Historic Roots Find Growth
The historic congregation of Immanuel in urban Kansas City has its fair share of struggles–decreasing congregation size compared to decades past, school closure, a pastoral vacancy, and it’s situated in the heart of a neighborhood that was historically connected to institutional racism. But the congregation has found a unique way to keep sharing the Gospel of Christ to its neighborhood: a partnership with the Lutheran Urban Mission Agency (LUMA).
First established in 1870, Immanuel was the first LCMS congregation in the Kansas City area. (It’s often referred to as the “mother church” for all the other Lutheran churches in the greater Kansas City area.) In 1930, it moved to its current location on Tracy Avenue. Over the years a school building was built that had success, but then closed in the 1980s for financial reasons and now serves as Section 8 housing. According to lifelong member Rich Saeger, Immanuel has had a food pantry for the neighborhood since the 1960s and 1970s, which has grown and developed over time and helped the “food vacuum.” In recent years, LUMA’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Kelsha James reached out to Immanuel about partnering to connect to people in the neighborhood.
Immanuel and LUMA have been working hard to develop Immanuel’s fellowship hall to serve as a larger space for all of LUMA’s needs. But after months and months of mold removal and cleaning, the space is quite a blessing. The fellowship hall has more accessibility and more space–especially useful during COVID-19 as patrons can safely social distance in a warm building while waiting for supplies.
LUMA has expanded not only to supply food, but also cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, other household items (like shower curtains), and a diaper program called “Happy Bottoms”. They have also recently launched a program called “Birthday Bags” where pantry clients get a decorated bag with hand drawn notes and a birthday treat. Says James, “Just something to make them feel special because you never know, especially during this time of COVID, that may be the only birthday present they receive. It’s hard times right now for everybody, no matter what economic status you’re in.”
Currently Immanuel’s vacancy pastor is Rev. David Reimnitz, senior pastor at Bethlehem in Raymore. Lisa Williams, Congregational President at Immanuel, sums up the impact that LUMA and Immanuel have together on urban ministry:
“It would be our dream and prayer that not only do we continue to meet their physical needs, but that others will see another congregation here–kind of Immanuel 2.0–to marry Word and Sacrament and family ministries and children’s sunday schools and vacation bible schools... there are a lot of other churches in our neighborhood, it’s not like we’re the only church. But, obviously I believe we have a unique message around grace alone, faith alone, and scripture alone. And people are hungry for that. You don’t have to ‘live your best life now’ and ‘pick yourself up’ Jesus has done that for you,” says Williams, “...The African American community, the Hispanic community, they’re all vital here, and all hungry to hear the Gospel.”
Immanuel's 1930s Church Building