By Garth Snow/ gsnow@kpcmedia.com

When Emmanuel Lutheran Church celebrated its 150 years in Fort Wayne, it also celebrated a century and half in the same location in what has become known as the West Central Neighborhood.

Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry thanked pastor the Rev. Thomas Eggold and the congregation for inviting him to the celebration the evening of July 26, which marked exactly 150 years since the church’s founding. The church was founded and continues in the 900 block of West Jefferson Boulevard.

“There’s nothing better than coming to a celebration like this,” Henry said before reading a proclamation marking the occasion. “The pastor and I were talking a few minutes ago. One-hundred-fifty years — that’s unbelievable. There’s not too many churches in our city, if any, can state that they’ve been able to celebrate 150 years of existence. So congratulations to all of you for making that possible.”

Henry said the church that was founded July 26, 1867, has grown to over 2,100 members. He called attention to Emmanuel’s 1962 partnership with St. Michael Lutheran Church to found a school that now serves over 350 students.

“Thank you for being a part of the history of Fort Wayne, and thank you for allowing me to celebrate it with you,” Henry said. “It is a family that cares for all people and reaches out to witness the love and forgiveness found in Jesus Christ. It’s a real blessing to be here. God bless all of you.”

Pastor Eggold followed with words for those who filled the churchyard and who surrounded the picnic tables in the closed-off block of Union Street. “I want to welcome all of you who have come from the community,” he said. “We have a lot of church members here. But this is open for a reason. So you are our guests tonight and we’re thankful that you can celebrate with us.

” ‘Emmanuel’ is a name which means ‘God with us,’ and that has been the Emmanuel’s story for 150 years. We are here by God’s grace alone, and our message is one of God’s grace alone, and for those reasons we give God all of the glory and we give God the thanks for this anniversary which we celebrate tonight.”

He prayed: “Dear Heavenly Father, We thank you on this day of celebration for all the ways you have provided for your people through the years through the ministry of Emmanuel Lutheran Church. We ask, Lord, that you would help us to keep your message of love and forgiveness at the center of all that we do, and I pray that you would be with us tonight, guide and guard our celebration that it would give you glory and serve your eternal purpose, and we pray these things boldly trusting in your promises and in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

The church praise band offered music in worship from the lawn facing Jefferson Boulevard. Hundred of guests lined up for meals. A magician performed card tricks. Children accepted animal balloons. Children etched chalk designs on the sidewalks. All ages accepted popcorn and snow cones. The band 4 Clicks North also performed.

Ilona Clenny was excited to take a photo of her pastor and the mayor, and then to take another of Mayor Henry and the pastor’s father, pastoral assistant the Rev. Tom E. Eggold. She said she was drawn to the church when she faced personal difficulties and the church reached out to her. For 30 years, she has remained a member of the church that’s just one block from her house. “It’s not convenience. It’s by God,” she said.

Scott and Amanda Senger explained their connection with the church.

“I’ve been a member here at Emmanuel for 26 years,” Scott said in an interview.

“I’ve been here since I was born,” Amanda said. “So born and raised here in Fort Wayne this was my home church. So I have been baptized here, confirmed, married, and then we have two daughters who have been baptized and confirmed here as well. It’s been a great home for us. Scott came to this church after we got married. I brought him along. And now he has been actively involved with our restoration project and he’s the president of the Church Council right now.”

“We’re excited to have the 150th anniversary and pleased with the great turnout from the community and thrilled with the weather here tonight. God has richly blessed us here at Emmanuel,” Scott said.

Amanda said she was thrilled that the July 30 service would bring back three former church pastors “to thank the Lord for the blessings that he has brought to Emmanuel, too, as well as its parishioners.”

In that Sunday sermon, Pastor Eggold reviewed how Emmanuel was founded in a special meeting of members of St. Paul Lutheran Church, with the 196 members living west of Harrison Street becoming part of the new congregation. “At a time when the country was still reeling from the emotional and economic impact of the Civil War, these pioneering families mortgaged their homes and added their own labor to provide the sanctuary in which we now sit,” he said.

Eggold said the fledgling congregation converted a house into a church and then began plans for a building that would seat 1,100 people — “a figure that dwarfed their current membership and faithfully anticipated the souls the Lord would draw to the place.”

Read more about the church’s history and ministries at emmanuellutheran.org.