Located in downtown Champaign, Illinois, Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church stands as a testimonial to the perseverance and dedication of a Christian community that has grown over more than 100 years.
Beginning shortly after the Civil War, the early congregations of Emmanuel Protestant Episcopal Church worshiped in meeting halls and schoolhouses. Thirteen years later, on Sunday, February 4th, 1883, the first church formally opened its doors for service. A fire behind the altar destroyed a portion of the roof and damaged furnishing in February 1910. Iy was during repairs that talk turned toward construction of a new church.
Prompted by the death of their son and vestry member John Luther Polk Jr. in 1916, Dr. and Mrs. J.L. Polk presented a plan to construct a church, "costing not less than $25,000 or more than $30,000", to be a memorial to their three sons, John Jr., Robert Collins and Cicero Justice Polk. At their request, the church's name incorporated the word "Memorial".
Eight months later, supplemented by parish funds, construction began on the $50,000 church, parish building and rectory.
At 10:00 a.m., Wednesday June 26, 1918, The Rt. Rev. Granville H. Sherwood, Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, presided at the consecration of the new church building.
Ralph Adams Cram of the Boston, Massachusetts firm of Cram and Ferguson, one of the foremost church architects in the history of the United States, was the principal designer of the church and its companion buildings. Cram incorporated the three-fold theme of the Trinity in numerous features of the church, which includes 21 memorial stained glass windows. The iconography honors Emmanuel, the symbolic name of Jesus, "God With Us," and represents the life of Christ. The church building also houses a "Lady Chapel" dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
The church continued to serve the entire Champaign-Urbana community until the fall of 1927 when a second Episcopal church, Chapel of St. John the Divine at the University of Illinois, held its first services. In 1964, the Harris J. Mowry, Jr. building was built and later dedicated in memory of the parish's eighth rector. The building currently houses the parish offices, Sunday School classrooms and serves as a meeting place for numerous community groups.
Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church observed the 100th Anniversary of its admission as an organized mission into the Diocese of Springfield in June 1982 and celebrated its centennial as a parish in 2001. The centennial of the building falls in 2017, another reminder of the past heritage and present mission of this congregation, as well as testimony that there will always be the holy and inspiring worship, witness and ministry that make Emmanuel what it has been and what it shall be, with God's guidance, for generations to come.