Zion Lutheran Church has served the local community for 132 years

Gustave Wilhelm Loesch became one of the many pioneering spirits who left his ancestral homeland to immigrate to the United States.

The 28-year-old arrived in 1838 and soon joined many of his fellow immigrants, mostly from the German states of Bavaria and Saxony, who settled in a small community near Jefferson City.

They worked hard to establish a new life, fitting into the social fabric of their rural Missouri surroundings while clinging to certain German traditions. One accomplishment came with the construction of a building that continues to resonate with the history of their common Lutheran faith.

“The mother congregation of all Lutheran churches in the region, Zion’s roots go back to July 19, 1843,” wrote the late Palmer Scheperle, a local historian. His records note that it was on this date that 37 men came together to organize the Zion Lutheran Church congregation.

The fledgling congregation purchased property for their church a few miles southwest of Jefferson City on what is now Zion Road. A defining moment occurred on July 22, 1845, when they dedicated a 28-by-36-foot structure carved out of logs that served as the first church.

“One of the founding members of the Zion (Lutheran) Church, John Antweiler, was a Roman Catholic,” Scheperle said. “It is not certain that he was the only one, but we are told that the Roman Catholics celebrated Mass on Saturday evenings and the Lutherans held services on Sunday mornings in the first church.”

During its first five years, members of the Zion Lutheran Church received spiritual guidance from itinerant missionaries, but in 1848 a candidate named John Paul Kalb received the call to become the first official pastor of the church. Shortly after his appointment to Zion, he was ordained a Lutheran minister.

Pastor Kalb’s duties were not just with Zion, but included supporting budding Lutheran congregations in nearby communities. In 1852 he traveled to the community that would become Lohman, helping to organize St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

The booklet printed in 2017 in honor of the 150th anniversary of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Stringtown notes that in serving Zion and other Lutheran congregations, Pastor Kalb’s “journeys covered 100 square miles of territory on foot , on horseback or by wagon and on bad road conditions.”

Zion later welcomed Carl Frederking as pastor, followed by Emil Julius Moritz Wege. At the age of 21, Friedrich William Sandvoss, originally from Germany, was installed in 1865 as pastor of Sion. Two years later, he helped organize St. John’s Lutheran Church in Stringtown after the congregation split from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Lohman over doctrinal differences.

“The Constitution of Zion Lutheran Church and St. John’s Lutheran Church was drafted and drafted in German under the direction of Rev. Sandvoss,” explains the 150th anniversary booklet of St. John’s Lutheran Church.

A presbytery was erected in 1866 in Sion. Two years later, on August 9, 1868, Charles HL Thurow was installed as pastor in Zion. It was during his ministry that Trinity Lutheran Church in Jefferson City and Immanuel Lutheran Church in Honey Creek were organized.

Trinity, Immanuel, and St. John’s Lutheran churches grew to the extent that they were able to call their own pastors rather than rely on Zion for support. By 1879 the Zion congregation had outgrown its first log structure and a new church was erected.

Palmer Scheperle wrote the second “church building served the congregation until 1906, when the present (brick) structure was built…” He went on to explain that “much of the old building was recycled and used in the new church, including the balcony.”

The grounds of the Church of Sion expand with the addition of a cemetery, a school and a parish hall. However, the church’s remote location, coupled with the proximity of other Lutheran congregations, resulted in a decline in membership.

“I was always told that the decline of the church was because it was so close to Jefferson City and many members started going to Trinity while others migrated to St. John’s at Stringtown,” said Shawn Ehrhardt, who holds the distinction of being the last baptism to occur in Zion.

Final worship was held at Zion Lutheran Church on October 26, 1975, and the congregation officially disbanded less than two years later on July 3, 1977.

“My late father, Alfred Ehrhardt, along with my uncle, Herman Hansen, and another church member, Harold Fischer, were among the trustees responsible for the sale of church property,” Shawn Ehrhardt said.

“They sold everything except the cemetery, which they tried to manage for a few years. I remember they met at our house in the early 1980s to discuss the layout of the cemetery. they decided to place it in a trust with a local bank, using the money from the sale of the previous property to help fund the perpetual upkeep of the cemetery,” he added.

Solemnly, he added, “They knew they weren’t getting any younger and had to make sure the cemetery was cared for for years to come.”

The former church, now called the Historic Zion Chapel, is listed on the National Historic Register and, although privately owned, can be rented for special events such as weddings and vow renewals.

Aleda Renken, in an article published in the October 9, 1975 edition of the Daily Capital News, poignantly remarked that the key features that made Zion Lutheran Church such a special place remained even after it closed. – the memories of those who gathered there. for worship.

“But you cannot sell a church, you can only sell a building. The church will live on in the memory of those confirmed in it, those who married in it, and those who grew old in it. “, we read in the article.

Jeremy P. Ämick writes a series of articles on the history of the Russellville area.

Jerry B. Hatch