Our Story

History of Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church, Altamont, Illinois

  German Lutherans came to this area from Buffalo, New York, in the 1850’s. Many of them came from Prussia and Pomerania, now a part of Germany. When several Lutheran families settled in the newly organized town of Altamont, they decided to form a congregation of their own. Lutherans were meeting in homes with the pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church leading them, but in a meeting held on February 2, 1874, the congregation was formally organized by signing a constitution. The founding members were Bernard Kopplin, Frederich Engel, Ferdinand Krueger, W. Krull, Herman Munzel, K. Peters, W. Schmiedeberg, K. Schmiedeberg, and August Vogt. The congregation affiliated with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod of St. Louis.

   For the first five years the congregation was served by Pastor Wangerin of Bethlehem. In 1879 Immanuel called its first resident pastor, Rev. J. G. Gosswein, who served here until 1887. The congregation bought a used school house and moved it to the block where the church now sits. This was the first house of worship and school. 

  In 1884 another church building became available and it was moved to the corner of North Edwards and East Division streets. Much remodeling was done and a steeple was added. This building was our center of worship until May 19, 1968 when the present sanctuary was built in its place. The cemetery ground was donated by Ferdinand Krueger at the intersection of Cumberland and Division Streets.

  The second pastor of Immanuel was Rev. G. C. Wegener, serving from 1884-1887. A classmate, Rev. L.J. Schwartz, was called from Mt. Carrol, Illinois and served from 1887-1893. Rev. H. Ruhland was the third pastor, coming from Manito, IL and serving from1893-1909. Immanuel celebrated 25 years of ministry in 1899 with former pastors Goesswein, Schwartz, and Wegener presiding. Money was raised for a new pipe organ. 

 When Pastor Ruhland was called to Ottawa, Canada in 1909, the congregation called Rev. J. Hartmeister who served from 1909-1918. 

  In October of 1918 Pastor Hartmeister left for a call in Storm Lake, IA. Because of the Spanish influenza epidemic, no services were held from November until Christmas that year. The pastor mailed his farewell sermon to the members. In 1919 Rev. M.O. Burkhard began 22 years of ministry at Immanuel. The Immanuel Ladies Aid society began during his pastorate. 

  The services were given in the German language until 1922 when there were two English services each month. From 1932 two services were offered each Sunday, one in each language. By 1941 meetings were recorded in English. From then on one German language communion service was offered once each month until 1988. 

  Pastor Burkhardt died in 1941 and Rev. Dr. M. J. Naumann was called as pastor from Germany, where he was serving. In 1946 Pastor Naumann was called to teach at Concordia Theological Seminary in Springfield, IL, and Rev. John W. Meyer of New Germany, Minnesota, was installed at Immanuel, serving until 1954. By this time the congregation had grown to 500 members. Rev. Hans Bruss accepted the call to serve Immanuel until 1960.  During this time the Men’s Club was very active, promoting membership in the Lutheran Laymen’s League and supporting Immanuel School. The food stand at the fair was a major source of funds. The annual Reformation Rally brought thousands to the fair stadium to hear Dr. Walter A. Meier of Lutheran Hour fame.

Christian education has always been a priority for the children of Immanuel. The pastors taught school from the 1874 to 1911 when the first full-time teacher was called, George Alpers, from Concordia Teachers College in Seward, Nebraska. Three years later a teacher house was purchased for his family to live in.

  In 1959 the congregation built Immanuel School, the present-day building that houses Altamont Lutheran Interparish School. The faculty of the new school included Mrs. Rose Popp, Mrs. Ruth Jesgarz, Mr. Elroy Heimsoth and Mr. Richard Popp. In 1965 Mr. Herb Becker was installed as teacher and principal.  He also played organ for church services, conducted the choir and began the annual Christmas choir cantata. After years of planning, ALIS was formed in 1972. St. Paul Lutheran Church of Blue Point donated two classrooms to the building. 

   After the debt for the school structure was paid off, a building effort began to replace the church building. After the church was demolished and a new church constructed, the building was dedicated on September 7, 1969 with Pastors Bruss, Meyer, and Moehring officiating. 

Rev. Erwin Moehring was installed in 1961, serving for almost 19 years before retiring. 

  When Pastor Moehring retired in 1979, many calls went unanswered for a new pastor. In 1981 Rev. John Brandt was chosen as his successor until 1985. Rev. Fred A. Muenchow was installed in 1986, serving for 15 years. From the 1980’s through 2010 retired ministers Reinhart Krueger, Karl Weinrich, and Glenn Renken served as part-time visitation pastors. 

  By 1992 the church had grown to 958 baptized members. Vern Spilker was called as Director of Family, Youth, and Education in 1997, serving until 2014. The Walther League began in the 1920’s as a ministry for youth, becoming Lutheran Youth Fellowship with junior and senior high groups. Contemporary worship was introduced in 1998 during the 11:00 AM Sunday hour with members singing and playing instruments. The 125th anniversary of the congregation was celebrated in 1999.

Recent History

 In 2001 Rev. Mitchell Schuessler was installed as pastor, serving until 2009. During this time, it was recognized that funeral dinners and other church events conflicted with the operation of the Lutheran school. Construction of a two-level Parish Hall was begun in 2005 with the synod’s Laborers for Christ and tradesmen of the congregation. A large meeting hall, commercial kitchen, offices, conference room, elevator, and lobby are located on the first floor, with seven classrooms, large meeting room, kitchen, and two youth rooms occupying the lower floor. Dedication day was May 28, 2006. Members signed framing boards in the walls on the main floor during construction.

  The parish hall allowed the congregation to host a popular after school program for students of Altamont Grade School and ALIS students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Begun in 2008, the program averages ninety students per day. Vern Spilker heads a staff of four, with no cost to participating families. 

  When Pastor Schuessler accepted a call to Troy, IL in 2009, the call was accepted by Rev. Dr. James Wright of Champaign, Illinois, who is presently serving. Immanuel participated in a Habitat for Humanity house building project at 601 W. John Adams Ave in 2010. 

  The mortgage on the Parish Hall was burned on February 5, 2012. In 2013 Vern Spilker retired and Rev. Bernard Ross, a recent graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, was installed as Associate Pastor. 

  In 2013 Immanuel hosted a Lutheran Hour Rally with the national speaker of The Lutheran Hour, Rev. Dr. Greg Seltz, preaching.  In 2016 the congregation purchased the Alice Koss home next to the church and it was moved to Tenth Street. 

  Pastor Ross accepted a call to Trinity Lutheran Church, Alma, Missouri and departed just before Lent in 2020.  During March of that year a worldwide pandemic prohibited worship services for five weeks, including Easter. Worship services were televised over cable television and the internet. Then services of ten persons were held successively in fifteen-minute segments for the Lord’s Supper on Saturdays and Sundays. By May public services were resumed with distancing of worshippers and disinfection of surfaces. School was held remotely over the internet to finish the school year in May. 

Andrea Wendling was welcomed as Director of Family and Youth in 2020 and served for three years. In her place Kendra Walker continued to direct youth and family ministry in 2023. Her mother, Cheryl Marble, has served as organist since 1988.

  In August of 2022 it was decided to renew the furnishings in the sanctuary to celebrate the 150th anniversary. Construction began in January 2023 with members helping in the demolition. All surfaces were refinished, with the installation of new flooring, pews, lighting, and altar furniture. The pipe organ was disassembled and cleaned. A new sound system with video and projection were installed. Rededication was held on August 27, 2023. 

  In 2024 Immanuel celebrated 150 years of ministry around the theme, “God With Us, Yesterday, Today, Forever.”