Between 1880-1889, German settlers of Lutheran faith (Schlesische Lutherans), began settling the Douglas County area of eastern South Dakota. After 50-60 families had settled in the area 25 miles SW of Mitchell, South Dakota, they decided to establish their faith as well and find a minister to serve them. A former pastor advised them to find a minister from the Missouri Synod Lutheran branch. In this Synod, the Word of God is taught in all its truth and purity, and the Sacraments are administered according to Christ's institution. Finally, the Synod instructs its own members in the teachings of Martin Luther.
Finding a steady minister proved difficult during 1880-1882. Two ministers served briefly until a third, Pastor J. Bernthal, stayed to serve the area. However, because some families in the area were unable to understand the differences between Missouri Synod Lutherans and Iowa Synod Lutherans, they left the group to join the Iowa Synod. In the fall of 1882, twenty-three remaining families organized into a Missouri Synod congregation and assumed the name Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel Congregation, Unaltered Augsberg Confession.
Once the congregation had been established, other needs arose. In the spring of 1883, the congregation built a parsonage, where services were also held. Between 1883-1887, three ministers served Immanuel. The members then called Candidate M. Waechter, who would eventually serve until 1896. Following his installation, services were held in a school across the road from the parsonage.
Within several years the congregation outgrew the school's accomodations. The congregation then undertook the task of building its own church on five acres of land that had been deeded in 1886. The cornerstone was laid on second Easter Day, 1889, and the church building was finished in September, 1889, at a cost of $1,000.00. The original church building and its altar, altar furnishings, pulpit, and baptismal font were dedicated on September 22. The congregation added a bell in 1892 and an organ in 1895. Finally, in 1903 members built a school northeast of the parsonage for children to attend.
Between 1896-1943, four ministers, including one vacancy minister, served Immanuel. Rev. E.P. Hempel served from 1908-1943, beginning an Immanuel legacy of long-serving ministers. In 1909 Rev. Hempel organized a band to play at mission festivals, weddings, and jubilees. Male congregation members interested in participating ordered their instruments from a Sears Robuck catalog. Rev. Hempel then taught each man how to play his instrument and held practices in the parsonage. The band was discontinued during World War I.
During Rev. Hempel's ministry, the church again outgrew its building, and in 1914 members unanimously decided to build a new church. Rev. Hempel began a door-to-door donation drive, and within a few days the congregation had received pledges reaching over $10,000.00, the entire sum for the new church. The old church was moved to one side to make room for the new building. The cornerstone was laid on April 26, 1914. The new church, 90 X 40 feet, had a steeple and cross measuring 110 feet high. The church, now with 318 members, 206 communicants, and 54 school age children, was dedicated on August 30, 1914.
In 1912, the congregation considered extending a call for a parochial school teacher. The school house across the road from the church was used for confirmation instruction. Because a member of the church offered to pay for the teacher's salary for four years, the congregation agreed to call a teacher.
In 1917, a congregation member added more land to the original 5 acres for the church. The school was moved and another house was moved and joined to it. Together they became the teacherage. From then on school was held in the church basement. The German language was used for Catechism, Bible history, reading, and writing. In the afternoon English was used in such subjects as history and geography. When the school's second teacher accepted a call in 1921, the congregation closed the school. In 1927, the school building was sold.
The congregation faced other challenges due to World War I and disease. During the war German people living in America were considered enemies. On January 15, 1918, Pastor Hempel, because he preached in German, was arrested and held in Fort Douglas, Utah, for 18 months. During this time, the pastor's family was cared for by members of the congregation until his release in June 1919. Although told to not teach the German language, Pastor Hempel never did conduct services in the English language. In addition to this difficult time, influenza struck the United States, and many died, including several congregation members.
In 1922 a small mishap encouraged the congregation to build a new parsonage. During a Catholic priest's visit to Pastor Hempel, the priest's foot went through the floor of the house. The new house, built for $4,500.00, was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day.
In 1926 the congregation purchased a pipe organ at a cost of $3,000.00. The organ originally operated by hand pumps attached to it. These were concealed by the room behind the organ. Men in the congregation took turns pumping air in order for the organist to operate. Later, boys who had been confirmed, served as pumpers while receiving modest pay.
In June of 1929 and during the 1930's, several storms damaged church property. Strong winds forced Immanuel to lean to the east and destroyed a chandelier. A barn, furnished for members' horses, was also damaged. To restore the property, members righted the church by placing steel posts outside the church and attaching cables across the Nave to hold it in place. A new barn, 30 x 84 feet was constructed using the original barn's foundation and wood. Other improvements in the 1930's included a new auto garage, planting trees in the church yard, and a main entrance to the church.
Through the 1940's to the present, further modernization has occurred in the parsonage and church. In 1949 modern bathroom fixtures were added to the parsonage. The church and parsonage were also wired for electricity; electrical fixtures were soon installed. In 1951, a new oil heating system was installed in the church basement to replace the original heat source - coal. The church was painted, the steeple repaired, and a new cross placed on the church in 1952. Additional changes in the 1950's included lowering and moving the pulpit to its present location, moving the altar, installing the communion rail, and laying carpet. In the 1960's water was piped into the church basement; indoor restrooms and electric in the basement were added in 1962. In 1964 extra lighting in the balcony and outside the church was installed. Since the 1960's, the parsonage has been remodeled, and Immanuel has received permanent siding, new shingles, and general improvements in upkeep.
Now in its 135th year, Immanuel Lutheran Church continues to be a place of worship and fellowship for over 200 members. Despite adversity and changing times, through God's grace the congregation has been preserved in faith to serve Him. "To God be the glory forever and ever!" (Galations1:5)
Minister Time Line
Rev. Bischof - mission starter - 1882
Rev. Mueller - 1882
Rev. Bernthal - 1882
Rev. F. Schriefer - 1883-1886
Rev. Melcher - vacancy - 1886-1887
Rev. Eichhoff - vacancy - 1886-1887
Rev. M. Waechter - 1887-1896
Rev. G. Franke - 1896
Rev. Zabel - vacancy - 1896
Rev. C. P. Thusius - 1897-1907
Rev. Hugo Sommer - 1907-1908
Rev. P. Hempel - 1908-1943
Rev. John Dewald - 1943-1954
Rev. Carl Wolf - vacancy - 1954-1955
Rev. Leonard Eberhard - 1955-1974
Rev. Michael Volk - vacancy - 1974
Rev. Robert E. Utecht - 1974-1993
Rev. Hyle Anderson - vacancy - 1993
Rev. Paul Siems - vacancy - 1993
Rev. James Gruber - 1994-1999
Rev. Nabil Nour - vacancy - 1999-2000
Rev. Anthony Steinbronn – 2000-2003
Rev. Nabil Nour - vacancy - 2003
Rev. David Otten – 2004-2017
Rev. Don McKillop - vacancy - 2017
Rev. Ryan Loeslie - 2017 -