Located in downtown Champaign, Illinois, Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church stands as a testimonial to the love and power of Jesus Christ, as expressed in the persevering ministry of a Christian community that has grown over more than 100 years.
Beginning shortly after the Civil War, the early congregations of Emmanuel Church worshiped in meeting halls and schoolhouses. On Sunday, February 4th, 1883, our first church at the corner of State and University formally opened its doors to for worship and service to the community. A fire behind the altar destroyed a portion of the roof and damaged furnishings in February 1910. It was during repairs that talk turned toward construction of a new, larger building.
Mr. and Mrs. John Polk offered a large donation in memory of their three sons, John Jr., Robert Collins and Cicero Justice Polk as funding to construct a new church building in 1916. At their request, the church's name was changed to incorporate the word "Memorial." Eight months later, supplemented by parish funds, construction began on the $50,000 church, parish hall and rectory.
Ralph Adams Cram, one of the foremost Gothic Revival 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 also includes 21 memorial stained glass windows. The iconography honors Emmanuel, the symbolic name of Jesus, "God With Us," and represents key events in his life. The church building also houses a Lady Chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. At 10:00 am on June 26, 1918, The Rt. Rev. Granville H. Sherwood, Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, presided at the consecration of the new church building.
The church continued to serve the entire Champaign-Urbana community until the fall of 1927 when a second Episcopal church, the Chapel of St. John the Divine at the University of Illinois, held its first services. Around that time as well, Emmanuel's well known Altar Guild Easter Egg program began. In 1964, the Harris J. Mowry, Jr. building was built and later dedicated in memory of the parish's eighth rector. The Mowry building currently houses the parish offices and classrooms and serves as a meeting place for numerous community groups - one of them the oldest AA meeting in Champaign-Urbana.
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. At this time the tower bells, which ring out during daytime throughout downtown, were installed. The centennial of the Cram building was also celebrated in 2017-18, another reminder of the past heritage and present mission of this congregation, as well as testimony to our commitment to carry out the worship, witness and ministry that make Emmanuel a channel of God's grace now and for generations to come.