Immanuel Church History
"We of Immanuel are thankful to be among the seven original congregations who can trace their roots back to the pioneer days. "
The first Lutheran pastor who came to Tower-Soudan was a Norwegian pastor, The Rev. Grethjem of Duluth. The first Swedish service was held in the H. Nordstom home, in Tower. In 1886, The Rev. C.J. Collin, of the Gloria Lutheran Church of Duluth, came to Tower and Soudan to investigate the religious needs of his countrymen. Through his endeavors, student intern, J.A. Broden, lived in Tower for a short time, and under his leadership a congregation was organized on December 31st, 1886. Swedish people in Soudan also joined the congregation; however, as soon as the question arose about a site for the church building, there was division of the congregation. The original, “Bethel Lutheran Church of Tower” became the Bethel Lutheran Church of Soudan. The Tower congregation built their building where the present High School swimming pool is located.
The Swedish language was used for the worship services, catechism classes, Sunday Church School, Ladies’ Aid, and Womens’ Missionary Society until the 1920’s. Many members still fondly remember the Julotta Service which was held on early Christmas Morning. On Christmas Eve, members would take turns keeping the old pot-bellied wood stove burning, until the time of the service - 5:00 A.M. During the 1920’s, many of the Augustana congregations had intense struggles about switching from the use of the Swedish language to English. It was not easy for some of the members to make this switch because the Church served as the last link to fond memories of Sweden, their motherland. However, the younger people realized that if the congregation was to survive or grow, English would have to be used.
For many years, three different congregations used one building for their worship service. There were separate Norwegian and Finnish congregations which rented the building from the Swedish congregations of Immanuel. The Bethel Lutheran Church of Soudan was closed in 1954, and many members transferred to either Immanuel in Tower or to the St. Paul’s congregation of Soudan. The house which is now owned by the William Rusch family is the site of the former Bethel Lutheran Church.
Even the Immanuel building itself has had a rather unique history. The building was originally built at the present location of the public school natatorium. In the 1940’s the public school bought the lot, and the building was re-located, a basement was built , which the congregation had not had before, and a room was built behind the sanctuary. The building was given several remodeling projects, and in 1974 an extensive remodeling project was undertaken, which provided additional area for an entrance, worship, and education and a larger fellowship hall.
From it’s beginning, the congregation did not experience any great numerical growth, until the 1950’s, when the taconite industry brought a greatly needed economic boost to the Iron Range.
As mentioned earlier, the first congregation was Swedish and was affiliated with the former Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church. The Augustana Church came into existence in part due the the faithful labor and ministry of the Church of Sweden. In 1962, the Augustana Church merged with seven other Lutheran bodies to become the Lutheran Church in America. On January 1, 1988, the Lutheran Church in America merged with the American Lutheran Church and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Church to begin a new Lutheran body of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The history and traditions of our Immanuel congregation have been so rich and varied in it’s existence in this community, that it is not easy to set down in writing in a few paragraphs or even pages, the many stories of our past.
It was not easy to begin this congregation in the pioneer days of Tower-Soudan. Life was hard in this area which was being developed. Wages were minimal, and there wasn’t any Social Security, life/health programs or retirement pensions. Each family had to save from their meager earning enough for their daily needs, but also to make their own provisions for illness and retirement. Nonetheless, from their limited and small incomes, there was the great desire and love of recognizing the necessity of having a congregation and it’s ministry to care for their spiritual needs. The fact that this congregation, begun in the early days of Tower-Soudan, is still in existence is a witness of the love and faithfulness of a people who have lived through natural disasters, etc. Over the years many people have prayed and worked and sacrificed to maintain a Lutheran congregation, through which they may serve and worship their Lord.
For many years, in the Augustana Church, Immanuel was part of a three-point parish: Ely-Soudan-Tower. In 1958, Immanuel become a one-point parish, the first resident pastor was called, and the former Ralph Gornick house was purchased for the parsonage.
By the grace of God, Immanuel has continued and grown, and will continue to preach and teach the Word of God, and administer the Holy Sacraments until the day of the Lord’s Second Coming. In the history of the community, different denominations have come and gone, but we of Immanuel are thankful to be among the seven original congregations who can trace their roots back to the pioneer days.
For information call 218-753-2378