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Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church Mankato, Minnesota


On September 15, 1866 five German Lutherans, Henry Himmelman, John Dreher, Jacob Traub, Simon Blume, and Frederick Steuernagel, signed articles of incorporation for “The German Lutheran Emanuel Church of Mankato.” The next year, the congregation’s first pastor, William Vomhof drew up the congregation’s constitution and changed the spelling from “Emanuel” to “Immanuel.”

From its founding Immanuel belonged to the Minnesota Synod, which was a founding member of the Synodical Conference in 1872. Eventually, in 1917 the Minnesota Synod became a district of the Wisconsin Synod, of which Immanuel remained a member until 1956.

Throughout its history Immanuel has undertaken many sizeable building projects. The first church, built in 1867 less than a block away from the current church, was a combined church and parsonage. The second church, with a single spire in the front, was built on the site of our current location and dedicated on October 12, 1884. The previous church, then functioning as the school, became too small for that purpose. Therefore, the congregation built a new school in 1887. A third school was built at that same location in 1903.

Immanuel was also instrumental in the community of Mankato. The church took a leading role in the establishment of Immanuel Lutheran Hospital, built in 1906 and later purchased and operated by Mayo Clinic Health Systems. A few years later Immanuel helped found Bethany Ladies College, which is now Bethany Lutheran College, and is operated by the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

In 1913 Immanuel built its third church in the same location as the second one. In typical German style, the bricks from the second church were carefully preserved during demolition and reused on the back of the third church. The third church had two steeples in a similar style to the current church, but considerably taller.

In 1956, Immanuel was one of the very first congregations that felt compelled by the Word of God to withdraw from the Wisconsin Synod due to Wisconsin’s ongoing fellowship with the Missouri Synod. As a result, Immanuel became a natural gathering place for many who shared its conviction.

A few years later, in 1959, Immanuel Lutheran College—with high school, college, and seminary departments—was founded in Mankato. A building that had been purchased years earlier was converted to a school building. In 1963, Immanuel Lutheran College moved to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, but Immanuel/Mankato continued operation of its own local high school, and does so to this day.

In 1969, Immanuel’s fourth school was built, attached to the church. The old school was sold.

On July 4, 1971, the church was struck by lightning, causing severe damage to the structure of the building. Pastor Robert Reim, thinking quickly, saved the new school by shutting the fire doors. Amazingly, the sturdy old bricks were still stable and sound. So, the new sanctuary was able to be designed within the old shell. In 1972, the current fourth church was rebuilt and dedicated. It has slightly shorter steeples than the previous church.

In 1979, Immanuel High School moved to the school building next to the church. In 1991, a Multi-Purpose Facility was completed which added three new high school rooms and a gymnasium.

Members of Immanuel continue to be very active in the work of the church, the school, and the synod. Immanuel sponsors a Christian women’s retreat held every year in Winona, Wisconsin;  an annual arts camp for children in 5th-8th grade, an annual “Whitewater Winter Camp” for young men and women of high school and college age, and a biennial youth conference.

Immanuel has a very active evangelism committee which does both outreach and “in-reach.” Some activities include an outreach booth at the Blue Earth County Fair, decorating a float for several local parades, hosting the annual church picnic, hosting an ice cream social, and putting on a one-day Christmas Bible School and an Easter Bible School for K-6th graders.

Immanuel also owns and operates Pilgrims Rest Cemetery. Every year on Memorial Day a service is held at the cemetery to honor those who have died for our freedom and, most of all, to give honor to Christ who died for our freedom from sin.

At the start of  2017, Immanuel’s overall membership was 920 souls (716 communicants; 204 pre-communicants). Sunday service attendance averages 326 people. Several weekly and monthly Bible studies are regularly hosted, including Sunday morning, Wednesday evening, Friday Men’s Breakfast, Women’s Service Organization, Women’s Auxiliary, men and women’s county jail visitation, and a local assisted living home. In addition, monthly worship services are conducted at three nursing homes.

Immanuel maintains a weekly fifteen-minute radio ministry which plays throughout southern Minnesota. The entire Sunday worship service is also played twice weekly on local cable television. This past summer, Immanuel began holding worship services and Bible Class on Saturday nights as well as Sunday mornings, a practice that has been well received by our membership.

At the celebration of Immanuel’s 125th anniversary, member Lowell Schreyer summarized, “While changes in personnel and property were many in the first 125 years, one factor remained constant for the critical decisions that enabled Immanuel Lutheran Church to endure—adherence to Scripture in the face of forces that would have veered it from that course.” That was true then and continues to be true 25 years later.

Immanuel means “God with us.” Our gracious Jehovah God has continued to be with and to bless the members of Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church. Through the power of His Word, many individuals have been blessed through the work of the ministry in this corner of God’s kingdom!

Joe Naumann is pastor of Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mankato, Minnesota.