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Church History

Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church congregation praises our Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, for preserving it almost 150 years. Throughout the years the Lord has showered His grace upon the members through His Word and Sacraments. The gift of dedicated pastors and congregational members who proclaimed and taught the truths of the Scriptures in purity and clarity of doctrine has been a priceless blessing.

The Congregation

Those who wanted to bring a church together began documentation in 1868 with the first constitution which was translated into an English version. A number of articles were written stating rules and regulations of the governing church body.

The congregation officially titled itself the Third German Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Pittsburgh, Pa. Members decided that the services would be held in German, unless a guest minister felt the need to do the service in another language. In such a situation, the congregation would vote to accept the change for that service. By 1928, services were held in German and English. It is uncertain when the church changed its name from Third German to Zion and discontinued services in German.

The church council consisted of a president, a secretary, a treasurer, elders, wardens and trustees. Listed in the constitution are these men: Rev. Conrad Engelder as president, Henry Pickhardt as secretary, William Sunderman as treasurer, John Kleil and Philip Seif as elders, John Herman, John Hoffman, George Baurshmiedt, and E. Reithmuie as wardens, and F. Weichman, T. Kummel and Th. Sippert as trustees.

On December 8 1886, John Loresch purchased cemetery plots in Allegheny Cemetery for the amount of $250.00. In 1907, on the back side of the Cemetery Deed, John Loresch transferred the plot of land over to the Third German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Pittsburgh. Lot 702 – Section 31 was divided into 12 gravesites. These sites were to be for those parishioners who could not afford a grave plot. Pastor Luessenhop’s son, who was three years old at his passing, is the first one interred at the site. The other plots were designated in 1965 and 1968. Only one plot remains undesignated to any parishioner of the church.

1893 was the church’s 25th anniversary and at that time the were 154 voting members. Those 25 years had seen 1272 people baptized, 528 confirmations, 268 marriages, and 453 were given Christian funerals.

In 1927 a special service commemorating the 50 years of service on the Church Council of Mr. John Loresch Sr., was held. Mr. Loresch and many others of the forefathers gave unstintingly of their time, talents and means.

The Diamond Anniversary was observed on October 10, 1943. The Rev. Frederic Schumann, then of Salt Lake City and the son of former teacher August Schumann, preached the sermon at the morning service. The Rev. William Lochner of Milwaukee was guest preacher for the evening service. An anniversary supper and social were held on October 12. A Ladies’ Aid anniversary service was conducted by the Rev. W. McLaughlin on October 14. On October 17 the Rev. Conrad J. Engelder, of Detroit, officiated at the special Sunday morning service. Pastor F. Schumann preached that evening at a confirmand and reunion service.

Over the course of those 75 years 2,658 souls were baptized, 1,390 were confirmed, 602 marriages were performed, and 1,139 were given Christian burial.

The Centennial Congregation Banquet was held on May 26, 1968, in the Georgian Room of Hotel Webster Hall. The Rev. Clement W. K. Lee, Director of Broadcasting for the American Bible Society, New York City, was the speaker. The men’s chorus provided music.

Special Anniversary services were held on Sunday September 29, 1968. Pastor Frederic E. Schumann, Institutional Chaplain preached at the morning service; Pastor Paul W. Srreufert, K. K. Vice-President of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, proclaimed God’s Word at the afternoon service. The number of baptisms, marriages, confirmations and funerals by the 100th anniversary are as follows: 2,913 baptisms, 695 marriages, 1,581 confirmands, and 1,304 funerals.

In May, 1970, an amendment to the Articles of Incorporation was made to allow women’s suffrage. In June, 30 women signed up as voting members and in 1972 the first women held office. In 1976 female acolytes participated in the church services. IN October of 2017, another amendment was made to permit women to hold any elected office other than that of an elder and the first woman vice president was elected. We have had over the course of 50 years since the 100th Anniversary 156 baptisms, 114 confirmations of the faith, 61 marriages, and 194 Christian burials. And we have only just begun… All to the Glory of God!

The Church Buildings

The Deed dated April 16, 1868 was purchased by the men of the congregation to secure land on which to build a Lutheran Church. A small wooden frame church building and a school were erected but within a few years, the congregation had outgrown the church structure, and an adjacent lot with a house was purchased. On March 8, 1874 a new brick church was completed and dedicated to God. This is the building in which we worship today. Around 1886 side balconies and an organ loft were installed in the church to gain more seating.

