THE HISTORY OF ZION EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH

 

The Church as built in 1904"EV LUTH ZIONS KIRCHE 1903" is the inscription on the cornerstone set in mortar back in 1903 when Zion Congregation's  house of worship began to take form.  A building of brick, mortar, and wood was going up, but  it was the people who gathered that day of the cornerstone lying who were the church, members of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church located in Harbor Beach. "Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church" is more than a name... it is a statement of its  purpose for existence. Here would be a group of God's people who by God's grace would proclaim God's Word, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For that group of people of German background, here would be the place where they could gather for  worship around God's Word and Sacraments and see to it that this treasure would be passed on to the next generation.

 

For many years now the German language has not been in use here at Zion, but the congregation’s purpose has remained the same -- to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is what the word "evangelical" really means.

 Rev. William Schwartz

The history of Zion congregation goes back many years before it reached the point where it was able to erect the present church building. The history of the congregation actually goes back to the early 1870's when a number of German  families began to settle in this part of Michigan's "Thumb." A Lutheran minister by the name of Himmler made occasional visits to these families to share God's Word with them and baptize their children. He covered this large area some times  by foot and at times by horseback. This pioneer work was followed up by the Rev. William Schwartz, a recent seminary graduate, who came to the area in 1872. He traveled daily either on foot or by horseback, contacting the Lutherans who had  settled in the eastern sections of Sanilac and Huron .Counties. He saw the need to establish a number of preaching stations throughout the area. Rev. Schwartz took care of these preaching stations by establishing small groups for worship in  the homes of members, in school houses and in other places suitable for the purpose. One of these preaching stations was at "Sand Beach" as Harbor Beach was known at that time He conducted services about once a month for the few Lutheran  families who were faming in the area. They gathered in the homes of some families living 2% miles south of Sand Beach. Some of these were the families of George Wenger, Jacob Layer, and Frederick Glantz.

 

Rev. Thomas SchoechBy 1876 St. John's Lutheran Church in Port Hope, 8 miles north of Sand Beach, received its first resident pastor, the Rev. Thomas Schaech. He was asked to serve also the spiritual needs of the Lutheran families around Sand Beach. He held  services from 1876 to 1881 in a frame house 2 blocks south of State Street on the east side of Huron Ave. The building was also known as Redman Hall or Red Ribbon House. A shoe shop was located on the first floor and services were held on  the second floor.

 

The small group of Lutheran Christians began to grow over the next ten years as more Lutheran families came into the area from Cleveland. With a steady increase of Lutheran families both at Port Hope and Sand Beach, it became' apparent'  that the group in Sand Beach should call their own pastor. The first official minutes of a Voters Meeting are dated August 27, 1881, and it is this date which is considered to be the date when Zion Congregation was officially organized and  became self supporting. At this meeting on August 27, 1881, a tract of land was donated by Frederick Stevenson for the purpose of erecting a place of worship. This property was located one mile south of Sand Beach. A small frame building  was soon erected.

 

At the Voters Meeting held December 31, 1882, it was decided to call a Pastor and build a parsonage. The Rev. F. Duever arrived in 1883 and began his duties as the first full-.time pastor of the congregation and also the teacher of the  congregation's school. Classes and worship services were held in the same building for many years. The new pastor was not able to continue his work for long however, due to ill health. He served Zion Church and School I 1/2 years before  leaving Harbor Beach.

 

The second pastor called to serve the congregation was the Rev. Pancratius Stamm, a member of the Michigan Synod, serving in Frankenmuth. Rev. Stamm accepted this call and took up his work in Harbor Beach in the spring of 1885. Rev. Stamm  was to serve Zion congregation for 34 years, and> during his long pastorate many changes took place in the parish.

 

The small building located south of town was still being used as a church and school. However, more Lutheran families began to settle in the northern part of the area served by Rev. Stamm. The children who attended the Christian Day School  had to walk along muddy roads and swampy woods and fields in order to attend school. It became apparent that it was necessary to change the location of the church and school, and in 1890, lots were purchased in town. The old parsonage was  sold and a new one was built on the newly acquired- property in town.

 

The building which had served as a church and school was taken down, and the material was used to erect a similar building on the new site. Again, this building was used for a number of years as a church and school. The building was  improved over the years. Hardwood floors were put in and brick was added to the outside walls.

 

Zion's Christian Day School experienced such growth that it became necessary to call a teacher. Mr. Ottomar Stamm, a student at Concordia Seminary in Springfield, Illinois, served as the teacher in the school during 1902. It was also at  this time that discussion began concerning the erection of a new place of worship. The plans were developed and in 1903 the congregation celebrated the corner stone laying of its present church building. This building was formally dedicated  to the glory of God on August 28, 1904.

