WINONA – The Christmas season in Winona doesn’t officially start until the annual “Lessons and Carrols” service at Immanuel Church.
Longtime organizer the late Jackie Lancaster once said the traditional service “heralds in the Christmas season in Winona.” This year, the service will be held Tuesday, December 11, 2018, beginning at 7 p.m.
The service is derived from the Festival of Lessons and Carrols, and Episcopal tradition. However, at Immanuel Church, the service is enjoyed by every denomination.
The service will feature scripture readings and traditional Christmas carols with a non-denominational choir directed by Theresa Graves. Featured soloists will be Regan Cravens and Nathan Crenshaw, and the Winona High School Brass Ensemble, directed by James Bailey, will also perform.
Lanelle Martin will be the organist, and Barbara Chambley will be the pianist.
For more than 80 years ago, Immanuel Episcopal Church served the Episcopal community of Winona, however, when the Mississippi Diocese closed the church in 1991 due to a dwindling membership, a group of citizens took the initiative to save the historic church.
Today, Immanuel Church is truly a community church, holding inter-denominational services the second Sunday of each month at 9 a.m.
“A community worship service is held there once a month. It is an inter-denominational service.” said Nona Tillman, who was raised in the Immanuel Church. Tillman is now an active member of Friends of Immanuel, a group of local citizens who provide time and financial support to the operation of the church.
According to the church’s official history, the first Immanuel Episcopal Church was a wood-framed structure built in 1876 on the south side of Summit Street, between Academy and Church Streets.
In 1909, Captain James C. Purnell and his wife, Elizabeth, constructed the existing brick church on the corner of Summit and Fairgrounds Street “as their gift to the congregation.” The church was consecrated by the bishop of the Mississippi Diocese of the Episcopal Church on May 29, 1910.
The chancel window of the 1876 church, depicting the ascension of Jesus into heaven, can be seen in the south wall of Immanuel. The window, according to a late 1970s or early 1980s written history of the church, was made in Memphis, Tenn., in 1976 by a stained-glass artisan.
The church bell, which is still rung before every service, is also original to the 1876 church.
The chancel window in of the 1909 church, delicts the birth of Jesus, and was given in memory of Major and Mrs. Frank Hawkins, the parents of Mrs. James C. Purnell.
Tillman said after the Diocese closed the doors to the church, a group of citizens, who became the Friends of Immanuel, created the Community Worship Service, and worship continued on a monthly basis until it was announced the church would be sold in 1997.
“We were trying to preserve it as a house of worship,” said Tillman. “The Diocese gave the Friends of Immanuel the first option.”
Tillman said the cost to purchase the church was $54,000, and the Friends of Immanuel began efforts to raise the funds needed to purchase the building, with donations coming in from the local community and former members of the church.
In 1999, Immanuel Church was designated as Mississippi Landmark, and in 2005, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With its historic designation, the church has been awarded several grants to maintain the historic church.
Immanuel Church’s interior restoration was supported through a grant from the State of Mississippi, through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History under the provision of the Mississippi Community Heritage Preservation Grant.
With this grant, central heat and air conditioning was installed, the church’s slate roof was repaired, and its walls received new plaster and fresh paint. In addition, through a 2008 donation from Thomas and Mary Sisson, new carpet, a replica of the original, was installed. The stained glass windows were refurbished a few years ago, and efforts to maintain the church continue today.
For more information about Immanuel Church or to make a donation, contact John Wayne and Christye VanHorn at 662-229-3864. For information on scheduling a wedding or special event, contact Bob and Carole Graves at 662-283-1827.