We used to think the first Lutheran missionary in what is now Wyoming was the Rev. J. D. Schroeder. We've since learned that there were earlier Lutheran missionaries as close as 100 miles from modern day Sheridan, Wyoming.
The book Tomahawk and Cross chronicles Iowa Synod Lutheran missionaries among the Northern Plains Tribes from 1858-1866. These men were sent by the Rev. Johann Konrad Wilhelm Loehe, (the founder of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and a former partner with Rev. C. F. W. Walther in the Missouri Synod.
Note: The Iowa Synod was formed after Loehe broke ties with the Missouri Synod. The Iowa Synod later merged with other groups to become the American Lutheran Church, The American Lutheran Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Differences between Iowa and Missouri were significant, but not as significant as the differences between the ELCA and LCMS.
The back cover of Tomahawk and Cross sets the scene:
Seven years after the signing of the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851, missionaries Jakob Schmidt and Moritz Braeuninger, heeding the call of Pastor Wilhelm Loehe, of Neuendettelsau, Germany, began their work among the nomadic Crow near the Yellowstone River (Montana). Over the next few years, aided by Indian agents, fur traders, the military, and additional missionaries from Germany, via Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, the Lutheran evangelization of the northern plains tribes expanded to the Cheyenne and Arapaho near Deer Creek Station (Wyoming).
Deer Creek Station is near present-day Glenrock, Wyoming. An additional mission station noted on the page xvi map is close to the former site of Fort Reno (43°49′39″N 106°14′24″W), east of Kaycee, and NNE of Sussex, Wyoming. The latter site in modern Johnson County is is the closest those Lutheran missionaries came to what we call Sheridan, Wyoming.
Using Jakob Schmidt's diary (here published in English for the first time), Carl Kreb's autobiography, and many other sources, author Gerhard Schmutterer recounts the delivery of government annuities to the tribes along the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, life in the frontier trading post of Fort Union (North Dakota) and the Fourth of July observance there, Christmas celebrations at Deer Creek Station, Braeuninger's mysterious death on the Powder River [by bear attack or by murder committed by the son of an Oglala chief], the return of the missionaries accompanied by three Cheyenne youths--and even eventual failure of the mission in the west.
The first permanent Lutheran (and specifically LCMS) work in Wyoming had its beginning in the 1890's through the work of the "Cowboy Preacher," the Rev. J. D. Schroeder. Immanuel, Sheridan began as fruit of his work.
Immanuel means "God with us." To Himself. In Christ, God reconciles the world to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. Word and Sacrament ministry is the primary way the gifts of Christ are distributed in this place, the Word of Christ, and the visible Word, the Sacraments. Martin Luther Grammar School has been part of that ministry of reconciliation for ten academic years. Every day, at home, at work, at school, and as you fulfill your vocations in our community, you are ambassadors for Christ. God makes His appeal through us.
One of those Ambassadors was a Lutheran missionary and circuit rider we call the Cowboy Preacher, J. D. (SHRAY der) Shroeder, We have a recording of him speaking about his first time in Sheridan in 1893 on a special record celebrating Immanuel's 50th Anniversary, its Golden Jubilee in 1953.
Rev. Schroeder wrote,
In 1892, I was sent as a 'Reiseprediger' (circuit rider) missionary to the western part of Nebraska. It was just after the last Indian War in the badlands, where Sitting Bull, the old troublemaker, was killed. After his death, the Sioux Indians caused no more trouble and that great territory was opened for settlers. It was my work to find Lutherans, gather them in little groups, and preach to them. It was a large territory I had to cover.
Very soon I had more preaching stations than I could serve in Nebraska and the Black Hills. After a year I asked the Minnesota, Dakota and Montana District to take over my preaching stations in the Black Hills. When I was relieved of these preaching stations I visited Newcastle, Wyo. There I preached regularly, and when the Burlington railroad was built to Sheridan, Wyoming, I came to Sheridan. About the same time our Synod sent Pastor Henry Wind to Cheyenne, Wyoming. There was no Lutheran pastor at that time in the territory of Wyoming, which became a state about that time. I remember, that we spoke of Wyoming as the territory.
When I came to Sheridan it was not much of a town. I stopped at the Sheridan Inn, a new fine hotel, which Buffalo Bill had built. I began to look for Lutherans and found some. A few names I remember: Fred Triebel, Theo Bachmann, Otto and Arnold Tschirgi, John D. Busch, a farmer Mr. Meye, Dr. Dennelbrink, Prof. Herbert H. Timm. I preached in the afternoon in the Methodist Church and I had a very good attendance.
