Greetings my faithful friends, as part of a course on Rural Ministry I had the pleasure of doing an historical analysis of one of my contextual sites. Since I had done this research on MN Valley in 2021 for a Lenten sermon and in 2022 for Borgund for their 150th Anniversary. I thought it best to dig into the history of Zion Lutheran Church.
For your reading pleasure and hopefully for some further insight for our enlarged community:
Zion Lutheran Church was established in 1879 as a Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church. Services were originally held every fifth Sunday. In 1881 a Sunday School was started as well as a Ladies’ Aid Society. The first church was built in 1884. The Ladies’ Aid paid for the church bell in 1885.
Zion shared a pastor with Louisburg Lutheran from 1910 to 1951 and the pastor lived in Louisburg, MN. Two local congregations, Synod and Trinity merged with Zion in 1918. The ladies’ aid at the time was small, but all three agreed to merge and formed a more vibrant group in 1918 as well.
Following this merger, it was decided that meals and more community engagement were necessary. Zion built a fair stand and started serving meals at the Swift County Fair and they also started providing a fall meal of Lutefisk for the community.
The church basement was constructed in 1919 and from 1922 to 1927 the congregation met in this basement while the new church was being built above. The church was completed at a cost of $32,000, $10,000 of which was paid for by the Ladies’ Aid.
A kitchen and boiler were added in 1946 and an addition to the church was put on in 1954 when the membership had swelled to 1000 members with 400 worshipers per week attending between two services. In the ‘40s and ‘50s there were so many Sunday school students that they had to have two Christmas Programs. The first pipe organ was installed in 1938 and it was upgraded to the current organ in 1958. A fireside room and children’s chapel was added in 1951 and a second parish worker had to be hired to cover the needs of the congregation.
The congregation built a home for a family in need in Roseville, MN in 1951 and they also started to broadcast their services over the radio at this time.
A parsonage was built in 1962 and the entrance to the church building was remodeled slowly from 1962 to 1974. A youth pastor was hired in 1969 and the parish house was removed to make room for a parking lot in 1974.
In 1977 and 1978, the congregation had one Saturday night service and one Sunday morning service, but this practice was discontinued and returned to two Sunday morning services through the ‘90s.
In 1976, Zion started a shared pastoral relationship with St. John’s Lutheran of Holloway, MN. This continued until St. John’s closure in 2020. Many of those members joined Zion after this.
More remodeling happened in 1987 after the congregation was able to burn the mortgage in 1985! In 1988 Zion became a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
Zion has always been known as a community hub. Many local organizations have held meetings at Zion and the congregation has had a history of feeding and welcoming many.
Although their numbers have significantly reduced since their peak in the mid to late 1900s, the congregation continues to provide space for a community food shelf which was established in 2008. They also planted a community orchard in 2019. They open their doors for social services meetings, AA meetings, piano lessons, Toys for Tots, clothing distribution, Miss Appleton judging, and more.
The Lutefisk supper still draws a crowd of over 400 people and has continued with a few breaks over the years. The original fair stand which is now owned by the fair board still stands and remains a place to gather with friends and get a good meal.
Zion has about 370 members and typically worships between 30 to 60 people per week, but for holy days and special occasions, the number rises to over 100. The majority of active parishioners are over fifty years old, but there are about twenty active families with children. There is a women’s bible study group, a prayer shawl ministry, a quilters group, a bell choir, a senior choir, and a contemporary group that are active. Confirmation classes are held in the school year with youth from the Tri-church consortium, as well as a youth group, Sunday School classes, VBS, and parent forums.
In 2021, the congregation upgraded its audio and visual system, allowing people to live-stream the service or watch later online. This action results in nearly the same number of online worshipers logging in as are in the pews, not to mention their continued radio and local access broadcasts which draw a significant number as well.
Zion Lutheran Church has great potential for future life and missional engagement as a necessary player in the community. I have enjoyed learning and working in this rural community, and I believe that it has so much to offer as a mix of century-old immigrants and new immigrants all desiring to live in harmony under the grace of God.
Vicar Sara J. Larson