Zion Lutheran is a church of the ELCA
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with about 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Now 30 years later, the ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with about 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The ELCA is made up of 65 synods in nine geographic regions. Zion is a part of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod.
To learn more about the ELCA, please visit their website at http://www.elca.org/
A Brief History of Zion
Originally located along an old Indian trail that later became Old Bethlehem Pike, eleven members of the Brethren Sect first settled in Zion Hill in 1733. It was here, in 1840, that the citizens of the village solicited donations to build a community church.
Within a year, despite the financial hardship of the times, enough money was raised to begin the project, and land was donated by Frederick & Hannah Wolf. The land was originally Peter Zuck’s property, patented in 1738, and later owned by the Wolfe’s.
The original structure was built on its current site in 1840 and was a framed church with two front doors and balconies on three sides. It was a union church shared by Lutherans, Reformed, and Mennonites, and was called Zion Church. Seven years later, the Mennonites left and built their own church, which they called Swamp Church.
Zion’s first Lutheran Pastor was the Rev. William Kemmerer. Pastor Kemmerer was serving the Lutheran church in Richlandtown at the time and agreed to build a second congregation in Zion Hill.
On April 13, 1841 the first Communion and Confirmation took place with 37 members and 21 catechumens partaking of the sacrament. By the time Pastor Kemmerer left in 1859, the congregation had grown to 121 communicants and 25 catechumens.
For the first 23 years, Holy Communion was celebrated only once a year. This was changed in 1863, when in the midst of the Civil War, the congregation voted to go to semi-annual Communion.
In 1889, under the leadership of Rev. Daniel H. Reiter, a decision was made to raise funds and build a new church. Many of the leading families of the Reformed congregation were against this move and chose to return to the Reformed congregation at St. Paul’s Blue Church - the Parish with which Zion was then affiliated.
The cornerstone for the new brick church was laid on June 22, 1890. With much of the labor donated, the total cost of the new church came to $4,875. On May 17,1891, the new church was dedicated and incorporated as a union church.
In 1895, an English service was begun at Zion on Sunday afternoons once a month. Formerly, all services were in German and also held only once a month. This provided the congregation with two services each month – one in German and one in English.
In 1908, a Durner two-manual pipe organ was purchased for $1,750, of which $750 was paid by the Andrew Carnegie Foundation. A number of years later, Mrs. Maria Koch paid for the electrification of the organ in memory of her late husband, Jonathan A. Koch.
In 1913, Zion voted to go to quarterly communion services. Three years later, they replaced the Lutheran Church Book with the Common Service Book.
In 1929, Zion petitioned the Norristown Conference for regular pastoral care. Prior to this Zion had been supplied for several years by a number of pastors. The Conference Committee of Parish Arrangements agreed to the petition and authorized the two congregations of the Pennsburg Parish – St. Mark’s, Pennsburg and St. John’s, Spinnerstown – to admit Zion Lutheran into their Parish. When this was affected in the spring of 1930, it was the first time in its history that Zion, Zion Hill, had become a part of any Parish.
It was also in 1929 that the Zion Choral Society was formed by J. Claude Harwick. Claude directed the Zion Lutheran Church Choir, Zion Male Chorus, Sunday school Orchestra and the Coopersburg Band. He also directed the St, Matthew’s Lutheran Choir at Keller’s Church, the St. John’s Lutheran Choir in Rich-landtown, and a choir in Emmaus. At the age of 19, Claude recruited volunteers from his various choirs to form the first Choral Society consisting of 22 men. It has since added women, and grown to almost 200 members at its peak.
In 1938 a full basement was dug for the church to make room for Sunday school and fellowship. A year later, stained glass windows were installed. Although we have no record of the cost, they are believed to have been around $80 each.
In 1950, the congregation voted to have worship services every Sunday, and became a separate Parish the same year. Two years later, communion services were instituted in accordance with the church seasons.
In 1954, the sanctuary underwent major renovations. The chancel was rebuilt, choir lofts were enlarged, and an altar rail was installed. The following year, a new baptismal font, lectern, lights (for the Narthex, Nave, Chancel, Choir & Entrance), a pulpit, and a sanctuary light were installed.
In 1958, Zion went to the Service Book and Hymnal. One year later, they purchased a Moller Pipe Organ which is still in use today.
In 1960, Brownie Troop 812 and Junior Girl Scout Troop 807 was started with Regina Knowles, Eva Walker and Mildred Stever as Brownie leaders, and Helen Fennessy as the Junior Girl Scout leader.
1n 1961, a Mason & Hamlin grand piano was given by the senior choir and is still in use today. The piano was built in 1899, and in its day was considered better than a Steinway.
In 1980, Boy Scout Troop 16 was formed under the leadership of George Koons, Jr. The troop is still very active under the leadership of his son, Jim Koons.
In 1987, the Lutheran Book of Worship was dedicated, replacing the Service Book & Hymnal.
In 1990, the Zion Fellowship Hall was built. This Hall provided the church with a large banquet area, kitchen, and upper balcony. Nine years later, the Fellowship Hall was expanded to provide much needed classroom space.
In 1999, Zion was one of 26 Small Town and Rural Congregations recognized by the ELCA for its ministry. Our story was included in the book, Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations.
In 2002, a community playground project was started by the church. The first component to be built was a memorial garden with a gazebo where people could find peace and solitude. A year later, a Little Tyke’s play structure was installed. Finally, on October 23, 2005, a Picnic Pavilion was erected. This pavilion was an Eagle Scout project completed by Curtis Fluck - an amazing feat for a young teenager.
In 2015, Zion celebrated its 175th anniversary and went to the Evangelical Lutheran Worship book.
For almost 200 years, Zion has not only survived but prospered, despite wars, economic upheaval, changes to liturgy, communion, music, and conflict. It did so with the assistance of 21 pastors who served this congregation faithfully over the years, but most especially it was through the inspiration, tenacity, and hard work of our forefathers & mothers. These people were willing to take great risks, even at most inopportune times. They were willing to make great sacrifices for God and His church. And thankfully, that same resilience and dedication, has been passed down to those who serve Zion today.