A Whitestone church is celebrating 125 years of serving its community.
In commemoration of its milestone anniversary, Immanuel Lutheran Church will host a gala dinner on Oct. 23 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Terrace on the Park. The church has more than 300 members who are from all over New York and the Tri-State area and live by the church’s credo of “learning, living and sharing christ’s love with all.”
The church’s beginnings
The church’s humble beginnings date back to Feb. 24, 1895, when its nine founding members assembled to organize a congregation. By summer 1895, the congregation had grown large enough to enlist its first leader and recent seminary graduate Pastor F. Kronenke.
Since its inception, members worshipped in a local meeting space that the Methodist Church provided, but they longed for a space of their own. In October 1901, Pastor H.F. Bunke began working on the church’s current building at 149-40 11th Ave., which was dedicated on July 6, 1902.
Soon after, the congregation formed a Ladies Aid group and Sunday School that provided religious and language education for children.
In 1937, the church erected its famed lighted steeple cross, which served both as a call to worship and a way for airplanes to line up for landing on LaGuardia Airport’s runway. Those in the Whitestone community came to know Immanuel Lutheran as “the church with the lighted cross.”
The church’s Sunday school classes had amassed 179 students by the end of 1949 and they decided to open a Christian day school. In the Spring of 1950, Pastor Alrin A. Maas and his wife drew up plans for four-room school, which was constructed on Sept. 11 of the same year.
The school started with 57 students in six grades and expanded through eighth grade by 1954. By 1976, Immanuel Lutheran added nursery and summer school programs which subsequently extended into the regular school year.
Immanuel Lutheran today
In 2007, Pastor Johnson Rethinasamy became the associate pastor in order to reach new members of growing immigrant communities. In 2010, Immanuel Lutheran promoted him to his current role as lead pastor.
Today, the church serves members from more than 10 nations who speak 14 different languages. Immanuel Lutheran offers weekly services in English and bi-monthly services in Tamil, Hindi and Mandarin through Pastors Alfred Thiagarajan and Rajesh Dass and catechist minister Mimi Wang.
The church enlisted Pastor Sean Chapman to serves as the pastor for Family Life and new mission initiative ministries, while Anna Lutz serves as director of Youth and Campus Ministry at Queens College. Although Immanuel Lutheran’s day school closed in 2000, it still offers weekly Sunday school for children and young people.
Every summer, the church hosts a weeklong Vacation Bible School program for children ages four through 12 and runs weekly Bible study for teens and young adults.
Immanuel Lutheran also supports satellite ministries that extend into the community and the surrounding area. These ministries include serving the elderly at the Grand Nursing Home in Whitestone and reaching out to residents of the Bronx Psychiatric Center.
Church members also participate in the Vine Lutheran ministry at Queens College, which serves students and works to provide them with spiritual support.
In addition to its satellite ministries, Immanuel Lutheran also works to establish new churches including a Chinese church in Brooklyn in 2018. Over the past several years, the church has also trained and supported 20 workers to pursue service in Immanuel Lutheran and other congregations.
The gala is on Thursday, Oct. 24, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Terrace on the Park (52-11 111th St.) Head to Eventbrite for information on how to purchase tickets and check out Immanuel Lutheran’s website or Facebook page for more information.