The first worship service of Immanuel Presbyterian Church was conducted by our organizing pastor, the Reverend Robert Keever on September 11, 1960, in the cafeteria of Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia. In November 1960, Presbytery purchased our present site, which consisted of six acres and a 1942 brick house. For the next ten months, services were held in the basement of the two-story house.
From its earliest days, the Immanuel congregation was a community of service. In 1970, the Speech and Language Center of Northern Virginia was created and opened at Immanuel to provide speech therapy for preschool age children. In 1976 we added our own preschool, allowing children from the Speech and Language Center with mild speech problems to mingle with the preschoolers.
In April 1986, Immanuel and Garden Memorial Presbyterian Church, an African American congregation in southeast Washington, D.C., began exploring the possibility of working together in service. From the inception it was clear to both congregations that the goal was joint ministry involving members working together at a personal level. Early fruits of this exciting partnership were the joint worship services and lunches afterward at Immanuel and at Garden, joint participation in Garden’s summer enrichment program for neighborhood children, and a Christmas in April renovation project in Arlington, Virginia.
In the fall of 1988, the Immanuel congregation had increased to 480 with an average attendance of 210. The move to two services took the pressure off the sanctuary space, but we still lacked sufficient classroom space and an area large enough for a congregation-wide meeting. As planning began on a new building, Immanuel members decided it was important to consider not only our own needs but also those of our community. This decision mirrored a commitment made in 1978 to donate 10% of funds raised for construction of our new sanctuary to the Presbytery Major Mission Fund.
In 1990 the congregation selected two programs for major mission, one local and one overseas. Garden Memorial joined with us in a commitment to the “I Have A Dream” program, providing the neighborhood location for our Saturday breakfasts and student mentoring. Our international commitment was to the medical missionary work of Dr. and Mrs. Salvador de la Torre in Mwandi, Zambia. In February 1996 we dedicated our new education building, today known as the Meeting House.
Several additions to our called staff during the 1990s—Reverend Daniel C. Thomas, Associate Pastor for Education and Nurture—invigorated the congregation with fresh ideas and guidance.
Music has always been integral to worship at Immanuel. Through the years, talented music directors established a tradition of quality. We have enjoyed variety in the music we hear: choirs, soloists, organ music, youth and adult instrumentalists and guest orchestral accompaniment for special occasions. Handbells were introduced soon after the 1980 dedication of the new Sanctuary. The experience of worship gained new dimensions in 1998 with the deep, rich sounds of the new Lively-Fulcher pipe organ and the arrival of Director of Music Brian Wilhour, a talented musician, director and composer.
In 2000, a Visioning Task Force was charged with involving the congregation in thinking about where we wanted to go as a congregation. As one of the results of this process, in 2002 we began a second “Dreamer” program, referred to as Changing Lives. Fifty at-risk children were invited to participate.
Immanuel’s passion for service, both locally and internationally, continued with the launching of an International Mission Committee in 2001. Over the next several years, groups traveled to Guatemala and to Peru, where a relationship was established with a church in Moyobamba. Youth groups traveled to Honduras with Students Helping Honduras and Nogales, Mexico with BorderLinks.
In 2001 Immanuel joined with Lewinsville Presbyterian and Temple Rodef Shalom to provide an affordable assisted living facility for the elderly in McLean. Chesterbrook Residences became a reality in November 2007.
On June 5, 2005, the Reverend Aaron D. Fulp-Eickstaedt was installed as our fourth called pastor. Reverend Fulp-Eickstaedt’s sermons challenge both our mind and heart as he preaches how to embody a loving God through servant discipleship.
New programs continue to invigorate life at Immanuel. Under the leadership of Reverend Daniel Thomas (who retired in June 2015), focus on the educational needs of our children led to the introduction in 2005 of Immanuel’s Incredible Quest, an innovative and exciting approach to teaching Immanuel’s children. In 2001, 2005, and 2010 we celebrated the “Year of the Bible,” a program of guided readings which leads participants through the entire Bible in a year. A Theologian In Residence program brings distinguished theological scholars to Immanuel to share current scholarship. In an ongoing series entitled “Real World, Real Faith,” speakers from the congregation share their stories of how faith has informed their lives. A Visioning Task Force a decade ago helped us look forward with purpose and commitment not only to our personal and group spiritual journeys but also to service to the world
By the end of 2010, our congregation numbered about six hundred. We formed a Strategic Planning Committee in 2011 to explore ways in which we could enliven and embolden our worship and mission In May 2012 the Session approved the recommendations of the Planning Committee to proceed on a trial basis with two major changes to our worship services. These changes include the move to one service at 10 a.m. on Sunday mornings beginning in the fall of 2012 and the piloting of an informal Sunday evening service.
We continue to pray for God’s guidance in defining our future path. Our overarching goals along this path are to grow spiritually as a congregation and as individuals, to continue the legacy of those who preceded us, and to realize our commitment to embody God’s love through worship, service, education and community.