Immanuel Presbyterian Church is the culmination of a long dream for a new Presbyterian congregation in Montgomery, Alabama, a southern city that lost 4 of its 7 mainline Presbyterian congregations to the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) during the fracture of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) in 1972, at the height of the movement for civil rights. Read about this historic split in a 1973 Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine article, "A Church Divided." Serious attention was first directed toward the development of a new congregation at roughly the time the northern UPCUSA and the southern PCUS reunited in 1983, forming our current PCUSA (Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.). Property was purchased along the Atlanta Highway. Years passed, demographics shifted eastward, the Atlanta Highway property was sold, and ten new acres were purchased along Vaughn Road corridor in east Montgomery.
In the summer of 1989, a Steering Committee was formed, consisting of (willingly!) "donated" members from the three remaining Montgomery PCUSA congregations: Calvary, Memorial, and Westminster. This Steering Committee began studying Scripture, Reformed theology, and Presbyterian history and polity, all with an eye toward a new community of Christian faith for Montgomery in the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition. A decision was made to begin the search for a "clergy couple" to help organize the new church development.
Following an interview in Decatur, Georgia, on Sunday afternoon, 13 January 1990, a call was issued to Elizabeth & Richard Deibert, then completing a final semester at Columbia Theological Seminary. The Deiberts accepted and began a weekly commute from Atlanta to Montgomery for morning worship with the surrounding Presbyterian congregations and for afternoon study and planning with the enlarging Steering Committee.
The name Immanuel (a compound of three Hebrew words, "with-us-God") and its Hebrew transliteration (beginning with "I" rather than "E") was chosen. On Easter morning, 15 April 1990, the first worship service of Immanuel Presbyterian Fellowship was held with about 60 people in the auditorium-turned-sanctuary of the School of Nursing at Auburn University Montgomery. Eventually, the Deiberts graduated, moved with their 18 month-old daughter, Emily, and were ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament on Sunday, 20 May 1990.
An eventful year of worship, education, fellowship, mission, property development, and plain, old hard work was brought to the 18 April 1991 meeting of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley (central Alabama) at First Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and petition was made and approved for Immanuel to be organized as a new congregation. On Sunday afternoon, 23 June 1991, the auditorium of Irma B. Moore Hall at Auburn University Montgomery, Immanuel Presbyterian Fellowship was chartered Immanuel Presbyterian Church, thus becoming the fourth PCUSA congregation in Montgomery. Shirley Guthrie, Professor of Systematic Theology at Columbia, led the Service of Organization with a sermon entitled "A Church Called Immanuel
" based on Luke 7:33-34 and John 15:12-15.
The next two years would see the continuation of worship centered in the weekly union of Word and Sacrament, serious Christian nurture for all ages, ongoing mission to the community, the growth and development of Immanuel's first session of elders, the doubling of a richly diverse membership, the drafting of a 50-page architectural program for a dedicated sanctuary, the winning of one of the first ten Sam & Helen Walton Grants for Outstanding New Church Development, the first-ever Capital Fund Campaign to establish a Building Fund (led by the PCUSA's Church Financial Campaign Service), and the hiring of an architect to draft plans.
Two years after organization in June of 1993, following more than 30 meetings of the Building Design Committee, construction was begun on a unique, dedicated sanctuary home in and through which to be the church of Jesus Christ in Montgomery. Six months later, on Christmas Eve 1993, Immanuel's first worship service in the new sanctuary was held, A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. The sanctuary was dedicated to the glory of God on 16 January 1994 in a service led by Walter Brueggemann, Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Seminary, in a sermon entitled "Like A Thief In the Night
" based on 1 Samuel 3:1-14.
Since the sanctuary doors opened, Immanuel has experienced steady growth in its diverse, interracial membership, instituted the midweek LOGOS Program of Christian Nurture for youth and children, and engaged in a second Capital Fund Campaign, the results of which enabled the construction of a new 11-room, 7,000 square foot Christian Education building dedicated to the Christian nurture of youth and children of all ages.
We give thanks to God for the Presbyterian Church (USA), for the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley, for this community of Christian faith which was fashioned before the foundation of the world, and for the promise of God's presence that will sustain us in the years of Christian ministry ahead.