In his autobiography he later writes,
The city of Sheridan, Wyoming which was my last station, lay at the end of the railroad in the foothills of the Bighorn mountains. These mountains are covered with snow almost all year round. The highest peak is nearly 11,000 feet high. The area between the Black Hills and the Bighorn range is very hilly and sage covered. This section is good mostly for a cattle range. However, settlers had taken up permanent residence along the numerous creeks and rivers which flow from the mountains through the area. As there is little rain, grain is grown here under irrigation methods. But the grain which does grow is the richest in the world. The ground here also yields untold treasures of oil, coal, and other minerals. Near Sheridan there are large collieries, and the coal lies very near the surface of the land. A great many farmers hack coal from their land, not particularly for their own use, but to sell for a good profit.
In this town I became acquainted with a man whose name is known the world over as "Buffalo Bill". The first time I arrived in Sheridan, I stayed at a hotel which belonged to him, and this is where I met him. He sat often with his guests and told of his adventures in the west. Indeed, this comparatively wild region had been the very scene of many of his activities.
Rev. Schroeder traveled amazing distances under incredible conditions for the sake of the Gospel. Many congregations of the modern Wyoming District owe their existence to the work of this faithful servant of Christ. He continues,
From this town [Sheridan] I had to take the stage coach to a distant city in Wyoming south of Sheridan, where I found a number of Lutheran families to whom I was able to preach. (This may have been Casper.) Enroute to this town, in one beautiful valley I found a large number of Lutheran Saxons. These people lived very near the ruins of old Ft. Kearney which the Indians had overrun and whose garrison they had massacred. This happened at about the same time that General Custer and his troops had been slain under Sitting Bull.
My entire mission field was at that time a very unsafe region. Not just because of drunken cowboys and others who committed murders etc., but also because of a large band of robbers which hid out in the mountains.
He’s talking about the “Hole in the Wall” gang and goes on to tell the true story behind the name “Crazy Woman.” His mission field covered northeastern and central Wyoming, southern Montana, the southern Black Hills of South Dakota and nearly all of the Nebraska panhandle. His goal was to start preaching stations that could eventually become self-supporting congregations that would call pastors to serve them.
A July 1939 article in the Northern Nebraska District Messenger, "Official Organ of the Northern Nebraska District of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States," tells of one of the early families, the Bachmann's, then considered to be
...the founders of our church in these parts and the first white settlers to remain in Wyoming, cultivated a more intimate relationship with the Red men, with whom they bartered much, than with the gun-toting cow punchers of early Wyoming fame. It was in 1889, two years before the Burlington Railroad made its appearance at this northwestern point and a year before Wyoming was admitted into the roster of states, that the Theodore Bachmann family arrived in the immediate vicinity of Sheridan by stagecoach from Deadwood, S. D., to take up a homestead here. They were evidently the kind that took their religion and their church with them, for it was in their home that the first Lutheran services were held, and the home housed a special home-made pulpit, laden with a large Bible, one of Hofacker's Sermon books, the old trusty Starck's Gebetbuch, and some half dozen German hymnals. Helping themselves in this way for a number of years, their prayers were answered when, at the turn of the century, a Lutheran missionary came to minister to them and regular services were conducted in an old frame school house in the southwest part of the city...
Note: No mention is made of Rev. Schroeder in this 1939 article.
At the turn of the century, the Rev. A. Menkens of New York became the first resident Lutheran minister of Sheridan, Wyoming. Documentary records are lacking of just when Pastor Menkens arrived, but it was during his pastorate that Immanuel was organized on March 1, 1903. Mr. and Mrs. Theo Bachmann and Mr. H. Timm, mentioned by Pastor Schroeder, were among those who helped organize Immanuel Lutheran Church of Sheridan, Wyoming, then called "Evangelishch Lutherische Immanuels Gemeinde" in German.
Unfortunately, a list of the names of the charter members have been lost. However, some names which occur frequently in the early history of the church include Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Schreibeis, Michael Schreibeis, V. Portz, C. F. Mayland, H. Timm, Georg Clausen, W. Kusel, H. Schubert, and H. Haenschke.
In May 1904, Pastor Menkens accepted a Call to the Lutheran church at Elmwood, Nebraska. The Rev. A. C. Guelker of Fort Laramie, Wyoming was Called by the newly organized Sheridan congregation. It was at that time that the site of the church property on Park Street was purchased for the sum of $350 from Henry A. Coffeen, a prominent resident.
When Pastor Guelker accepted a Call to another congregation, the Rev. Wm. Huesemann was installed as pastor of Immanuel in July 1907. Immediately upon his arrival, the building of a church and parsonage was undertaken, and on 13 December 1907, the church was dedicated to the service of the Triune God.
