The story of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Palm City, Fla., and its 25 years of history is the story of mission helping mission helping mission.
Immanuel has the distinction of having been the first mission of the newly formed ELCA, organizing on Jan. 3, 1988. On that very first Sunday, part of the offering was set aside for the start of other congregations, which established a mission priority that would become part of the fiber of this congregation.
Immanuel's mission developer and first pastor was Luther D. Kistler, who had spent the previous 19 years serving as mission pastor at Musashino Lutheran Church and Japan Lutheran Seminary in Tokyo.
When Kistler arrived in Palm City, it was clear that "the little town was ready for a church," he said. "I rode my bike all around town. My wife was my secretary, and all I did was make house calls."
Those calls paid off. "We brought in 800 members in eight years," Kistler said. "People would tell me, 'Because you came to our house, we will come to your church.' "
With that kind of growth, it wasn't long before Immanuel was ready to build its sanctuary, which members did two years after organization.
And Kistler's previous church in Japan wanted to be a mission partner. "That church sent us $25,000 to help us out," he said. "Isn't that incredible? We Lutherans in America had been helping missions in Japan since 1899. And now they were helping us!"
Not only that, the Japanese church sent 25 people to attend the dedication of Immanuel's sanctuary. The stained-glass window over the entryway is dedicated to that church and their partnership.
Growth & expansion
Kistler served Immanuel until he retired in 1994, having helped to also build a multipurpose building for the growing congregation.
In 1995, Tom Hartley came to Immanuel and led them through another building project in 2001. He serves today as only the second pastor in Immanuel's 25-year history.
Growth continued over the next decade at Immanuel until it hit a peak of 1,566 members in 2008 before taking a slight downturn that came from the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005 and then the recession.
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