Congregation is eager to celebrate after year’s delay due to pandemic

Immanuel Lutheran Church, which has been a beacon in the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood for generations, saw plans for its 150th anniversary celebration dimmed last year due to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, next month the congregation will finally be able to fully celebrate the church’s milestone together with several special events, including a worship service, banquet and program beginning at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, October 9.

“Folks are out and about and eager to be together,” said the Reverend Cindy Bullock, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran, which is located across the street from Macalester College at 104 S. Snelling Ave. “There’s a lot of energy around this.”

Ann Derr, who chaired the 150th anniversary volunteer team, said some former pastors will attend and the Reverend Patricia Lull, bishop of the Saint Paul Area Synod, will preach during the service.

Parishioners also will hear a handbell choir perform part of congregant David Stark’s hymn, “God with Us, Immanuel,” which he composed for the celebration. Chris Cherwien, director of worship and music, said a flutist will play and the choir and church members will sing. “It’s a wonderfully beautiful work,” she said.

At 10:30 a.m., the church will take a panoramic photograph of all congregants. A banquet will start at 11:30 a.m. at Macalester’s Kagin Commons with entertainment, acknowledgment of past pastors and lunch. Immanuel Lutheran will also observe having made the final payment on a mortgage for its 2006 Building Bridges expansion, “which we’ve been using, with great joy, for all these years,” Derr said.

Immanuel Lutheran
The Reverend Cindy Bullock, right, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran, is joined by volunteers Mark Thompson and Lee Bjerke at the church’s annual flea market on September 24. Photo by Brad Stauffer
Immanuel Lutheran
Entertainment during a mother-daughter banquet at Immanuel Lutheran in 1932.

Two longtime church members wrote a song to honor the retiring of the debt with a take on the Barenaked Ladies’ 1988 hit “If I Had a Million Dollars.” Composer Dale Fierke and singer Jeff Schmidt will perform the version of the song they wrote when the church first took on the mortgage, and an updated one now that it has been paid off.


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Music always has been an important part of Immanuel Lutheran. “We’ve always cared about music and supported it financially,” Cherwien said. “We’re a singing congregation with many beautiful, talented people who share their gifts. We’ve got instrumentalists, vocalists and composers.”

Derr said the church engaged its members last year as part of its 150th anniversary with an online history quiz that included such questions as the number of pastors (71) Immanuel has had since its founding in 1871. In doing the research for the quiz, Derr said she was able to track down photos of “every one of them.”

This year the church also created a book on its history that should be available before the end of the year.

Derr said the anniversary celebration is the culmination of several years of planning. “It’s going to be so joyful because we had to change everything due to COVID,” she said. “A lot of things we wanted to do were either canceled or postponed or virtual.”

Immanuel Lutheran
The Immanuel Lutheran Church picnic in June 1925.

Immanuel Lutheran had humble beginnings. Traveling minister the Reverend Osten Hanson started the church in Saint Paul on December 19, 1871, with a group of nine Norwegian immigrants. In 1880, the congregation bought a church building and moved it to a site where Regions Hospital is today. Ten years later, Immanuel constructed its first building at that same location. It moved to Saint Albans Street and Aurora Avenue in 1919 and merged with Macalester Park Lutheran Church in 1921, but kept its name. In 1925, it built the current church at Goodrich and Snelling avenues.

Over the years, Immanuel Lutheran built additions, remodeled building sections and merged with Highland Park Lutheran. It also built space for a Sunday school and added an elevator. The Building Bridges project in 2006 connected the sanctuary to the education wing while creating a gathering space.

Immanuel Lutheran
Immanuel’s first pastor, the Reverend Osten Hanson.
Immanuel Lutheran
James Forchtner and David Lindgren cooking lutefisk in the 1950s.

Christian education and men’s and women’s programs have been part of the church’s offerings for decades. Immanuel Lutheran also serves monthly meals at the Saint Paul Opportunity Center and Dorothy Day Residence, raises money for causes by holding an annual flea market (which took place September 23-24) and a lutefisk dinner (coming up November 18), and created a Southeast Asian Ministry while supporting the resettlement of refugees. The congregation also sponsors global missions to help others abroad, and conducts a summer art and music camp for children.

“The one thing about this 150 years that has touched me so much,” Bullock said, “is what we call a communion of saints—the people who’ve sat in these pews through the years who’ve been dedicated to the kingdom of God.”

For information or to register for Immanuel’s 150th anniversary banquet, visit or call 651-699-5560.

—Frank Jossi


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