A day school, which started with 60 pupils, also prospered. In 1886 a brick building was erected to house the school. The year 1897 boasted the highest enrollment:155 children. This Christian day school continued to operate for 55 years.

In 1918, while the Rev. W. C. Roeper was pastor, the 50th Anniversary was celebrated. Extensive renovation was made to commemorate this occasion: electric lights were installed, the church was repainted and beautiful art-glass windows replaced the old glass.

Mr. Henry Bokermann, a life-long member of Zion, presented the parsonage on South Millvale Avenue to the congregation in the twenties. For the 60th Anniversary in 1928, a new pipe organ was dedicated.

Before the celebration of the 70th Anniversary of Zion in 1938, the church was repainted, both exterior and interior, and a new heating system was installed.

For the 90th Anniversary, an extensive refurbishing of the whole church structure was undertaken. This remodeling included the removal of the side balconies, installation of a new floor in the nave, the covering of walls and ceiling, the repainting of all woodwork and the chancel, the rearrangement of seating to form a center aisle, and a reconditioning of the organ. New chandeliers were installed in the nave. A service of rededication was held on October 26, 1958.

The church basement was completely remodeled to accommodate large meetings and the Sunday school classes. A modern kitchen, which had previously been located on the second floor of the former school building was also added. Many of the members gave of their time and labor and contributed much of the material to make this a functional, efficient part of the church. The newly refurbished church basement was dedicated on November 11, 1962.

Several structural changes were made to the church property in the autumn of 1963. Two concrete-block entranceways, leading to the church basement were added. At the same time, on the first floor of the school building, a handsome study for the pastor was provided.

In February 1964, the church Council approved the proposal of the trustees to refinish all of the chancel furniture white and gold to match the altar and pulpit and also to change the lectern so that the altar furnishings would be uniform. The massive hand carved wooden eagle lectern, which had graced the chancel for many years, was moved to the narthex to hold the guest register.

In the fall of 1964 the first floor Sunday school room in the Parish Hall was redecorated with freshly painted walls, furniture, and vinyl tile floor. One year later, the second floor rooms were repainted, and modern lighting fixtures were installed. Again the work was done entirely by the members. To add charm to the grounds a post-top lantern was installed in the courtyard.

The members of Zion chose to rebuild, restore and improve the almost forty-year old pipe organ so that they might enter the second century of Zion’s existence prepared to make an even more joyful noise unto the Lord. Work was begun on the organ by the Siedle Organ Company of Bridgeville in August, 1965. The cost of rebuilding was $9,135. The completely rebuilt instrument, with a new console, was dedicated in a special service on February 12, 1967. Dr. Harold Schnaible of Epiphany Church, Penn Hills, played the dedicatory service.

In preparation for the 100th Anniversary, another major renovation project was inaugurated in the fall of 1967, which consisted of painting of the church exterior. Work began on the interior in February of 1968. The large Sunday school room and kitchen were newly painted in time for a family indoor picnic, which marked the beginning of the centennial celebration.

A completely different appearance had been given to the interior of Zion for the start of its second century. In place of the elaborate decoration of past years and strong colors of recent years, the nave was painted colonial white and the chancel a “Himmel Blau”, Heavenly Blue. The ends and back of the pews, as well as the organ case, were also painted white. Gold and dark brown were used sparingly but most effectively as trim colors. Other significant changes and additions were made as follows: custom radiator covers were installed; special lighting was provided behind the altar and a recessed overhead light was placed in the ceiling of the nave to brighten the chancel; new candelabras were added; the robe of Christ on the altar-relief was changed from the traditional red to white, striking lanterns were added to the front entrance, and the sacristy was completely renovated.

Formerly a dove, the symbol of the Holy Ghost, had been painted on the chancel ceiling but had been painted over during one of the earlier renovation programs. The wish was expressed by many members to restore the symbol of the dove to the chancel. The trustees proposed that a hand-carved wooden dove be made and suspended from
the ceiling of the chancel. Such a dove was crafted in Italy and dedicated on Sunday, September 1, 1968.

