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Our History

History corner

Celebrating 125 years- Generations of Generosity


The first organizational meeting of Immanuel took place on October 20, 1898 in the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Berglin. It began as a Swedish Lutheran Congregation.   Over the last 125 years, Immanuel has seen many changes.   


In the fall of 2023, Immanuel celebrated 125 years of ministry. Our history is rich with stories about our mission and ministries.   This page includes stories focusing on the generosity of the members along the way as we celebrated Generations of Generosity- 125 Years.   This page includes articles,  stories, and videos shared by members throughout the years. 

Table of Contents

First 100 Years- Our Hope & Our Heritage

A brief history of the highlights of the first 100 years. 

Into the New Millineum 1999-2025

A brief history of the mission and ministries between 1999 and 2025. 

Art & Artifacts

Check out the page that  shares the many stories behind the art and artifacts visible throughout Immanuel Lutheran Church. 

Generations of Generosity

In 2023 we celebrated our history with stories of generosity surrounding our 4 branches of ministry

Early Years 1898-1904

swanson 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.



Reflections on 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.

blessing cornerstone

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"

article education wing

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.


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 State of Montana 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.

Nudged by the Holy Spirt- Spirit Alive Worship

A pivotal time in Immanuel’s history was when Jim Bendickson was nudged by the Holy Spirit (and Pastor Greg Karlsgodt) to create a ‘non-traditional” worship service called “Spirit Alive” in 1995.

Jim Bendickson Spirit alive

Outreach- What $3000 Can Do!

Outreach Immanuel has a long history of making a difference in our community. In the early 1970’s a $3000 gift led to seed money to begin Council Groves project, Goodwill Industries and Boy’s Foster Home (now Youth Homes). Several Immanuel members served on the boards of these organizations. 


In the video Connie Lindborg tells the story about how in 1975, $3000 given by Immanuel was given as seed money to start three important organizations in Missoula: Goodwill, Youth Homes and Council Groves Low Income Housing.



In the early 1960’s, Immanuel housed one of the first kindergarten classes in Missoula. Another outreach project was the sponsoring of five Vietnamese refugees in 1975. Immanuel, along with four other Lutheran churches sponsored a total of 38 Vietnamese and Laotian refugees.   


Learn more about other Outreach projects in an article written in 2012.

Accessibility- More than Just an Elevator

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 Hemgren room. 


The Hemgrens
The Hemgrens

Hemgren Room

When the building was built in1955, the focus was on children- all who could easily go up and down stairs, but as time went on accessibility became the more of a focus. 



In 1984, Immanuel was remembered in the will of the Hemgrens who left $33,000 for a permanent memorial. The Hemgren Addition was added that included an accessible entrance, a handicap-accessible bathroom and a meeting room we call the Hemgren Room) at the sanctuary level.



Hemgren room starting
Carl Wetterstrom, Swede Gustafson, Pastor Fred Ranlett, Harold Mast

Build UP the Body Capital Campaign

As some of our members grew older and less mobile, the dream of an elevator and better accessibility was a goal for every strategic plan beginning in 2001. 



From 2011- 2018, the Accessibility Team met and planned.  In 2016, the Build up the Body Capital campaign raised funds to add an elevator and make some major remodels to the building. 



In this video shown on Mother’s Day, Nancy Marks and Jim Bendickson shared their stories about why accessibility was important to them and their mothers.   


The generosity of the congregation has funded many ways to make Immanuel more accessible.  Ground breaking took place on July 9, 2017.  Work took place over the next two years.   


The dedication of the project was in September of 2019.    


Listen to this story of how the dream for Accessibility has changed the way we do ministry at Immanuel.