 

From its beginning, Christian Education has been a major emphasis in Zion congregation. During 1903 Mr. August Rusch assisted Rev. Stamm in the Christian Day School. Mrs. Oettchen taught in 1904. Miss Elizabeth Stamm also taught for a few  years, and then in 1907 Mr. J. W. C. Bischoff was called to be the regular teacher. Both church and school flourished. Mr. Bischoff served the school from 1907 until 1911 when he accepted a call to Kilmanagh in the spring of that year. Rev.  Stamm and Miss Elizabeth Stamm completed the teaching duties for the rest of the school term. It was in September, 1912, when the school had a full time teacher again. Mr. Ernst Gugel, a recent graduate of Concordia Teacher's College at  Addison, Illinois, received a call from Zion congregation to serve as the teacher in its Christian Day School and also to serve the congregation as organist and choir director. Mr. Gugel remained with the congregation for eight years. In  1918 it was noted that Pastor Stamm was the oldest active minister in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. He confirmed his last Jr. Confirmation Class in the spring of 1919. At that time he was 84 years old. Upon his retirement in 1919 the  congregation continued his salary and use of the parsonage.

 

In May of 1919, the Rev. Otto F. Kutschinski was installed as the Third full-time pastor at Zion. A temporary dwelling was purchased for the new minister: Rev. Stamm lived at the parsonage until his death on December 8, 1920.

 

In the fall of 1919, English services were introduced to the congregation. At first there was an English service each month, but this was later expanded to the building which had served as a church and school was taken down, and the  material was used to erect a similar building on the new site. Again, this building was used for a number of years as a church and school. The building was improved over the years. Hardwood floors were put in and brick was added to the  outside walls.

 

Zion's Christian Day School experienced such growth that it became necessary to call a teacher. Mr. Ottomar Stamm, a student at Concordia Seminary in Springfield, Illinois, served as the teacher in the school during 1902. It was also at  this time that discussion began concerning the erection of a new place of worship. The plans were developed and in 1903 the congregation celebrated the corner stone laying of its present church building. This building was formally dedicated  to the glory of God on August 28, 1904.

 

From its beginning, Christian Education has been a major emphasis in Zion congregation. During 1903 Mr. August Rusch assisted Rev. Stamm in the Christian Day School. Mrs. Oettchen taught in 1904. Miss Elizabeth Stamm also taught for a few  years, and then in 1907 Mr. J. W. C. Bischoff was called to be the regular teacher. Both church and school flourished. Mr. Bischoff served the school from 1907 until 1911 when he accepted a call to Kilmanagh in the spring of that year. Rev.  Stamm and Miss Elizabeth Stamm completed the teaching duties for the rest of the school term. It was in September, 1912, when the school had a full time teacher again. Mr. Ernst Gugel, a recent graduate of Concordia Teacher's College at  Addison, Illinois, received a call from Zion congregation to serve as the teacher in its Christian Day School and also to serve the congregation as organist and choir director. Mr. Gugel remained with the congregation for eight years. In  1918 it was noted that Pastor Stamm was the oldest active minister in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. He confirmed his last Junior Confirmation Class in the spring of 1919. At that time he was 84 years old. Upon his retirement in 1919  the congregation continued his salary and use of the parsonage.

 

In May of 1919, the Rev. Otto F. Kutschinski was installed as the Third full-time pastor at Zion. A temporary dwelling was purchased for the new minister: Rev. Stamm lived at the parsonage until his death on December 8, 1920.

 

In the fall of 1919, English services were introduced to the congregation. At first there was an English service each month, but this was later expanded to two Sunday evenings a month. In November of 1920, Teacher Ernst Gugel accepted a  call to the Lutheran school in Kilmanagh. Pastor Kutschinski taught in the school during the vacancy, and in July of 1921 Mr. William Richert, a graduate of the 1921 class of Concordia Teacher's College, River Forest, Illinois, became the  new teacher. In the fall of 1921, an addition was built on to the school. This provided a room for meetings and a basement equipped with furnace and bathrooms.

 

In the spring of 1922 the parsonage was remodeled, and a garage was built on the lot.

 

By 1922 the congregation numbered 400 baptized souls and 322 communicant members. There were 42 children in the Christian Day School. Mr. William Richert remained at Zion until 1923 when he accepted a call to Detroit. Pastor Kutschinski  again taught in the school until the congregation called Candidate A. J. Glaess as teacher.

