The 125-Year History of Immanuel Lutheran Church

(1892 – present)

Immanuel Lutheran Church was founded in 1892 by a group of German immigrants living in Bristol. Though they had been members of Lutheran churches in Europe, until Immanuel there had been no German Lutheran church for them to attend in Bristol.

The membership takes pride in its German roots. From its beginning, Immanuel was known as the “German” Church. Up until the 1930’s, all church services and voter’s meetings were conducted in German. But since German was being spoken less in the homes and some of Immanuel’s members were marrying non-Germans, the need for English services became apparent. Today all services are in English and some offer signing as well. German services are still held on special occasions. Daily instruction in the German language was discontinued in the school in 1945. Today, students have the choice to take a variety of languages, including German, as a part of their instructional program.

That same year, the fledgling congregation installed Pastor William Brend and adopted a constitution. A small church building was constructed on the south bank of the Pequabuck River two years later. But controversy soon arose between two groups of Germans at the church which resulted in the removal of Pastor Brend. Their search for a new leader ended with Otto Duessel, a young man who had recently graduated from the Lutheran seminary in Springfield, IL. He was ordained and installed at Immanuel in 1895, two years before Immanuel would affiliate with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LC-MS).

Pastor Duessel served at Immanuel until his death in 1925. During those thirty years, the congregation grew from 60 members to more than 1,300 baptized members. During his tenure, Immanuel’s children received religious instruction in Saturday and Sunday School and a Christian day school was established in 1898 to provide secular as well as religious education.

The new church – our present building – was built in 1907 at a cost of $40,000. The school met in the basement of the church or what is now Hannah’s Room. A new school building – which we now refer to as the “old school” – was built in 1925. The present school building and gymnasium were built in 1963.

For such a long history, Immanuel Lutheran School has been led by relatively few principals. Mr. Herbert Kern served as principal from 1912 to 1958; Mr. Oscar Wulff served from 1958 to 1974; and Mr. Vernon Koch took over in 1974 until 1991 when he was called to be Immanuel’s lay assistant. Mr. Gary Dresser, an ILS alumnus, served as principal until accepting a call in 1999. In 2000, Deaconess Claire Neagley was installed as principal. Mr. Jim Krupski was called to serve in 2012 until accepting another call in 2015. Dr. Anne Stuhlman, serves as the school’s principal today.

The church has been served by many senior and associate pastors through the years. After Pastor Duessel, Pastor George J. Meyer was installed in 1926 and stayed until 1959.

After Pastor Meyer, Robert J. Riedel served Immanuel from 1961 until 1972. He was the first of several pastors to leave Immanuel to become president of the LCMS New England District. The others were Pastor David Mulder who left Immanuel in 1985 for the district office and Pastor Osmar Lehenbauer who was installed at Immanuel in 1986 and left in 1991.

Pastor Larry W. Rockemann accepted a call to Immanuel in 1992 to be Senior pastor. In 1998 Pastor Rockemann left Immanuel taking a call to Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Pastor H. Lane Bridges, who had been Immanuel’s associate pastor since 1994, then accepted the call to be senior pastor. In March 2000, Pastor S. R. Schumacher accepted the call to become our associate pastor. Following Pastor Bridges’ death in 2007, Pastor Schumacher served as the pastor until 2009 when he accepted another call. Pastor Kevin Karner accepted the call to Immanuel in 2010, and still serves as our pastor today.