Immanuel Lutheran Church Records Now Available for Research
Several German communities emerged to the west and southwest of Little Rock in the 1870s and 1880s in response to efforts by the state and by the railroads to promote immigration. These settlements, which still show evidence of their German heritage, continued to use the German language well into the twentieth century. The religious needs of community members were initially served by occasional visits from the pastor of First Lutheran Church in Little Rock.
In the spring of 1880, under the leadership of First Lutheran’s Rev. Charles Obermeyer, a group of settlers who lived near the Alexander and Collegeville communities took steps to establish their own congregation. The collection of Immanuel Lutheran Church records (MSS.14.58) held by the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies presents the history of the organization that developed from these settlers’ efforts.
At the initial meeting held at a home in Alexander, the group voted on where to locate their church. Although the vote fell to Alexander, records in the collection show that some who lived in the Collegeville area, which was five miles to the northwest and on the other side of the railroad, preferred not to make what was then a difficult journey. Instead, they called their group St. John’s Lutheran Church and continued for a number of years to meet in homes and to arrange for a visiting pastor to serve them.
Following the initial meeting, land was purchased in the town of Alexander and a building was constructed. This original building was replaced in the 1950s by the brick building that still serves the congregation today. Initially, worship services were conducted in German, and the church records were kept in German until the end of 1923. Over the years, the group transitioned from having all services in German, to having only periodic German-language services, and eventually to using only English in worship.
Over its 140-year existence, Immanuel Lutheran Church has been served by more than a dozen pastors. These ministers frequently also served other parishes and preaching stations in Central Arkansas. These partnerships are reflected in the records in this collection, which includes church records recording baptisms, weddings, and other official acts, as well as records of the ladies’ aid society and the youth groups.
Immanuel Lutheran Church continues to meet today, with members who can trace their family histories back to the group that first met and formed the church in 1880. (Read more about Lutherans in Arkansas on the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas here.)
The records are available in the Research Room of the CALS Bobby L. Roberts Library of Arkansas History & Art, and the finding aid is available online here.
By Shirley Schuette, CALS Roberts Library Research Services