This morning I had the great pleasure of celebrating the 150th anniversary of Zion Lutheran Church in Zionsville, about half way between Brenham and Burton, Texas.
Zion and I have a connection. I grew up in southeast Michigan. My bishop there was a Reginald Holle (1925-2012), who was a son of this congregation. His sister, Bea Behring was a member of the congregation I served in Conroe.
Zion works closely with Burton Bridge Ministries, even in a pandemic. Especially in a pandemic, making them toiletry kits, Advent Blessing Bags and so on. One goal for their 150th anniversary was to have 150 in worship this year. They achieved the goal, at 166, but not the way they had intended: online.
When the ships started pouring over from Hamburg, Germany in the 1800’s, the first Lutheran Churches were planted. First Galveston in 1850, then Trinity Frelsburg, Eben Ezer in New Berlin and others in Brenham. St. John Ellinger was the last church founded before
the Civil War began, 1861.
After the war, church planting resumed with Bethlehem Round Top in 1865 (the oldest continually used Lutheran Church building in Texas). Then came Schulenberg/Black Jack, New Ulm and New Wehdem in 1869.
All the time, things were percolating in an area called Harrisburg, Texas, on the La Bahia Prairie. Most folks went to other Brenham churches, but were tiring of the travel.
May 8, 1870 a meeting was held to discuss organizing a new congregation and determining a site. Zion was launched with 29 charter members, and the Harrisburg community was renamed
Zionsville, after the new church. The church was built, the consecrated on January 29, 1871. The first baptism was held on January 30, 1871, 150 years ago yesterday.
The congregation still has the paten, chalice and baptismal bowl consecrated on that day.
A young preacher named William Pfenning from Germany was cajoled into coming. Like many of the first Texas Lutheran pastors, he was trained at the St. Chrischona Missionary School in Basel, Switzerland. He served from 1870 to 1875.
In 1876, Zion hosted the Texas Synod Assembly. in 1990 the great Galveston Hurricane destroyed the church. In 1901, a second church was completed, 30’x60’ for $3,000. (Note the pulpit above the altar, centering Word and Sacrament.) the congregation had 530 souls.
The verses on the cornerstone are Psalm 84:11-13. No verse 13 in your Bible? Psalm 84 begins with an a note that says, “To the leader: according to The Gittith. Of the Korahites. A Psalm.” Our Bibles today treat this like a title or inscription, and they start numbering the verses with the next line, so they have 12 verses in Psalm 84. But the Jewish Bible and Luther’s Bible counted this note as a verse, so they ended up number the psalm with 13 verses. The same text, just different numbering. So, mystery solved:
For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than live in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
who bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
happy is everyone who trusts in you.
Zion again hosted the Texas Synod Assembly in 1905. in 1914, the first Luther League was organized.
The ladies sent clothing to New Guinea, while the congregation supported Lutheran World Relief. In 1928, the chancel was expanded to accommodate growth.
Benevolence was 35%. The congregation began to switch from German to English. The congregational meeting minutes were written in English the first time in 1937. English services were introduced, one Sunday a month in 1938. In 1942 they moved to two Sundays a month. Pastor Mgebroff and a secretary began the slow process of translating all the church historical records from German to English.
The first Vacation Bible School was held in 1946. By 1950, worship was in German only once a month, and in 1961 just on the 5th Sunday. The last German service was held in 1974.
In 1960, another merger formed the second American Lutheran Church. Fees for baptisms, confirmations and funerals were discontinued. In 1965 communion went from quarterly to monthly. In 1967, the congregation voted 89-88 to build a new worship structure, the third church. The building cost $118,000 and was completed in 1970.
William Pfennig (1871-1875)
G. Thone (1875-1880) Below are two of Pastor Thone’s salary receipts, $200 for one year and $250 for another.
Gottfried Jordan (1880-1882) He died in November of 1882. He is buried in Zion’s graveyard.
R. Jaeggli (1883-1886) He was also the president of the Texas Synod. He died in November of 1886.
Ernst Huber (1887-1889) He was also the president of the Texas Synod. He died in August of 1889 after only two week’s illness. He is buried in Zion’s graveyard.
F. Schwann (1890-1893) Raise grain for the cattle that provided milk for his family and the horses that provided him transportation.
G. Stricker (1893-1902) He served during the Great Hurricane and the building of the second church.
Michael Haag (1902-1912) He was the longest serving pastor to this point. He left to take a call at the “Lutheran College in Seguin.”
Karl Mueller (1913-1937) 24 years. He died in 1937 and is buried in Zion’s cemetery. He saw the congregation through WWI, The Great Depression and the 1930 merger that fired the American Lutheran Church.
Fred Mgebroff (1938- ) His salary was $1,000/year, plus some food and a parsonage. English services were introduced.
Richard J. Weber (1947-1974) Weber continued to provide German services by radio after his retirement. He served 27 years.
James Witschorke (1974-1981)
Willfred F. Biggott (1982-1987)
J. Joseph Podolak (1988-1990)
Tim Crist (1990-2000?)
Rudy Kelling (1991-?) Part-time Visitation Pastor
Give me some time and I’ll nail down the timeline from 1994 to present.
Pastor David Hall and Sister Anne Hall
Pat Lehrer (2013-2017)
Katrina Walther (2018-2019)
Many thanks to Pastor Karen Buck, who is serving as their interim pastor.
Some photos from 2014: