased on the south side of Fifth Street, between Elm and Lafayette streets. With the help of neighboring congregations . . . a 24- by 40-foot brick church was erected.”
It was dedicated Jan. 18, 1863.
Soon after, a school was added with 15 students and Pastor Matuschka serving as teacher.
In 1868 a brick parsonage was built behind the church.
The congregation continued to grow. After just five years, there were 150, and after 15 years, 350 members. That’s when it became obvious — a larger church was needed.
“On Oct. 16, 1881, the bid for a new church building was let to Degan, Breckenkamp & Company for $7,614, not including the steeple, dome, cross, or lightning rod. These items were supplied by the congregation and installed by the construction company,” the history reads.
“A bell was purchased for $360; estimated costs for the altar, pulpit, and vestry were about $200. The new building was constructed on a plot of ground just west of the original church site. The new house of worship measured 72 feet by 38 feet, with eight 23-foot pillars, a 32-foot dome, and 125-foot steeple.”
The new church was dedicated on Nov. 26, 1882.
A second floor was added to the old church, which served as the school until 1939.
In Use for 130 Years
Electric lights were installed in the church in 1894 and carpeting was installed in 1906.
Additional lots that adjoined the church to the south were purchased in 1903 and 1907.
Major renovations to the church were completed in 1912, during the 50th anniversary.
The altar and pulpit were replaced, donated by Katherine Breckenkamp and her son, Gus. Both are still in use today and will be used in the new church as well.
A new two-manual Kilgen organ was installed in the chancel area to the east of the altar. It remained in use until 1963 when it was replaced by a Wicks eight-rank pipe organ.
A new parsonage was constructed just east of the church in 1939. At the same time, construction began on a new school building. The current Immanuel Lutheran School was dedicated on May 5, 1940.
By 1959, the school needed to expand. A groundbreaking service was held for an addition to be located south and east of the school.
The addition included a gymnasium complete with stage, storage rooms in the upper level above the stage, a new church office and restrooms. The second floor housed a kindergarten room, and the basement included a large cafeteria with a modern kitchen, restrooms and a furnace that supplied heat to both the church and school.
In the church, 12 stained-glass windows depicting the life of Christ were installed and dedicated Jan. 9, 1966. The cost of $7,296 was covered by various donations.
The church was given another major renovation in 1979. A tunnel connecting the church and school was installed; a pastor’s office and altar guild room were constructed above the tunnel; the entire heating system was replaced and central air conditioning for the sanctuary was installed.
Less than 20 years later, in 1997, another addition was completed. This included a narthex to connect the sanctuary and the school, new offices for the church and school staff, seven new classrooms and central air conditioning for the entire facility, except the gymnasium.
Planning ahead for future expansion needs, Immanuel began purchasing properties to its west and south in March 1989.
The first was the Bocklage building (Carriage Muffler) to the west, the history notes. Properties along Sixth Street were purchased in the 1990s, and those on the north side were razed in 2007 to make way for a much-needed parking lot.
The church moved forward with a capital campaign to fund a new sanctuary in the fall of 2008, as the economy was crumbling all across the country. The timing couldn’t have been worse, Pastor Bangert admits, but the congregation put its trust in God.
“We said, ‘Let’s see what God can do,’ ” he recalled.
Members responded positively, giving $3.1 million in gifts and pledges.
In spring 2009, the Bocklage building was razed along with the old teacher house to the south on Elm Street, and in March 2011, a groundbreaking was held to begin construction of the new sanctuary.
The work is being completed by Lawlor Construction Company at a cost of $5.7 million.
The project includes a complete lower level which has rooms for youth fellowship, Bible study and service events; choir practice; and quilters. There also are meeting and conference rooms.
The cornerstone of the new church will be dedicated in a special ceremony this Sunday, April 29, following a special 9 a.m. service being held in the gym.
This weekend the usual three services that Immanuel holds (one on Saturday evenings and two on Sunday mornings) are being replaced by the 9 a.m. service. It is being held in the gym to accommodate the 500-plus members who regularly attend each weekend.
Following the 9 a.m. service, the congregation will move to the old sanctuary for a decommissioning ceremony.
“It’s been in service to us for 130 years and we want to give thanks to God for the service of that church,” said Pastor Bangert.
From the old church, the congregation will move outside to dedicate the cornerstone of the new church. It will be a short ceremony of prayer and thanksgiving, said Pastor Bangert.
After, tours of the new building will be given, followed by a reservations-only luncheon.
The 150th anniversary celebration will continue throughout the year with a new theme each month:
May, family emphasis;
June, youth and fellowship;
July, patriotic, celebrating Christian citizenship;
September, God’s Word; a dedication of the new building will be held Sept. 30 at 9 a.m.;
October, Lutheran heritage;
November, all saints; a hymn festival will be held Nov. 11;
January 2013, life;
February 2013, love;
March 2013, Resurrection;
April 2013, school;
May 2013, future.
The new sanctuary is expected to be completed by the end of June or early July, said Pastor Bangert.
The church will continue to hold three services — at 6 p.m. on Saturday evenings and 8 and 10 a.m. on Sunday mornings.
The size of the sanctuary is larger than the current membership needs, but it allows for future growth, as well as outreach events, including a concert/speaker series being planned for 2013.
In designing the new sanctuary, architects consulted with an acoustical engineer so sound in the space would be accurate with no echoes.
“We’ll have no carpet. It will be all hard surfaces, but because of the irregular shapes, there won’t be an echo, more of a reverb,” Pastor Bangert explained.
The 150th anniversary events being held this Sunday, April 29, are open to the public. Everyone is welcome to attend.
The only portion that requires a reservation is the luncheon.