 

On September 3, 1926, the congregation purchased a house on North Third Street from A. H. Currie to be used as a teacherage.

 

n 1929 a new pipe organ was installed in the church by the M. P. Moeller Company. The cost of the instrument was $3,240.00. The church records indicate that there was a special service of dedication on August 25, 1929, in which an organ  recital was given by Professor A. Beck of Concordia Teacher's College, River Forest, Illinois. He was assisted by Miss Gertrude Scott, Soprano, and the church choir.

 

In November of 1932 Pastor Kutschinski's health had declined to the point where pastoral assistance was needed in the congregation, and Candidate Alvin C. Nuechterlein, a recent graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, was asked  to help during the pastor's illness. There was no improvement in Pastor Kutschinski's health, and he died in Ypsilanti in February, 1933. Shortly thereafter, a call was extended to Candidate Nuechterlein to become the pastor of Zion  congregation; and on April 30, 1933, he was ordained and installed as then forth pastor in Zion's 52 years of existence. He served in that capacity as Zion's pastor for the next 44 years. Many changes occurred in the congregation during  that period.

 

The Minutes of the Voters Assembly record the changes, which were important for that period. The old tradition was discontinued of having the men receive Communion first and then the women. Also, those who had announced for Communion were  to sit in the center pews in the church for the Communion Service. The new Lutheran Hymnal was introduced to the congregation in October, 1940.

 

The church building was redecorated in 1941. New carpet and the latest in fluorescent lighting was purchased by Zion's Ladies Aid. During this time construction began on a new parsonage just north of the church. The old parsonage was in  need of much repair and was sold for $2,000.000, a considerable sum for that period.
In January of 1942 the church building was rededicated and the new parsonage was dedicated. The congregation’s Christian Day School enrollment was increasing, and so in 1943 a Building Fund for a new school was established.

 

More changes came. In April of 1945 a new system of ushers was introduced to the congregation. Those elected to serve as ushers were Henry Winkel, Eldwood Schubring, Theo. Fuhrman, and William Laeder. In January of 1946 a new mimeograph  machine was purchased for $96.50. In the spring of 1946, following a number of years of discussion, approval was given by the Voters to add two rooms in the attic of the teacherage and install a stairway through the study.

 

After 22 years of service to Zion congregation, Mr. A. J. Glaess accepted a call to Trinity Lutheran School in St. Joseph, Michigan. This was in June of 1946. Pastor Nuechterlein assisted with the teaching duties. In January of 1947 the  German services were discontinued, and the Voters Assembly Minutes indicate that they would not begin again until a full time teacher could be found. The matter is not mentioned again in the Official Minutes. In April of 1947 Mr. Robert  Downfield accepted the call to be the teacher and Principal in Zion's School, and he served in this capacity until March of 1952.

 

More changes came. Zion's first Vacation Bible School was held in 1948. Visible changes were taking place for the church building also. In 1948 the church tower was lowered and was rebricked along with the outside walls of the building for  a cost of $4,600.00.

 

When Mr. Dornfeld gave up his position as Principal in March of 1952, the congregation extended a call to Mr. August Scheer in May, 1952, to be the school Principal. In the spring of 1953 the interior of the church was painted, and during  the summer new tile was installed on the floor.

 

Zion's Christian Day School enrollment continued to climb, and since the old school building needed many improvements it was decided on October 4, 1953 to erect a new school building. This was a unanimous decision by the Voters Assembly.  The architectural firm of Wyeth G. Horman, Inc., of Port Huron, Michigan, drew up the plans. The new school building, to be 100' 8" x 80' 2", was to include two classrooms, multipurpose room, gymnasium, kitchen, hallway, office, and  restrooms. The building which had served as Zion's School for over 60 years was removed, and on the same site a beautiful new building began to take shape. The scene was a busy one as members contributed much labor and many long hours to  help complete the building and keep the cost down. It was a happy and exciting day that April 24, 1955, when Zion members saw the results of God's direction in their midst. Even though the sky was overcast and rainy, the new school building  was dedicated with great joy, prayers, and special music.

 

As time went on, more changes came. The congregation reached a point when it was decided in April, 1957, that there would be two services every Sunday morning.

 

In April of 1964, Mr. Scheer accepted a call to Reed City, Michigan and Mr. Lawrence Stout, who had been teaching in the lower grades, became Zion's School Principal. The school enrollment stood at 84 students in 1966, and a Third teacher  was added to the school faculty. A Third classroom was also required, and so the multipurpose room in the school building was converted into a classroom.