Many smaller improvements have been made to the church within the past thirty-five years. During the 1970s, some improvements have been made. A new red carpet was installed and the church exterior and interior were painted. The American and Christian Flags were purchased and the undercroft was painted.

In the 1980s, a sanctuary lamp, and a new piano were purchased; protective screens for the stain glass windows and emergency lighting were installed, new hymnals were purchased in memory of loved ones, four ceiling fans were added, and the exterior of the church was re-painted. A Paschal candle and stand, Eucharistic vestments, new church house windows were installed, blue altar paraments were acquired, new folding chairs were purchased; a new roof was installed, 300 pieces of cutlery were acquired for the kitchen, and the interior of the church and undercroft were painted again.

In the 1990s, the front of the church and house were painted and a baptismal tapestry was given. Fourteen devotional plaques were installed on the walls of the church sanctuary and the red carpet was replaced with the current blue carpeting. In 1992 the organ was restored for the commemoration of the Anniversary of 125 years for Zion.

On January 22, 1997, the church organ caught fire. Our fellow Christian across the street at Our Lady of the Angels quickly noticed the smoke and came with fire extinguishers to put out the fire before the fire company arrived. The organ console was completely destroyed and the interior of the building was filled with smoke soot. A new organ console was commissioned from Luley, Inc. Five months were required to restore the organ. The new organ was dedicated at a special recital with the Pittsburgh Lutheran Chorus on December 13, 1998. Shortly after the fire, the interior of the church was washed and painted to remove the smoky residue from the fire on the walls and in the air. In 2002, the exterior of the church was repainted and the front of the house was painted.

On October 5, 2003, Zion congregation celebrated her 135th Anniversary. Rev. Allen Kramp and Rev. Jack Hartman conducted the morning service and Rev. Robert Bentz, Rev. James Keurulainen and Rev. Jack Hartman participated in a special anniversary service held at 3:00 p.m. The Pittsburgh Lutheran Chorus and a brass ensemble took part in the service. A banquet was held at the Blarney Stone in Etna following the afternoon church service, and entertainment was provided by a Barber Shop Quartet.

Zion congregation celebrated her 140th Anniversary on November 9, 2008. Following the commemorative service, a luncheon was served in the undercroft of the church. The luncheon was provided by the Ladies Aid committee volunteers: Mary Demmler, Lauren Dull, Shirley Freyer, Lisa Giancola, Gretchen Greygor, Marilyn Johnston, Rebekah Johnston, Ruth Miller, Mildred Molkenthin, Sandra Molnar, Sandra Owens and Mary Jane Scully.

In July, 2011, a lightning strike on the roof of the sanctuary caused a leak in the roof over the choir loft, damaging the interior plaster. A new roof and new, modern rain-gutters were installed. The interior plaster was repaired and the entire interior of the sanctuary was re-painted once again. In the summer of 2012, the exterior of the parsonage was restored, with extensive re-pointing of the brick and a new coat of paint was applied.

Our 145th Anniversary was marked by a celebration on Sunday, September 29, 2013 at a 3 p.m. worship service. Former pastor, Rev. James Keurulainen, recently retired as Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod New England District President was scheduled to serve as the guest preacher but his health kept him from traveling and his brother Rev., Barry Keurulainen, Senior Pastor, St Luke Lutheran Church & School in Cabot substituted for him. Guest lectors include Rev. Jack Hartman, Concordia Lutheran Ministries Director of Chaplaincy Services and Rev. George Dolak, retired pastor at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, Brackenridge. Both lectors served vacancies at Zion. A dinner in the undercroft catered by our members Terry Miller and Rich Owens was enjoyed following the worship service of thanksgiving.

Zion was chosen by the Pittsburgh Area Lutheran Ministries to be the site for the Annual Reformation Service in 2013. Restrooms were renovated and Ministers – A number of faithful ministers have served Zion over the years: Rev. C. Engelder accepted the call to be Zion’s first minister in 1868. Zion also called Mr. A. Mueller, the first schoolteacher, for the school. Teacher Mueller was succeeded by Teacher Meibohm in 1880. In that same year, the Rev. Martin Hein was installed as pastor and assisted with teaching, serving almost 26 years. His successors were the Rev. W. Lussenhop in 1906, the Rev. William Lochner in 1916, and Rev. W. Roeper in 1917. Teacher August Schumann was installed as teacher on the same day the school was dedicated, August 19, 1886.

