VALPARAISO | Immanuel Lutheran Church kicked off its 150th anniversary celebration Sunday with a Hymn Festival featuring amateur and professional performers of all ages.
“For Lutherans, hymns are central to who we are and what we're about,” said Senior Pastor Stephen Bongard, who credited William Ickstadt, the church's music director, with pulling it all together.
Adult and middle school choirs, instrumentalists and guest organist Joseph Bognar performed familiar and new tunes, while audience members sang along.
Highlights included two hymns that were commissioned for the celebration. Philip Gehring, a professor emeritus of music at Valparaiso University, and Anne Krentz Organ, director of music ministries at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Park Ridge, Ill., wrote new music to accompany the existing text of the hymns “Now, at the Peak of Wonder” and “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation.”
Marcelle and Paul Domke, both 86, of Valparaiso, also were present at the church's 100th anniversary festivities in 1964.
Paul grew up in the church, and Marcelle became a member after the couple got married there in 1946.
They were looking forward to hearing two of their granddaughters perform. Amelia Domke, 11, was in the choir, while Megan Marolf and her husband, Chris, played the oboe and bass. The Marolfs are both professional instrumentalists who have toured with composer Phillip Glass.
When the Domkes were married, the church was located on the corner of Washington and Institute streets. In 1975, a fire gutted the building. Immanuel has been located at its present site on Monticello Park Drive since 1979.
The church officially began in Valparaiso on July 17, 1864, when 50 Lutheran families organized the First German Evangelical Immanuel's congregation, which met at the corner of Academy and Chestnut streets.
In 1867, the church began operating a school, but it was forced to close in 1914 because of declining enrollment. A new school was built in 1950 on LaPorte Avenue. By 1967, enrollment had skyrocketed, and the church built another school at the corner of Monticello Park Drive and Glendale Boulevard, which remains its current site.
Bongard said the church also plans to celebrate its 150th anniversary with an event on Sept. 21 in Central Park Plaza featuring speaker Dale Meyer, president of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.
The church also embarked on an initiative to pay off its mortgage, and is close to eliminating its debt, Bongard said.
“We're thankful God has blessed our congregation,” he said. “While we're looking at the past, we're also focused on what will propel us into the future.”