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Immanuel Lutheran Church celebrates 150 years

Immanuel Lutheran Church celebrates 150 years

March 24th, 2019 by Joe Gamm in Local News

The steeple of the 150-year-old Immanuel Lutheran Church in Honey Creek stands tall and bright against Friday's clear, blue sky. The congregation built a new sanctuary, seen at right, in the mid-1990s followed years later by a new school.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

The bell at Immanuel Lutheran Church still works.

It tolls on special occasions.

It tolls for funerals.

It tolls for family members.

It tolls for services.

The 149-year-old bell is a part of the tradition that surrounds, penetrates and binds the church in Honey Creek, said Danny Sommerer, chairman of the congregation.

That tradition is the focus of a yearlong celebration of the Immanuel Lutheran Church and School sesquicentennial, which is set to begin next weekend.

The school opened in 1868, the church in 1870.

"This is the church that I grew up in," Sommerer said as he entered the church's Founders' Hall last week. "The altar, where many of us for years and years — probably 100 — were baptized and confirmed and married, stood where those doors are."

The altar was a tall, large, elevated dais, on which the pastor would stand to deliver a sermon.

From that elevation, he could not only deliver God's message to the adults before him, but he might also keep an eye on the children, who were separated in the balconies — boys on the right and girls on the left (from the pastor's perspective).

"You were left on your lonesome (in the balconies) to get into trouble," Sommerer said.

The pastor may not have caught up with misbehaving children after the devotion, but he was certain to when they attended the church's school — in the two-room schoolhouse.

The public is invited to attend Saturday when the celebration begins at 10 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m. at 8321 Tanner Bridge Road. The event will include live Christian music, refreshments and entertaining games for children.

Much of the history of the church and school remains.

The gravesites in the neighboring cemetery bear the names of the old families.

The two-room schoolhouse still stands but is little used. A newer school has taken its place.

The church is still there, having been added onto and preserved. A stone in one of the walls has "1884" carved into it.

The bell remains in use, if not as much as before.

The bell tower — with its rickety-looking ladders — stands alongside the church. The bare bricks inside the tower walls contain history.

Legend has it the bricks were made from clay on a nearby farm. Workers dug up the clay, molded it and fired it.

But sometimes they would, perhaps, drink too much while they were tasked with monitoring the bricks' progress and snooze, allowing them to overcook a little. The evidence — they said — is some of the bricks are darker than they should be.

There are names carved into some of the bricks.

"In the bell tower — there are 150 years of kids — and kids do things," Sommerer said.

Each New Year's Eve, the church's youth group, known as the Walther League, would ring the bell once for each year in the century.

So, in 1969, when Sommerer was in the group, they rang it 69 times.

Some years ago, one of the buildings on the grounds burned. It wasn't much of a building, mostly used for storage, and held hay when it caught fire.

The boys seemed to be at fault. Rumor was some of the boys had been in there smoking just before it went up.

Another rumor said the boys had created a club, in which they'd sit on the hay bales and tell their stories while using candles for light. And they possibly left a candle lit. Some years later, one of the lads "fessed up" that they'd been in the building.

Sommerer pointed to a bump-out choir loft above the entrance to the hall, where a choir would sing and an organist would play. It all looked different when he was a child.

"It always looked a lot bigger than what it is," he mused.

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With the 1997 dedication of the new celebration hall, need for the massive altar waned. It took up much-needed space and there was little use for it, but it had been in the church for more than 100 years. It had been broken down into two smaller sections — still too large to move around.

The altar had come from a Catholic church in the Wardsville area, Sommerer said. It had been loaded on a buggy and hauled across the county. The buggy crossed multiple farms. Its driver had to cut through people's fences.

A crew traveled with the altar, staying behind to repair fences as the buggy proceeded.

But, with the addition, the old altar had little to no usefulness. Still, it held memories. And it was a source of comfort for the congregation, Sommerer said.

The people who really needed it were in a Lutheran church that had just been built in Ashland, so Immanuel Lutheran Church gave it to them. The gift caused consternation within the congregation, he said.

"And that pastor came back and told us what a blessing it was," Sommerer said. "His sermon that day was spirit-filled. It healed a lot of hurt."

View the video accompanying this article at

This story was edited at 9 a.m. Monday, March 26, 2019, to correct the time of the celebration to 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, March 30.