(Built by Rudolph Thomas Wentz)
Pastor Huesemann served Immanuel until August 1915. Candidate A. W. H. Wolter(s) was Called to be his successor. A little more than three years later, on October 24/26, 1918, the congregation was saddened at the news that their pastor, the Rev. Arthur W. H. Wolters, had been called to his eternal rest, a victim of the dreadful flu epidemic (with accompanying pneumonia) which swept the country that year.
In June 1919, the Rev. J. F. S. Her assumed the pastoral office. At this time, services were held in the communities of Ranchester, Clearmont, and Monarch. He taught school in upstairs of the Park Street Parsonage. A congregational request for a grant from the District to build a school building was declined. Pastor Her served the congregation for about seven and a half years, after which he was Called to Billings, Montana in 1927.
His successor, Pastor E. J. Moede, served only a very short time until September 1928.
During the ten-year period from 1928 to 1938, the congregation was served by Pastor Albert William Siebert. Rev. Siebert preached two sermons each Sunday, one in English and one in German. A 1928 congregational picture in front of the white Park Street church building includes people with family names like: Albrecht, Bockman, Cook, Kaufman, Kershaf, Kreger, Kusel, Miller, Needens, and Pitsch.
Pastor John F. Daniels served the congregation for only eleven months before he accepted a Call extended to him by St. John's congregation, Scottsbluff, Nebraska.
In September 1939, the Rev. E. J. Bernthal of Twin Falls, Idaho, accepted the Call to Immanuel. the congregation received financial aid from the Northern Nebraska District for a period of thirty-seven years (1903-1940). On January 7, 1940, the congregation became self-supporting. In 1941, the completion of a parish room under the parsonage was a much-needed improvement.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent declaration of war by Germany on the United States of America, public German-language services were discontinued. Paperwork shows that the congregational name was changed to English: Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church.
In 1947, a new Hammond electric organ was purchased.
Rev. Bernthal accepted a Call to Grace Lutheran, Wayne, Nebraska in January 1949. Rev. Nolan Obermueller was installed as pastor of Immanuel on 17 April 1949. In December 1949 the congregation purchased the city block on West Fifth Street.
A great improvement to the church building was accomplished in 1951, with the refinishing of the wood floors and addition of new carpet and windowpanes.
By October 1951 it was decided to build a new parsonage on the newly-purchased property on West Fifth Street. Construction began in the spring of 1952 and was completed in April 1953. The former parsonage on Park Street was used for Sunday School classrooms.
(Pastor Bernthal, in a recording made in 1953 for a the congregational 50th anniversary, reminded us that Immanuel had a school before under Pastor Her. We rejoiced in hearing this reminder again in 2011.)
...hold that fast which thou hast, that no man may take thy crown
Reverend J. D. Schroeder echoed those words of admonition from the Lord at Immanuel on its 50th anniversary.
The preaching station at Clearmont closed in the early 1950's. Confirmands from there, including the Schuman brothers, concluded their Catechism classes in the Park Street parsonage. Mines at Monarch closed in 1953 and the land of the town was sold in 1954. North of Interstate 90 is the "Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery at Monarch Wyoming."
Photo by Marsha Hanson Dillon
The preaching stations at Monarch and Ranchester also closed at this time. Focus turned to joining together as a strong, unified congregation on the West Fifth Street block owned by Immanuel.
Due to the growth of the congregation it was decided to Construct a new church building. The cornerstone laying service was held October 27, 1957, Reformation Sunday that year, and the church was dedicated to the Glory of God on March 23, 1958. We have a video of that day and much of the construction process.
The crucifix from the altar of the Park Street church building is now displayed in the narthex of our West Fifth Street church building.
Pastor Obermueller served the congregation until October 1963 and then accepted a Call to Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Pastor Robert Eckelman was installed as pastor in January 1964. Listen to a 1968 Anniversary Service here.
The first pastor to be ordained at Immanuel in the 1958 building was the Rev. Clifford C. Kaufmann, a son of the congregation. Born to Carl and Vera Kaufmann in Sheridan, Wyoming, he grew up on a ranch in Ranchester and attended local schools. After making the decision to become a minister, he went to Concordia High School in Portland and graduated in 1957. He attended Concordia College in Portland and Concordia Senior College in Fort Wayne, Ind. He entered Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Mo., in 1961 and graduated with a Master of Divinity. After being ordained into the ministry in 1965, Rev. Kaufmann served congregations in Knierim, Iowa; Mt. Prospect, Ill.; Lake Oswego; and East Wenatchee, Wash. He also served at Portland Lutheran High School from 1980 to 1982. After retirement, he served as a vacancy pastor in congregations located in Scappoose, Springfield and Vancouver. He died in Christ in 2011.
