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Church History

our past that made us who we are today

The beginning of Immanuel congregation goes back to the year 1897.  A number of Lutheran families lived in the village of Okawville and the surrounding area.   Many of them were members of Ebenezer Lutheran Church, Grand Prairie, located a few miles southwest of the village.  Some families didn’t own a team of horses, so transportation to Ebenezer was a problem.  Many Lutheran families, who visited the Okawville area and stayed for weeks at a time at one of the local hotels, often expressed regret that they could not go to a church of their denomination.  The need was felt to begin a church in Okawville, not only to serve those living and visiting there, but also to provide a place of worship for future inhabitants.

On February 2, 1908 Pastor W. Lessmann of Ebenezer met with a group of his parishioners who wanted to form a new congregation in Okawville, and had asked for release.  Those present voted they wished to form a new church and the name should be Evangelisch Lutherische Immanuels Gemeinde Ungeaenderter Augsburgischer Confession (Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel Lutheran Congregation Unaltered Augsburg Confession).  It was also decided to use the Ebenezer Constitution with a few changes made paragraph by paragraph.   They decided to purchase a tract of land (416 x 170 feet) on the corner of Hanover and Schumacher Street.  The decision was made to build a Gothic-style building which measured 38 feet wide, 70 feet long, and 18 feet high with provisions for a steeple.  

Work began as soon as weather permitted early in March, 1908.   The cornerstone was laid Easter Sunday, April 19, 1908.  Approximately 600 attended.  After many meetings and prayers the date for the dedication of Immanuel Lutheran Church was scheduled for July 19, 1908.  It was reported large crowds arrived by train, buggies and vehicles.   It was estimated 2000 assembled in front of the new church eagerly waiting for the doors to be opened.

 In 1911 plans were approved to build a parsonage with four rooms, kitchen and hall downstairs and two rooms upstairs.  In 1915 electricity was installed in the parsonage and in 1916 a smoke house and garage were built.  At the April 2, 1922 voters’ meeting the ladies aid were given permission to purchase electric lights for the parsonage.

As was the custom in most German settlements in the early 1900’s, the church services and congregational meetings were conducted in the German language.  Regular English services appeared in April, 1922 when it was decided to have two English services a month (probably evening services).  Gradually the German services diminished in number.   In the October 1951 meeting it was resolved to change the name of the congregation to “Immanuel Lutheran Church, (U.A.C.) in Okawville, Washington Co., Ill.”   When a pastoral vacancy occurred in July, 1956, many calls for a new pastor were returned.  The suggestion was made that having to conduct German services might hold back a pastor from accepting a call to Immanuel.   A motion was passed to no longer conduct German Services. 

Numerous renovations took place over the years.  In 1952 it was decided to put a basement under the entire church to provide space for Sunday School classes, a kitchen, oil furnace, and restrooms.  Major improvements included installing new windows of art glass, moving the altar against the north wall, purchasing a new lectern, and installing a sound proof cry room.   In 1979 it was approved to have the church sided instead of painted.    The renovations in 1993 included painting the interior, installing new carpeting, central air, new furnace, central vacuum and converting the cry room into a restroom.  A narthex was built on the south side to allow for a larger reception area and a wheel chair lift.   A service to dedicate the building project was held Sunday, July 17, 1994.

The year 2008 marked the 100th Anniversary of Immanuel Lutheran church—a year to reflect on the spiritual past and future.  It was a year of celebration with six services reflecting on the 100th anniversary being held during the year each centered on a different aspect of church life.   An anniversary book featuring the history of the church and school, pastors, principals and teachers who served Immanuel, pictures, and memories written by individuals was prepared.  Copies of the book are available at the church office.

 “For one hundred years Immanuel has been a beacon shining afar, a dispenser of the means of grace, a proclaimer of the whole counsel and will of God, a center of spiritual joy and peace, and a point of permanence in a fast-paced world.”  (Quote written by Rev. Lloyd J. Helland for the Foreword of the Anniversary Book.)

 In 2011 Pastor Eric Wood accepted a call to serve as pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church and is currently serving in that position.

 A decision was made to build a school August 9, 1908, less than one month after the dedication of the church.  An 18 x 24 x 10 foot sealed weatherboard building, including materials and labor, was completed in the late summer for $395.50. This also included desks, a stove, and an organ for the eleven children enrolled.  Pastor Jacob Mueller was the first teacher.  In 1916 it was decided to build a new school north of the present building because it was too small.  The elders were permitted to borrow $1000 so that everything could be finished at the school.  Dedication was held on Easter Sunday, April 8, 1917.  Non-members’ children attending the school paid $1.50 per month, while children of Immanuel’s members attended at no cost.  Electricity was soon added.   The Ladies Aid Hall was added to the school in 1926 and was reconditioned in 1953 to accommodate the lower grades.     After hiring a full-time teacher in 1949, it was decided to build a teacherage across from the school on the east side of Hanover Street.  A 100 x 100 foot lot was purchased and a six-room, two story frame house with basement and a 12 x 24 foot garage was constructed.   The teacherage was dedicated January 15, 1950.

Increased enrollment led to the construction of a new school building.  Ground breaking ceremonies were held June 19, 1960.  A project supervisor was engaged; however, all volunteer labor was used to construct the building.   Students and teachers moved into the new school during Christmas break 1960.  The building was completed during the summer of 1961 and dedicated August 27, 1961.   At a special meeting on July 2, 2000 the motion was made to take over the operation of the Rainbow Day Care and build a 50 ft. x 80 ft. building south of the gym for a day care center with a room for the library that could later be converted to infant care.  In 2008, Immanuel Lutheran School became accredited through National Lutheran School Accreditation during one of the 100 year anniversary celebrations of the church and school.A covered walkway would connect the daycare building and the present school.  Immanuel Lutheran School is an indication of what a group of families and members working together for a common goal can accomplish.


For many years, O God of grace,
This church has been your dwelling place
And we your congregation.
On Christ our precious cornerstone,
Our faith is built, and Christ alone
Is still our one foundation.
This day we pray:
“Let us greet you, Lord, and meet you
Here with singing,
All our praises to you bringing.”
(LW Hymn #523 verse 1)