 

As the congregation moved into the 70's, Rev. Nuechterlein experienced some ill health, and Rev. L Nutzmann of St. John's Lutheran Church, at Palms, was asked to assist in the pastoral duties. Then on April 5, 1971, the congregation was  saddened by the sudden death of Zion's Principal, Mr. Stout. The work continued, however, with Mr. Lloyd Muehlfeld as acting Principal.

 

Zion congregation observed its 90th Anniversary in 1971 with special services. On the last Sunday in April, 1973, Rev. Nuechterlein observed his 40th Anniversary as Zion's pastor. However, his health had been failing and he began planning  his retirement. On June 26, 1977, following Sunday services, a congregational dinner and reception was held at Zion School in recognition of Rev. Nuechterlein's 44 years of service as Zion's pastor. Many memories were exchanged that day as  he said farewell to the people he had served since coming to Harbor Beach in 1932. He planned to do some traveling and then retire to his hometown of Frankenmuth.

 

Rev. Nutzmann of Palms was again asked to help with pastoral duties until a new pastor could be called. He served as Zion's vacancy pastor during the summer and early fall of 1977. Toward the end of the summer a call was extended to Rev.  Harry White, Rogers City, Michigan. This call was accepted and on Sunday afternoon, November 6, 1977, Rev. White was installed as Zion's 5th full time pastor. It was a cool and misty fall afternoon, but the church building was warm and  filled to capacity as Zion's members and friends gathered to take part in the installation service, a rare event in the congregation's 96 years.

 

More changes were to come. The congregation was saddened to receive the news Sunday, November 13, 1977, that Pastor Nuechterlein passed away suddenly Saturday evening at the home of his daughter in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The funeral  services were held in Zion Church on November 16, and the sermon was presented by Rev. Nutzmann, Pastor Nuechterlein's long-time and close friend. Christian burial took place at St. Lorenz Cemetery in Frankenmuth.

 

In the late summer and early fall of 1977 Zion's parsonage underwent renovation. Insulation was added to the walls, and the rooms were all painted. This was done by volunteers from the congregation. Carpeting was installed and the basement  walls were painted. In 1978 aluminum siding was put on. The teacherage also underwent renovation with insulation, new siding, and a new fireplace chimney. The property around the church underwent landscaping and the result: was a beautiful  Memorial garden between the church building and parsonage. Members and friends of Zion donated memorials to purchase trees and shrubs in memory of loved ones.

 

The garden was accented with a beautiful white picket fence and rose arbor and two white cast iron benches, all given as memorials. The Memorial Garden provides a beautiful and restful spot for meditation as well as giving the community a  visual reminder of the beauty of God's creation.

 

Zion congregation held its first Easter Sunrise Service in 1978, and it was followed by another first -- an Easter breakfast sponsored by Zion's young people. This has turned into a very popular annual event. In addition to the regular  Sunday morning Adult Bible Class, Wednesday evening became known as "Spiritual Growth Night" with weekly classes for Bible study and fellowship. This has developed into a popular Wednesday evening fellowship experience for Zion's members  and friends.

 

In January, 1979, a Building Fund was established to begin collecting funds for future purchase of land and possible building of a new church. It was also at this time that a generous memorial donation made it possible to purchase the  equipment to begin broadcasting the audio portion of the 10:30 Sunday service over the local cable television in Harbor Beach. Also, in 1979, Mr. Thomas Hiegel accepted the position of Principal at Zion's School.

 

In 1980, a Centennial Committee was formed to begin making plans for the congregation's Centennial Year, 1981. During 1980 Zion congregation received the cemetery property of the former Immanuel Lutheran Church of Ruth. Also in 1980 an  Organ Committee was formed to look into either rebuilding the church's pipe organ or purchasing a new one. After months of investigation, the Committee recommended that the pipe organ be rebuilt. The Voters gave their approval of the  project and a contract was signed with Brian M. Fowler, an organ builder in Lansing, Michigan. The cost of the project, which would retain the organ counsel and whatever pipes could be used, including increasing the organ's ranks from 7 to  9, was $33,300.00 This was approved February 8, 1981.

 

The congregation entered its Centennial Year with the theme: "THE PAST IN PRAISE - THE FUTURE IN FAITH.” Each month during the Centennial Year there would be a special emphasis. January began with special emphasis on the Centennial Year.  The areas of Zion's ministry to be emphasized were:

 

 

February

Fellowship

 

March

Youth

 

April

Music

 

May

Family

 

June

Re-dedication

 

July

Missions

 

August

Centennial Service

 

September

Education

 

October

Evangelism

 

November

Thanksgiving

 

December

Stewardship


The Centennial Scripture text was "DECLARE THE NAME OF THE LORD IN ZION,” Psalm 102:21.