After LCMS Convention action in 1969 reconfigured the Northern Nebraska District and the Southern Nebraska District into the Nebraska District and the Wyoming District, the Wyoming District of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod was organized at a meeting held at Sheridan, Wyoming on September 30, 1970. Notary Public for the District Articles of Incorporation was Beulah J. Fackenthall, a member of Immanuel.
On November 7, 1971 the mortgage burning service was held. Pastor Eckelman served until March 1974 whereupon he accepted a Call to Jackson, Wyoming.
Pastor Marvin Temme of Prince of Peace, Buffalo, Wyoming served Immanuel for two years as vacancy pastor. Prayers for a resident pastor were answered when Rev. Bernard Staake of Grand Junction, Colorado the Call of Immanuel. The Installation Service was held may 2, 1976. A new Allen organ was dedicated to the glory of God on November 7, 1976.
In 1979, a "land committee" was formed to look into a preaching station site at Big Horn. By 1981, the congregation had considered several sites for a mission start near Big Horn and the Girl's School. Serious consideration was given to 6 1/2 acres in Ranchester. Alex Pitsch offered 3 acres of 7 he owned in Ranchester for the mission start at a cost of $20,000. A motion passed to purchase the land for a mission start. A preaching station was established in Ranchester in 1983 in anticipation of a new congregation there. The Ranchester preaching station was abandoned in 1985 and Alex Pitsch repurchased the property in 1986.
During Pastor Staake's tenure, a Vicarage program began at Immanuel. Vicars included:
Brad Grover (1977-78)
Dale Grimm (1978-79)
Randall Weinkauf (1979-80)
Douglas Fusselman (1980-81)
John Larson (1981-82)
David Winter (1982-83)
Michael Warmbier (1983-84)
Tom Zeller (1984-85)
Edward Bierman (1985-86)
Terry Daberkow (1994-95)
Bill Stratman (Lay Minister, 1995-96)
In 1982, Rod Reimers did the work to expand the chancel and altar rail. Communicants no longer had to ascend or descend steps in order to receive the Sacrament of the Altar.
Pastor Staake served as pastor of Immanuel until 1983. A fishing accident in the Snake River (near Jackson) took his life 1984, shortly after he left Sheridan.
Pastor Sasse from Buffalo filled the vacancy, which ended in 1983 when Pastor Terry Dill accepted the Call to Immanuel. He accepted a Call in March 1986 and left after Easter.
That same year, 1986, Pastor Ron Garwood, then serving in Lander, accepted a Call to Immanuel. Listen to a sermon from Pastor Garwood here. His eight-year pastorate concluded in 1994 when he was elected President of the Wyoming District. His time here included the construction of the narthex expansion and two Sunday church services. Dr. Garwood's book, 5 Things You Can Do to Make Your Marriage Stronger, was published by Concordia Publishing House in 2013.
Rev. Jerry Bernecker served as pastor of Immanuel from 1994 to 1996. Pastor John Rasmussen and Pastor Nathan Brandt filled the vacancy until 1997. With no one residing in the parsonage, a water pipe broke in the winter of 1997 flooding the parsonage. The repair, renovation, and expansion of the parsonage was completed in the fall of 1997.
Pastor William Heine was installed at Immanuel in July 1997. A year later, Immanuel entered into a shared ministry agreement with Prince of Peace, Buffalo. Pastor Kirk Peters was ordained and installed in August 1998 as Pastor for Prince of Peace and as Assistant Pastor for Immanuel. The shared ministry agreement concluded in 2006.
An outside lighted cross and new roof were completed in September 1999, English Handbells were purchased for worship in September 2000, and a church van was acquired in July 2002.
Pastor Heine led the congregation to start a new school in 2003, Martin Luther Grammar School, a classical Lutheran school.
Rev. and Mrs. Melinda Heine were instrumental in the rebirth of classical Lutheran education in the LCMS. Pastor Heine served the Wyoming District as Education Chairman and was a permanent member of the Board of Directors of the Consortium for Classical Lutheran Education from 2006-2015. He was named Magister Magnus by CCLE in 2015. Listen to a 2015 sermon of his HERE.
Mrs. Heine was honored as Magistra Magna by CCLE in 2017.
In 2006 the congregation started on an annex with kitchen and parish hall, dedicated in 2007. The loan was paid off in April 2016.
