Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Schenectady turns 150 – The Daily Gazette
SCHENECTADY — Lynn Manning has fond memories of the cheeseburgers she and her friends bought from Carrols during Bible study breaks at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church.
It was the early 1970s, just before McDonald’s revolutionized the fast food industry, and the now-defunct burger stand was located next to the church in Nott Terrace, which Manning joined in 1965 .
“You could go next door during confirmation break and get a burger for 15 cents and a cheeseburger for 17 cents,” she recalled last week.
In August, Manning will be one of dozens of former members of the 1972 Zion Youth Group who will gather in Schenectady from across the country to celebrate the group’s 50th anniversary and commemorate the church’s 150th anniversary.
An itinerary is still being worked out, but the 65-person gathering speaks volumes about the impact the church had on its members, said Manning, a Rexford resident who remains an active member to this day.
“How many people have a group like the one from 50 years ago, where we’re still – even though we’re all over the country – able to maintain connections?” she says. “It has been 150 years in Zion, and we are 50 of those. It really is a wonderful place.
Founded as the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church on March 17, 1872, by a group of individuals belonging to the city’s German Methodist Church, the congregation soon outgrew its original home in the former Congregational Church along from Jay Street and moved to its current location at 153 Nott Terrace. in 1888 after purchasing the property from Union College for $3,000.
Since then, the church – which adopted its current name in 1941 – has been woven into the fabric of Schenectady, enjoying periods of challenge and prosperity as the town around it navigated its own rise and economic downturn. caused by the decline of General Electric and the American Locomotive Co. in the years following World War II.
Zion Evangelical has remained a welcoming community throughout, hosting Bible studies, Sunday school classes, and establishing a number of outreach programs to help struggling community members over the years. The church has also undergone several renovations and expansions over the years.
Outreach efforts intensified in the 1980s under the watchful eye of Reverend Paul FG Wildgrube, who became the church’s fourth senior pastor in 1976. He would serve until 2003.
Under Wildgrube’s leadership, Zion Evangelical expanded its Bible studies and youth programs, created a music program, and began bringing fellowship to congregations too sick to attend services.
The church also added a preschool and began strengthening ties with other community organizations, such as Schenectady Town Mission, Schenectady Community Ministries, and Schenectady Day Care.
“He just felt that we had to be part of the community, that we couldn’t just be a ministry to ourselves, but that the gospel had to be a way to reach other people. This love of Jesus must seep into the community in word and deed,” said Wildgrube’s wife and church deaconess, Jean Wildgrube.
Wildgrube died in 2013. The church renamed its Friendship Hall in his honor, where a timeline detailing the church’s 150-year history is currently on display. The church also plans to commemorate the 150th anniversary by opening a time capsule that was buried in one of its flower gardens 25 years ago.
Today, Zion Evangelical continues to adapt to the changes brought about by the pandemic. In a balcony that houses the church’s choir and organ are various electrical equipment needed to broadcast religious services live, an investment made necessary by the outbreak of the virus.
The church has also partnered with its daughter ministries, Immanuel and Trinity Lutheran Churches, to develop ways to better serve the community. Both churches separated from Zion Evangelical in the early 1900s.
“The pandemic has really brought us closer together,” Manning said.
At the back of the church is a storage closet filled with shelves stocked with canned food, clothing, toiletries, and children’s books, which serves as the base of operations for Schenectady Street Soldiers, a local non-profit organization that distributes meals and other necessities to those in need.
The group approached the church two years ago to ask permission to use its parking lot for its weekly food drives and meal giveaways, which attract more than 170 people, a number that has increased due to the pandemic.
The church not only allowed them to use the parking lot, but also dedicated an entire room to storage, and church members donate supplies weekly.
Jean Wildgrube bakes about 10 dozen cookies to distribute each week.
“I have a sign on the door that says ‘home sweet home,'” said Schenectady Street Soldiers volunteer Nancy Furey. “We couldn’t have grown as much as we did and we couldn’t have helped as many people as we could. Storing all of this is amazing.
Last July, the church installed a new senior pastor, Reverend Francis SB Rigobert, after a long search exacerbated by the emergence of the pandemic.
Rigobert said he hopes to continue the church’s long history of serving the community and touching the lives of church members, and continuing to deliver the gospel.
“Here I obey God’s call and I have never regretted it,” Rigobert said. “It has been a blessing.”
Contact journalist Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.
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