As the congregation entered its Centennial Year, more changes would occur. Holy Communion would be held in one of the morning Services four Sundays each month, and the Elders would help with the distribution of the Lord's Supper. The voters gave their approval to use the funds given in memory of Pastor Nuechterlein to purchase a dossal curtain for behind the altar and a pair of brass candelabra. They would be placed in Pastor Nuechterlein's memory.

 

In 1993 the present church structure and school addition was dedicated. The building committee had been authorized to construct the needed facilities. The new sanctuary houses several features which enhance worship to the glory of God. The organ was once again rebuilt with an added rank of pipes. A hand bell choir was put in place. Stone mason Norman Kretchman skillfully constructed the stone altar as well as the sign in front of the church. Sculptor Keilhofer of Frankenmuth sculpted the crucifix which was generously donated and has become a prominent reminder of God’s great love for us. Beautiful, new stained glass windows vividly portray the prominent events in the life and ministry of Our Savior, Jesus Christ.

As Zion celebrated her new building, she took as her mission statement, “Making disciples for Jesus.” “Forward in His Name Together” became her thrust. The school grew and new ministries were added to the existing kindergarten through eighth grades. Preschool, daycare and after school care have been established. Each classroom has a computer lab. The school became accredited in 1997 and the accreditation was updated in 2004 under the National Lutheran School Accreditation. In recent years Zion and the public school have cooperated to provide additional enhancement classes to Zion students. Above all else, the children hear and learn God’s Word daily as they grow in their faith.

During the 125th celebration year, Zion sought to recognize her members of all ages by honoring the different years of confirmation classes. Special services and speakers were utilized in this process. As a memorial to many and to the glory of God, a new set of steps was donated to improve access to the church via the main Third Street entrance.

God had commanded Moses to do a census-an accounting of His people. Zion, too, has taken a census-an accounting of God’s people. Here are the totals for the first 125 years of ministry at Zion:
Baptisms 1607
Confirmations 1488
Weddings 555
Funerals 895

No doubt, much information and many memories failed to reach these pages, but the Centennial Committee had made a sincere attempt in all its research to gather as much information as possible from the recorded minutes of the congregation's Voters Assembly and other sources of information.

 

Since the 125th celebration, Zion Lutheran Church has continued to carry out her mission of proclaiming God's Word and administering the Sacraments.  "Making Disciples for Jesus" remains her mission statement.

 

As years have passed, changes in church and school leadership have occurred.  With the movement of Rev. Harry White in 1977 to a Birch Run congregation, Rev. Eugene Koessel was called and installed as Zion's Shepherd.  He served the congregation until 2004 when he went into semi-retirement.  Rev. Mark Girardin became Pastor and served until 2006.  In 2008, Rev. David McCloskey became pastor of Zion and brought with him his wife Judy and three children.

 

School administration leadership passed from Principal David Groll to Cindy Brown in 1989.  Mrs. Brown continues her excellent, faithful ministry as principal, teacher, and church organist.  Teachers Stephanie Weiss, Tony Reinke and Shea Burgeson were added to the faculty which includes Jamie Healy, her Day Care staff, and Andrea Rapson.  Paula Wood concluded her many years of superior work as kindergarten teacher as she sought early retirement.

 

The congregation has continued to improve the physical plant and the Day Care facilities.  Much of these upgrades were made possible because of member estate funds.  Member mailboxes were placed in the narthex in order to save money on postal services.  Online communications have been established for the church and school through a website which makes school news available to members at all times.  Student grading information and contact with parents are also available online.  Security and safety issues have been addressed as an electronic door locking system and an intercom system was installed in the buildings.

 

The worship experience has been enhanced by the large screen projection equipment and continued television coverage of services was enable as updated instruments were installed.  Since 2009, communion has been celebrated at all regular worship services.


May Our Triune God bless this congregation as she faithfully uses God’s Word and His Sacraments. May God’s Holy Spirit continue to lead her as she steadfastly proclaims the never changing message of the Gospel that God loved us so that He sent His dear Son to suffer and to die in our place. He freely gives eternal life to His people.

 

The members of Zion look to the future in faith, assured that God has called this congregation into existence to declare His Name for generations yet to come, that it should be an evangelical influence in this part of God's world, declaring the Gospel of Jesus Christ, extending the influence of the Savior so that the future generations to be touched by Zion's ministry may declare Jesus Christ to be Savior and Lord to the glory of God the Father.