Long before the term ‘institutional church’ became popular in the 1890’s, Immanuel was an ‘institutional church.’ Its activities ranged beyond strictly liturgical and theological matters to encompass all facets of people’s lives and the urban environment.
The first cries of need from the community came in the form of the cholera epidemic, when the congregation was barely one year old. Although Pastor Carlsson and the members of the church devoted long hours in caring for the sick, waiting in anxiety with their families, and attending to the burial of the victims, no permanent health care facilities emerged from this experience. It would be almost 30 years until such plans came to fruition.
The education of the community was another matter, however. Immanuel acted quickly to set up a parish day school, then a college and seminary. In 1860, Augustana College and Seminary was officially opened, with 21 students and 2 professors. Three years later, the college and seminary relocated to Paxton, Illinois, and then in 1875, it acquired a new campus in Rock Island, Illinois.
Due to the quirks of denominational fragmentation, Immanuel can be considered the source of three colleges and two seminaries. In 1869, the Norwegian contingent of the original Augustana College and Seminary withdrew to Marshall, Wisconsin. A further division in this school created both Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Augsburg Seminary in Minneapolis. Augsburg College, founded by the seminary, became a separate institution, while the seminary joined Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul. Meanwhile, Augustana Seminary merged with four other schools to form the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago in 1962.
While informal health care agencies (and a small private hospital) had operated within Immanuel and the Augustana Synod, the establishment of a major medical center did not occur until 1881. Immanuel, in cooperation with other Swedish congregations, constructed a building with 6 floors and 150 beds, which also housed a training program for nurses. Augustana Hospital, in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, received several additions in later years and merged with Lutheran General Hospital in 1987. Lutheran General is now part of Advocate Health Care.
A college, seminary, and hospital were by no means the only manifestations of Immanuel’s institutional church. Other examples include a short-lived newspaper, residences for working women, a life-insurance society, at least two energetic evangelism groups, a home for orphaned children (forerunner of today’s Lutheran Social Services of Illinois), a publishing house (part of the genealogy of Augsburg Fortress Press), and an endless array of musical groups and mission societies.