Counting blessings

Saturday, November 17, 2007
The interior of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Altenburg, Mo. (Fred Lynch)

ALTENBURG, Mo. -- The congregation of Immanuel Lutheran Church has been counting its blessings, and those blessings go back a century and a half.

Immanuel Lutheran Church just celebrated its 150th anniversary with a special service and a celebratory meal that included special guests and memories.

Immanuel Lutheran Church at Altenburg, Mo., just celebrated its 150th anniversary. (Fred Lynch)

Although the church is 150 years old, its history goes back even further. In 1839 immigrants from Altenburg, Germany, settled in the area they named for their hometown and began farming. The first Lutheran church was Trinity Lutheran Church, which is still in Altenburg, not far from Immanuel. That church's second pastor was the Rev. Georg Albert Schieferdecker, who served that parish for eight years, according to information provided by Immanuel's current pastor, the Rev. Keith Weise.

Schieferdecker was described at the time as "a stern but gifted man." Under his leadership, the burgeoning Missouri Synod took on some formal organization into districts. He helped establish "rhythmic singing" in the worship service instead of chanting. He also inspired a growth in missions and charitable causes and offered English instruction to his congregation.

In 1857 Schieferdecker broke with Trinity -- and ultimately the Missouri Synod -- over a dispute surrounding the interpretation of Revelation 20, Weise said. Schieferdecker and about a third of the Trinity congregation started Immanuel Church, and eventually became affiliated with the American Lutheran Church. Although Schieferdecker later changed his views on the interpretation of Revelation 20, Immanuel did not rejoin the Missouri Synod until 1988.

As Immanuel continues to celebrate its rich history, it also celebrates the re-established closeness between the two large Lutheran congregations in a small Perry County community.

"In many good ways we have such a good relationship now," Weise said. "It was wonderful to see a lot of people from Trinity join us on [our] celebration. That was a great thing."

The first two years Immanuel's congregation worshipped in a small frame building while they were building the brick church that was dedicated in 1860. Although it has undergone several remodeling projects and is up-to-date and comfortable, it is still the same church the German immigrants built and many traditions still hold. Its tin ceiling and many of the light fixtures date back to the first big remodeling project in 1929.

Artifacts from the church's 150-year history are on display in the activity building. (Fred Lynch)

About 43 elementary-age children receive daily religious instruction before going to public school, and six attend Saxony Lutheran High School.

Worship services are no longer conducted in German, but at Christmas Eve services the congregation still sings "Silent Night" in German before singing it in English.

Immanuel has 320 members, Weise said, and is smaller than nearby Trinity and Concordia Lutheran a few minutes away in Frohna, Mo. As part of a community effort, Weise said, the three Lutheran churches share the hosting of a Saturday evening service on alternating weeks for those who are unable to come on Sunday morning.

Planning for the anniversary celebration took a year and a half. Charlotte Hecht, Mary Hunt and Kathryn Werner made banners. Congregants refurbished and repainted the building and bought new front doors. The Lutheran Youth Fellowship prepared a time capsule. A statue of Jesus blessing the children was installed in a garden the Girl Scout troop maintains adjacent to the church. During the preparations, Weise said several artifacts were found: a communion service, some hymnals, an old communion rail and several offering baskets on long handles. They're now on display in the activity building.

"People worked very hard and so many people put so much effort and dedication into everything," Weise said.

The church was packed beyond capacity for the 150th anniversary celebration. The Rev. Ray Mirly, president of the Missouri District of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, preached the sermon. The adult and children's choirs sang. During fellowship afterward, Mirly and some former pastors spoke, and longtime members shared some of their memories of growing up in Immanuel, Weise said.

What the church now looks forward to, according to Weise: "Hopefully the Gospel will still be proclaimed, the Sacrament will still be administered. People will grow in their faith and love for one another and for their savior Jesus Christ, and as we grow as a congregation our service to the community will grow as well. We look forward to those opportunities to do all those things."

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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