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updated: 1/3/2013 3:26 PM

East Dundee church celebrates 150th anniversary

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  • Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church stands at 310 E. Main St. in East Dundee. The congregation is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

       Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church stands at 310 E. Main St. in East Dundee. The congregation is celebrating its 150th anniversary.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Immanuel Lutheran's first church building, finished and dedicated in 1865, is shown in this photo from the book "Immanuel God With Us."

      Immanuel Lutheran's first church building, finished and dedicated in 1865, is shown in this photo from the book "Immanuel God With Us."
    Courtesy of Immanuel Lutheran Church

  • The Rev. William P. Yonker has been pastor of Immanuel Lutheran since 1994.

      The Rev. William P. Yonker has been pastor of Immanuel Lutheran since 1994.
    Courtesy of Immanuel Lutheran Church

  • Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church of East Dundee is a prominent part of the skyline of downtown Dundee.

       Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church of East Dundee is a prominent part of the skyline of downtown Dundee.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 

Some will say a church is only as strong as its congregation. A building and steeple can withstand floods, fires and tornadoes, but if its worshippers are not united and supportive, the bricks and motor that hold the roof up, hold a hollow shell.

For the past 15 months, members of the Immanuel Lutheran Church in East Dundee have been celebrating and testifying to the strength of their 150-year-old landmark Route 72 church with services, songs and gatherings.

In a book they put together, "Immanuel, God With Us," generations of Immanuel worshippers chronicled the tribulations and quarrels their great-grandparents, grandparents, mothers and fathers overcame to form the congregation, build the church, rebuild it a few times, and add on to it for the growing Fox Valley congregation.

It wasn't always pretty, said William Yonker, Immanuel's senior pastor. And at times, the trials seemed steeper than the muddy hill worshippers climbed or descended on foot, horse or automobile tire to enter the building.

"Through the years, it seems that we did everything we could to kill this church," he said jokingly. "But, it didn't die; the members kept it going."

Those members, many of whom were German immigrants, formed the congregation in 1862. Two months after the Civil War ended, in 1865, Immanuel members dedicated their first church building. They also dedicated their lives to ensure it kept alive.

"The congregation of the first church consisted of poor, working people who came up with enough funds to buy the property and build it," said Immanuel member Gerald Heinz, who helped research and write the church's history book.

When a new building was needed less than 30 years later, members reached into their pockets again and contributed $25,000 to build a larger church.

"But that building didn't have a basement," Heinz said. "The church members actually dug under the church to carve out a basement."

Above their heads and inside the building, plenty of other members were donating their skills and time to help the congregation grow, flourish and serve the surrounding community. Through the generations, they have helped pastors marry, bury and baptize souls by playing organs, preparing the altar, and sweeping the floor. That spirit continues today.

Sally Susanke is one of those members who lives it. For 25 years, she volunteered with Immanuel's altar guild.

"I volunteered to make things run smoothly for the church so do the other people. We're glad to do it." she said.

The guild is responsible taking care of the robes, vacuuming the steps, getting the candle wax out of the carpeting, and putting Easter lilies and Christmas poinsettias to the altars.

"At Christmas, there can be from 20 to 30 poinsettias to put up," she said. "And at Easter, we're constantly changing the colors on the altar. It's a big job."

Ralph Buhrow is another longtime committed member of Immanuel's congregation. For 72 years, he has learned there, prayed there, and served on various committees, including the anniversary committee.

"I went to school from the first grade at Immanuel," he said. "That was when the school desks were bolted to the floor. The old school gym is actually where the kitchen is now."

Staying active in the church has not only been an important part of his life, but it has kept Immanuel Lutheran Church strong, relevant, and available for more than a century.

"We couldn't ask for a better congregation," Yonker said. "Whenever there has been a need with the church or school, Immanuel members have always been there to lend their support."

It started with the initial meetings and first services in the 1800s and was passed from generations into the 21st Century, he said.

The book, "Immanuel, God With Us: 150th Anniversary, 1862-2012," can be purchased at the church office.

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