WATERLOO, Iowa --- For many who attend Immanuel Lutheran Church, 207 Franklin St. is the only location they've known.
Since 1952, the church has been a gathering space for baptisms and confirmations, suppers and bazaars, weddings and funerals. Missouri Synod Lutherans have met for worship and fellowship. Parents have sent their children to the adjoining school for a faith-based education.
"We love this church," said Kathy Diehl, a lifetime member of Immanuel Lutheran.
And Diehl doesn't just mean the building.
On Sunday, the congregation, established in Waterloo by German Lutherans in 1878, will hold its final worship services in downtown Waterloo. Immanuel Lutheran church and school will be demolished to make way for a CVS pharmacy --- though plans to relocate have been considered and pursued years before the property sale, the Rev. Gerald Kapanka said.
Students will be absorbed by Valley Lutheran School or attend other schools. The church plans to build a new house of worship along Oster Parkway, in Pinnacle Prairie along Greenhill Road in Cedar Falls. In the immediate future, Immanuel Lutheran will hold its own services at Christ Lutheran Church, 234 S. Hackett Road in Waterloo.
The final weeks have been a whirlwind of meticulous inventory, sorting and packing and preparations as the church readies for final services, a sale, a move and a public auction.
Many members are sad to leave a familiar setting and a beautiful, limestone structure. Some memorable items will come along to the new church, such as the stained glass windows. Other sentimental items, the pews and the organ, must go up for sale for pragmatic reasons.
"Every week you look around and think, 'It's going to be sad not to be here,'" Kapanka said.
Congregants are also optimistic the relocation of the church and the closure of the school will usher in new ministry opportunities, new growth and new life.
Robert Sieglaff, 89, grew up when Immanuel Lutheran sat at Walnut Avenue and Vine Street. Before that, the church was at Water Street and before that, Lafayette Street and East Park Avenue.
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"My job was to ring the bell. One time, I turned it over I pulled too hard," Sieglaff said.
Sieglaff, who likes to say he cast the deciding vote to stay and expand the Franklin Street church during a narrow relocation vote in the 1980s, now believes the time is right to move. In fact, he sees the hand of providence as the church prepares to widen its vision from parochial education to youth, young family and senior ministries.
"In that respect, I think we are putting our new origin in a place that's logical to the way the community will be growing," Sieglaff said.
Religious education remains a source of pride and is a part of the history and heritage of Immanuel Lutheran Church.
"We think a lot of our school," said Lois Bonefas, a former student and church member since 1970.
While the church's moral and financial support for Lutheran education remains strong, the current economic feasibility of one church significantly supplementing one parochial school just wasn't possible, Kapanka said.
Other factors considered: Safety concerns from parents due to the location of Immanuel Lutheran. The private school also had a tough time competing in a state with a strong reputation for public education and in a community that had recently invested in new infrastructure and modern technology, Kapanka added.
The church intentionally considered property in Waterloo. After much prayer and discussion, in the end, when put to a vote, the Oster Parkway site proved the popular choice.
In preparation for the final Sunday, the church sent out invitations to former and past members. Services are scheduled for 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. The congregation will then head over to the new site to dedicate the property.
"A lot of things are big steps of faith," Bonefas said. "But we do have faith that God has a plan for our congregation."