Pastor Heine accepted a Call to St. Paul Lutheran High School in Concordia, Missouri in 2008. The Rev. Paul J Cain, then serving Trinity, Morrill, Nebraska, accepted the Call to be Pastor of Immanuel and Headmaster of MLGS in March 2009 and was installed on April 5, 2009, Palm Sunday afternoon.
In 2010, Immanuel hosted the Wyoming District Pastoral Conference.
In 2011, MLGS hosted CCLE XI, the summer Conference on Classical Lutheran Education at Sheridan College. At the conference banquet, Martin Luther Grammar School was honored as the first school accredited by CCLE. Accreditation by NLSA, National Lutheran School Accreditation by LCMS School Ministry, followed in 2012.
Pastor Cain was elected to the CCLE Board in 2009 and was made a permanent Board member in 2013. During his time at Immanuel, he served the Wyoming District as Worship Chairman, Circuit Visitor, and currently serves as District Education Chairman. Pastor Cain's book, 5 Things You Can Do to Make Your Congregation a Caring Church, was published by Concordia Publishing House in 2013.
In 2011 and 2012, Immanuel made three Calls for a part-time Assistant Pastor. All were declined, citing needs for housing and the need for more than a part-time Assistant. The congregation decided to wait on Calling an additional pastor to expand pastoral care until there were additional candidates or the congregation could afford a second full-time pastor.
Immanuel hosted the District Men's Retreat in August of 2014 and was held at Immanuel and the Sheridan County Sportsmen's Association ranges. Year-round Wednesday evening services were added in 2014.
In 2015, at the request and by the recommendation of the school board, Immanuel called an LCMS-rostered teacher for the very first time, Mrs. Elizabeth Carlson. She served MLGS for the 2015-16 school year.
Major upgrades to the parsonage flooring were completed in the fall of 2015. The original blue neon of the 1958 chancel cross faded by spring of 2016. It was replaced with LEDs and rededicated on 10 July 2016, the Sunday we celebrated paying off our mortgage. Pastor Cain concluded his sermon that day in this way:
In 1958, when this building was new, our chancel cross was backlit blue with neon. Not only is blue beautiful, but it has meaning. Blue is soothing and comforting. In heraldry, it stands for truth. It is the color of spiritual love, fidelity, anticipation, and hope, a liturgical color for Advent. The LCMS cross is now blue. Blue is also the natural color for water and sky. Because of that, blue can also remind us of Holy Baptism and our hope of heaven itself. We can also celebrate the gift of heaven in Christ and the restoration of our lit cross with LEDs on this day in 2016 when we celebrate paying off our parish hall expansion mortgage.
And so we renew our congregation’s public confession: The Bible is the only error-free authority for all teaching and practice. The Lutheran Confessions are an accurate presentation of what the Bible teaches. Jesus is the center of the Bible, Holy Scripture and the only Savior because of His cross. God the Holy Spirit uses the Gospel alone in Word and Sacraments to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify people in that faith and life.
Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Having established a school (2003) and paid off the annex debt (2016), Immanuel next pursued additional pastoral care, fulfilling a decades-old need of the congregation.
Immanuel was assigned Rev. Candidate Rene G. Castillero, a graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, on 25 April 2017, as Assistant Pastor and MLGS/IA Teacher. He is the first pastor of Immanuel to be ordained at Immanuel in the 1958 building. His ordination and installation was at 4 p.m. on Sunday, 18 June 2017.
In addition to missionary Rev. Schroeder, Immanuel has been served by seventeen Called pastors, numerous vacancy pastors, ten or so vicars, and an Assistant Pastor under the shared ministry agreement with Prince of Peace, Buffalo. All these servants of the Word have proclaimed and practiced 2 Corinthians 5:16-21:
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Pastors of Immanuel, Sheridan
1900-1904 Rev. A. Menkens
1904-190x Rev. A. C. Guelker
1907-1915 Rev. William Huesemann
1915-1918 Rev. Arthur W. H. Wolters +
1919-1927 Rev. J. F. S. Her
1928 Rev. E. J. Moede
1928-1938 Rev. A. W. Siebert
1938-1939 Rev. John F. Daniels
1939-1949 Rev. E. J Bernthal
1949-1963 Rev. Nolan Obermueller
1964-1974 Rev. Robert Eckelman
1976-1983 Rev. Bernard Staake
1983-1986 Rev. Terry Dill
1986-1994 Rev. Ron Garwood
1994-1996 Rev. Jerry Bernecker
1997-2008 Rev. William Heine
1998-2006 Rev. Kirk Peters, Assistant Pastor
2009-Present Rev. Paul J Cain
2017-Present Rev. Rene G. Castillero, Assistant Pastor