AVILLA —The Rev. Dr. Daniel J. Brege, president of the Indiana District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, was the guest speaker at the 175th anniversary celebration at Immanuel Lutheran Church on Sunday, Oct. 13.
He gave the sermon at the 9:30 a.m. service and spoke at the program in the fellowship hall after a potluck luncheon.
A Grand Haven, Michigan, native, the reverend served for 36 years as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Preble, in Adams County, before becoming district president in September 2018.
The Indiana District of the LCMS, headquartered in Fort Wayne, includes 220 churches throughout Indiana and 20 churches in northern Kentucky. Total membership in those churches is about 102,000.
He quoted from Psalm 130 during his sermon and in his presentation during the program. “ I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope,” he said. “We wait for the Lord, we wait for his timing in our lives. And waiting for the Lord is what the people of Immanuel have done these 175 years. When does the Lord want something to happen in your midst? How should we do this? When should we do this?
“Waiting on the Lord is a very important part of our faith. We trust in the Lord which means we entrust ourselves into His hands,” he said. “‘In his word do I hope.’ The Christian hope is a certainty, a certainty of a future in heaven. And we find that hope in the word of Christ.”
Terry Housholder, a sixth-generation member of Immanuel, spoke during the program about the church’s history. Immanuel was founded in 1844 by a renowned German missionary, the Rev. Friedrich Conrad Dietrich Wyneken. A native of Hanover, Germany, Wyneken answered God’s call to minister to Lutherans in the wilderness of the American frontier. From his post as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, he went on several missionary ventures in northern Indiana, northwestern Ohio and southern Michigan, where he gathered many German Lutherans and organized congregations.
Several of his journeys took him to Noble County, where he found a group of Lutherans living near the future town of Avilla. According to records of Immanuel congregation, he would come every four weeks and hold services in the home of Samuel Weimer.
The first members of Immanuel, which included the Weimer, Diehm and Housholder families, built the first church — a log cabin — on the property owned by Samuel Weimer. It was located in a woods across the road from the present St. Mary’s Catholic Church on North Main Street, Avilla. It was in this log cabin that Immanuel Lutheran Church was organized in 1844.
In 1848, the congregation built a bigger structure north of Avilla, along the Sycamore Creek, just north of the intersection of Old Ind. 3 and the new four-lane Ind. 3.
The third church was built in 1855 where the church cemetery is today, 1.25 miles northwest of Avilla. It cost $375 for building supplies. The men of the church provided the labor. The building was used until 1893. It later served as the hospital at Sacred Heart Home, Avilla, for many years.
In early 1892, due to the growth of the membership, the church building proved inadequate. After much discussion, in 1892, the congregation voted to build a new church in town at the present site on West Albion Street. The new church was dedicated on Oct. 22, 1893.
Immanuel conducted a day school from its inception until 1922. From its founding until the early 1900s, all the religious preaching, day school and catechumen classes were in German. Later, English services were held Sunday mornings and German services were held Sunday afternoons. The congregation discontinued its German services altogether in 1935.
Immanuel extensively remodeled its church building in 1953-54. Its new educational wing was added in 1974. At that time the congregation donated a portion of its old hall to the town of Avilla for use as branch library. The hall was moved to West Albion Street as part of the town’s centennial celebration in 1976. The hall originally served as the parsonage in the 19th century when it was located northwest of Avilla at the site of the present church cemetery. Sometime between 1893 and 1894, the old parsonage was moved into town and used as the day school until 1922. Until 1975, it was used for the church’s Sunday school and congregational and community gatherings.
Twenty-five ministers have served Immanuel since its inception. The Rev. Dean R. Bearman, the longest tenured pastor in the church’s history, was present at the celebration. He and his wife, Laura, now live near family in Greenfield, Indiana. He was Immanuel’s pastor from 1972-2005. The only other living former pastor, the Rev. Thomas Dunbar, the church’s minister from 2005-2011, was unable to attend. He and his wife, Terry, live near family in Nebraska.
The Rev. Patrick J. Kuhlman is the current pastor. A native of Evanston, Illinois, he graduated from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, in May 2000 and was ordained on July 9, 2000. He was assistant and associate pastor at Faith Lutheran Church, Bloomington, Indiana, from 2000-2012. He was installed as pastor of Immanuel on March 14, 2012. He and his wife, Jennifer, are the parents of two daughters, Rachel and Katelyn.