Rev. Carl Grahn was installed as pastor in May, 1930. The following years were difficult ones because of the Depression. In World War II many of the young people, both men and women, were in the service of their county. There was a joyful occasion in the fall of 1946 – the Returned Service Men’s Reunion.

On Christmas Day, 1948, Pastor Carl Grahn was called to his heavenly home after having proclaimed the wonderful news of our Savior’s birth in the morning service. At the evening Children’s Service a stunned congregation heard of his death. A six week period of mourning was observed. Pastor Grahn will always be remembered for his fatherly kindness and leadership. The Grahn family presented a pair of brass altar vases and a pair of candleholders for the altar in memory of their beloved husband and father. A bronze plaque honoring the memory of Pastor Grahn hangs in the church narthex.

Rev. Arnold Gross accepted the divine call and was installed June 5, 1949. During his ministry, new Articles of Incorporation were adopted on April 16, 1950 and a new constitution was adopted in 1952. Pastor Gross was seriously ill for some time during his pastorate at Zion and during his illness, Student Herman K. Dietrich, Jr. was asked to assume many of the pastoral duties. In February 1955, the Lord called Pastor Gross to eternal rest from his labors.

Rev. Arthur M. Bicker, who was serving a parish in New Haven, Indiana, accepted the call to succeed Rev. Gross and was installed on July 10, 1955. During the pastorate of Pastor Bicker, renovations were made to the parsonage and church. In 1962, Pastor Bicker, accepted a call to Saint John’s Lutheran Church, Cove, Maryland. He was succeeded by the Rev. Samuel W. McCune, who was installed on September 8, 1963.

On January 26, 1969 Pastor Samuel McCune accepted a call to Buffalo, New York and Rev. John A. Castellani was installed as the new minister on August 3, 1969. A house was purchased on Saddle Drive in Hampton Township in 1969 and sold in 1974 after Rev. Castellani accepted a call in 1973. Rev. James Keurulainen was installed on July 21, 1974 and a parsonage was purchased on Amherst Place in Glenshaw and then sold when he accepted a call to Boston, Massachusetts in 1977. Since 1977 the pastors have purchased their own residences.

On November 6, 1977, Rev. Robert Bentz was installed as Zion’s new minister. He remained at Zion for 17 years, and celebrated his retirement on June 12, 1994. Rev. Allen Kramp was called in April 1994 from Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was ordained and installed on June 26, 1994. He remained minister of Zion until he accepted a call to Ohio in 1997.

Rev. Scott Kuntz was installed as minister of Zion in 1998 and he remained with Zion until September 2002. Rev. Jack Hartman, called minister of Concordia Lutheran Ministries, filled the vacancy until the Rev. Ronald C. Rafferty was installed on April 10, Rev. Rafferty accepted a call to Iowa in November, 2011. Rev. George Dolak served as vacancy pastor until Rev. Cullen A. Duke was called from Concordia Theological Seminary and installed on July 24, 2011. Rev. Duke served Zion until he and his wife Deaconess Jackie were called to serve as missionaries in Peru June of 2016.

The members of Zion continue to be blessed by God in the mission and ministry here in Lawrenceville. We will celebrate our 150th year of blessings on our ministry on April 22, 2018.

(This history was excerpted from a booklet about Zion’s history compiled by Rebekah Johnston using information gathered from the 100th Anniversary Celebration booklet, the 125th Anniversary Celebration booklet and the church’s records, updated for subsequent events.)

“By faith Abraham…went out, not knowing whither he went,” Hebrews 11:8. When the mysterious voice of God summoned Abraham to start his caravan over a road that he had never traversed, the great patriarch must have set out with the same uncertain feelings that grip us when we pause to envision the future with its untrodden pathways. None of us has ever gone that way before. We need the guiding star, the compass, the chart, that led Abraham along his unmarked road into the land of promise – his faith. When “by faith Abraham…went out, not knowing whither he went,” the mercies of God watched over him by day and night and brought him safely to the fulfillment of His promises, even though Abraham was sorely tried and repeatedly beset by dangers and disappointments. His unmarked path was anything but a smooth pleasant journey; yet it was always the true path and the right road.”