The name Immanuel means “God With Us”. The gift and responsibility of making ourselves and our Church the dwelling place for God has been ours for over 140 years. It has been our joy over the decades to live out that responsibility to understand the Scripture as it relates to us today and to realize that God Is Still Speaking.
The history of Immanuel United Church of Christ can be traced back to our German ancestors who immigrated to Eastern Pennsylvania in search of religious freedom. Two German communities, the Lutheran and the German Reformed, joined together to form Union Churches. The present Church in Shillington had its beginning in an old school house located on Lancaster Avenue in 1874. At the time of the first communion, 19 members were recorded.
By 1880, the congregation had reorganized as the Lutheran contingent broke away. As time went on, Immanuel continued to grow and change to accommodate its growing family, and to reflect our desire to reach out to the wider community.
Serving our Community and the Larger World
From our first gatherings in the school house to the present day, Outreach and Mission has been at the core of Immanuel’s focus. It began in 1880, when a Sunday School was developed which became the source of community activities. Mission and Outreach continues today, with members of our congregation deeply involved with numerous non-profits that serve the needs of those who are homeless or living in poverty. Immanuel currently partners with organizations such as the New Journey Community Outreach Soup Kitchen, Family Promise, and Opportunity House. Our teens have taken Mission and Outreach trips outside of Berks County, both within the U.S. and internationally: Our most recent trips were to New York and Guatemala.
Immanuel Preschool opened in September 1985. It serves children (and their families) ages 2-5.
Music and Mission has been the focus Immanuel’s Gifts of the Arts Series since its beginning in 2013. This program is an outreach ministry of Immanuel, welcoming all into our church home for musical concerts and other artistic events. Proceeds from Gifts of the Arts programs have donated to Immanuel’s Mission Trip Fund, Bethany Children’s Home, Bridge of Hope Berks County, Berks Women In Crisis, Phoebe Ministries, Opportunity House, Veterans in Need of Assistance, The City Thrift Shop, Reading Elementary Art Program, New Journey Community Outreach, and others.
Immanuel continues to live out the gift and responsibility that God has given us to discern how He is speaking to us in today’s world. One of our most important areas of focus is be open and welcoming to all people, no matter where they are on life’s journey. In 2015 Immanuel took an historic step as a congregation by the overwhelming affirmative vote 85.7% establishing that we are an Open and Affirming (ONA) church within the UCC denomination that welcomes all. The ONA process, started in fall 2014, continued through winter and spring of 2015 with the vote taking place in May.
Immanuel has also been committed to reaching out to serve those of other faith traditions, and to building relationships across the lines of faith. Each October, Immanuel and the Islamic Center partner in a “Walk To The Bridge”, which fosters friendship with our Muslim neighbors, and culminates in working together to distribute clothing to the poor. Our partnership with the Islamic Center has continued with events such as a Lenten Dinner Series in 2016 called the Jesus Fatwah, in which Christian and Muslim scholars offered reliable information about the Muslim faith and its traditions.
Looking To The Future
After the affirmative vote, the next phase of putting our vote into action began and is continuing. Members of the leadership team attended conferences focused on the topics of acceptance and inclusion of LGBT in new ONA congregations, and greater accessibility for those with physical disabilities and mental health challenges. The challenge and joy of embracing these responsibilities continues to move forward with the formation of the Extravagant Welcome Committee, which is charged with developing and implementing goals for the Church in this area.
In 2010 Immanuel UCC was selected by Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN as one of forty congregations nationally to participate in an 18 month project aimed at growing the capacity of churches to equip and support people of faith in their various Monday-Saturday callings in daily life. Through participation in this project Immanuel was able to integrate a focus in worship called “Mind-the-Gap,” an opportunity for members to share how faith connects and informs their life at work, home and in the community.
After more than five years of envisioning, refining and planning, Immanuel embarked on a campaign in 2016 to complete the work of upgrading portions of the sanctuary, including renovation of the chancel for flexibility, accessibility and to support the growing areas of worship, sacred music, and community gatherings. We celebrated its completion Sunday, April 23, 2017.
Immanuel United Church of Christ has been blessed in many ways, and pray that we may continue to grow in our faith, in our fellowship and in our service to the world in Christ’s name.