The first organizational meeting of Immanuel took place on October 20, 1898 in the home of Mr and Mrs John BerglinOver the last 125 years Immanuel has seen many changes.   In the fall we will be celebrating 125 years of ministryThe History Corner will be little tidbits of history focusing on the generosity of the members along the way as we celebrate Generations of Generosity.  

Early Years -1898- 1904

photo of family

John and Joanna Swanson family- charter members of Immanuel

On October 20, 1898 Mr and Mrs John Berglin opened their home to the organizational meeting of the “Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church”.  Rev. A.E. Gustafson from Helena presided at the meeting and thirteen people were the charter members. Rev Gustafson led occasional services until January 1900. The infant Congregation met during the two years only monthly and in the homes of the members since there was no church available to them.  The records show that several attempts were made to purchase church buildings from other denominational bodies, however, no purchase was made.

On January 22, 1900, Pastor Gustafson announced his resignation. Sufficient progress had not been made to continue the work and nothing more was attempted in five years. The next minutes indicate that on February 16, 1905, a student named H. F. Johnson was temporarily in charge of preaching services and it was under his leadership that Rev. Herman Lind of Anaconda was called to Missoula to organize the dormant congregation.

Learn more about the early years in an article written in May 2013.  

The Church on Alder 1905-1954

In February 1905, a student H.F. Johnson presided at the services and Rev. Herman Lind from Anaconda was called to reorganize the congregation.  Members petitioned the Augustana Synod for membership and became a part of the church at large.  A church building was built on Alder street.  Several pastors served over the next 20 years.   

 In August 1919, PR E.A. Palm came to Immanuel.  It was in that year that the confirmation class was taught in the English language and many services were conducted in English. Over the next 25 years, changes were made to the building and several more pastor’s served Immanuel. 

Learn more about the early years in an article written in May 2013. 

Reflections about the Early Church

In 2002, members were asked to share their memories of Immanuel.  Gordon and Ina Swanson shared these memories of the early church.  

Gordon Swanson’s grandparents were charter members of Immanuel.
Ina Swanson was a longtime member of Immanuel and married to Gordon Swanson

The “New” Church

Pr. Rod Johnson arrived in August 1951 to begin 18 years of service. In 1953, with a membership of 260 and 160 children in Sunday School, they had outgrown the “old church” and plans for a “new church” on South Avenue were made.  Groundbreaking for the South Avenue site began October 24, 1954, the Cornerstone was laid on May 29, 1955 and the building was dedicated on September 19, 1955.  

Cornerstone Laid

The Daily Missoulian reported this about the Cornerstone.  “Asking a blessing for all Christians who bear witness to Christ’s truth, Dr. S.L.Swenson laid the cornerstone for a new building for Immanuel Lutheran Church.  

Dr. Swenson,  president of the Columbia Conference of the Augustana Lutheran Conference, tapped the granite cornerstone with a mason’s hammer to signify the act as Rev. Roderick W Johnson, pastor of Immanuel stood by.

Enclosed in the copper box within the stone are the constitution of the congregation, a history of the congregation, a list of the present membership, the Building Fund booklet, the names of the present Board of Administration and Building Committee, the names of President Dwight D Eisenhower, Gov. J. Hugo Aronson and Mayor James A Hart and copies of the ground-breaking program, the cornerstone laying program, The Lutheran Companion and the Daily Missoulian.”

Click the links below for more articles from the Daily Missoulian about building the church. 

“Walls of the Children”

In 1958 GROUND BROKEN FOR EDUCATIONAL WING.  The Daily Missoulian reported:

“Ground was broken Sunday for the new education building at Immanuel Lutheran Church and children who will use the new addition for Sunday School took part in the ceremony.

Children representing upper grades and the high school group joined with the Rev. Roderick Johnson, pastor, and two other church officers in spading the earth east of the church in bright sunshine. 

Children of the Sunday School stood around an outline of the addition chalked on the ground for the ceremony between the two morning worship and Sunday School Sessions.  Members of the congregation watched and listened to the “walls” of the children.

In his morning sermon, the Rev. Mr. Johnson noted that “something greater comes out of building-we learn to give ourselves, putting Christ first in our lives.  We are building because of our need to serve the Lord and teach our children and give our children a place where they may pray as classmates and students.”    CLICK HERE to read the entire article from the Daily Missoulian. 

The Hemgren Room Addition

Prior to 1980, Immanuel consisted of the primary church structure with the wing to the east and the entrance of the church started about two-thirds of the way back just behind the colored windows in the sanctuary.  It ended where the windows now are at the back of church  between the sanctuary and the room.

The Hemgrens

In 1984,  Immanuel was remembered in the will of Robert A and Verda Mae Hemgren.  They were long time members and Robert had served as chairman of church council.  They requested a permanent memorial and left $33,000.   It was determined than addition should be added at the rear of the sanctuary. 

A building committee met and determined that this would be a good time to do some other renovations of the church with a total building project of nearly $41,000.  Swede Gustafson was a major contributor to this project.  The Hemgren room increased the narthex area with a wider doorway, added an accessible entrance and handicap-accessible restroom as well as a needed meeting room for after-service coffee hour, weddings, small study groups and a place to meet for funerals.  

Other improvements included renovation of the sanctuary to move the communion rail to the floor level,  a new sound system, heating system improvements, storm windows, carpeting and dividers for kindergarten room, and improvements in hallway lighting.

Carl Wetterstrom, Swede Gustafson, Pastor Fred Ranlett, Harold Mast

Etched Windows

You have probably noticed the beautiful stained glass windows in the Hemgren Room (that story coming later), but have you also noticed the beautiful Etched Windows in the windows between the Sanctuary and the Hemgren Room?  

       When the Hemgren Room was added, Pastor Paul Seastrand brought together the Ecclesiastical Arts Team to ensure that the Art was liturgical.   During that time the  stained glass windows were created as well as the etched windows between the sanctuary and the Hemgren Room.   These windows also bear a message about the seasons of the Church Year.   The etched windows were designed by Bob Jacobson in 1987.  The technique involves the creation of a design, then transferring it to an adhesive plastic that is placed on the glass. The artist then uses razor blades to cut the design and peels away the areas that need to be etched.  Some areas can be sandblasted more deeply than others for greater detail; this technique is called “stage blasting.”  Although these windows appear nearly identical, the designs are hand cut separately, making each a unique creation.  

Moving from the west wall (Luther Wall) to the east, each of the windows features a historic cross depicting, respectively, the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. The seventh cross represents Saints’ Days, and the eighth and final window bears the cross of Martin Luther’s seal. Over the doorway is an etched “trefoil.” This symbol is integral to all the stained glass and etched windows, since it represents the eternal and sovereign God who is Three-in-One. 

Learn more about each of the windows and the symbolism of each of them by clicking the button below. 


 In 1952, Immanuel was able to lease property on the Clearwater River and build Camp Imlu.  Over the years, a log lodge and a dorm were built.  The site was used for retreats, outdoor ministries, vacation bible school, confirmation retreats and other outdoor ministry events.   

In 1996 the Forest Service increased the cost of the lease dramatically, eventually with the cost of the lease was out of reach.  In 1999, Camp IMLU was sold with the proceeds going to start the Immanuel Endowment Fund. 

Check out the video that shares photos of Camp IMLU through the years with a story told by Connie Lindborg in 2002.