By Jan Lee Buxengard
Zion Evangelical Church in Brownsville will celebrate its 150th anniversary on May 4 through 5. It is a time for the people to remember God’s faithfulness throughout the generations; a time to rejoice in God who makes us, sustains us and carries us forward; and a time to renew your own commitment to the kingdom of Christ, according to church leaders.
Events of the weekend start with a cemetery walk on Saturday, May 4 beginning at 2 p.m. The schedule on Sunday, May 5 begins with 10 a.m. worship at the church, followed by a noon luncheon (by invitation) at the Brownsville Community Center and a 2 p.m. anniversary service at the church.
The Rev. Jason Brannan is the current pastor of the congregation, which has a long history of faithful people.
In the early 1850s settlers who left their homes in Germany re-established themselves in the Brownsville area. These immigrants, who shared a background of Evangelical Lutheran faith and considered faith the center of their community, began meeting in each other’s homes for worship services and later, as their numbers grew, gathered at the local school house.
During those early years they were served by Lutheran pastors from La Crosse until 1862 when the Rev. Fachtman from La Crosse assisted them in forming a congregation. That fall this group of Christians agreed to purchase a lot for $50 and began building a wood frame building as a permanent house of God. The structure, built at the cost of about $800 and completed the following spring, was modest but a place where all could gather and worship God.
The congregation chose “Deutsche Evangelische Lutherische Zion’s Kirche” (German Evangelical Lutheran Zion’s Church) as its name.
A small house in back of the church was purchased in 1863 to serve as a parsonage. The Rev. Ludwig Ebert, who also served churches in La Crescent and Crooked Creek, became the first resident pastor.
His first recorded baptisms were on December 28, 1862, when he baptized the three sons of Mr. and Mrs. Johannes Jakob Harer in their home. The first church baptism was Johanna Keller on March 1, 1863. The first recorded marriage was that of Andreas Ernst Wonhof and Maria Bader in August of 1864. A double wedding ceremony in October of 1865 united Jakob Meinzer and Maria Geiwitz and Jakob Geiwitz and Maria Meinzer. The first confirmation took place on April 3, 1864. There were 20 participants in the first communion held on Christmas 1862.
A growing congregation
An additional lot north of the church was purchased in 1895 and a school house built beside the church where Sunday school and confirmation classes were taught by the minister, all in German.
The growing congregation needed a larger sanctuary, so in 1904 the church was remodeled and made larger and a new reed organ purchased. A steeple was added over the entrance, including a large bell with the inscription “Geshenk des Jugenvereind der Evangelische Lutherischen Zion Gemeind” (Literally: gift from the youth group of the Evangelical Lutheran Zion Congregation.) Hitching posts, connected by heavy chain, provided a place for the teams of horses to be tied.
A new wing or fellowship hall was added to the white church in 1957 to provide space for a growing Sunday school. Volunteers from the congregation provided most of the work on the new building.
By the late 1970s the need for a new sanctuary brought about another building project, as the old church building was deteriorating. During construction, which began in November 1979, church services were held in the fellowship hall. The original altar, pulpit and baptismal font were placed in the new building, and the original bell now had a prominent spot in front of the structure. Dedication of the new sanctuary took place on June 15, 1980.
There have been various fundraising events such as fish fries, dinners, brunches, the sale of four cookbooks and more. Their annual roast pork and sauerkraut supper has been a tradition at Zion for over 70 years.
On Jan. 25, 1864, a constitution was adopted, but the church was not officially a part of any synod of Minnesota. Twenty-five years later in May of 1889 a revised constitution was made to conform to the Evangelical Synod of North America, and the church became a member of the Minnesota District and became Zion’s Evangelical Church.
In 1938 the Evangelical Synod added “Reformed” to their name, so the church became “Zion Evangelical and Reformed.” A merger between this denomination and the Congregational Church changed the name again in 1957 to Zion United Church of Christ. In 1975 the congregation dropped their affiliation with the U.C.C. and once again the little white church became Zion Evangelical Church. At that time a new constitution was written, a Statement of Faith was adopted and Zion became an independent church.
Peace Church at Crooked Creek joined with Zion in 1886, and two years later Zion Church at Hokah was added to the union, all being served by the same pastor. This meant a great deal of traveling and in horse and buggy days it was impossible for the minister to be in each church on the same Sunday. After a 50-year period the three point charge was dissolved because the congregations desired weekly instead of monthly services.
From 1964 to 1984 Zion Evangelical Church in Brownsville and Zion Evangelical Church in Hokah once again shared a pastor; however, they separated again in 1984 when the congregations had grown to the point where they felt they needed a full time pastor of their own.
Ministry and faithful service
Zion Evangelical Church has had many wonderful pastors and the members are grateful for their leadership and ministering.
Organizations and groups within the congregation continue to provide Christian fellowship, support and leadership for the church. There are opportunities for education, teaching, Bible study, ministering, music and fellowship for people of all ages.
Over the years the church has sponsored radio and nursing home ministry, missionaries and a variety of missions, both at home and abroad.
Zion Evangelical Cemetery
“Gottesacker,” translated “God’s Acre,” was the name given to the three-acre parcel of land deeded in October 1866 to trustees of the German Lutheran Church as a final resting place for members of Zion Evangelical and the Church of the Holy Comforter.
“The cemetery walk on May 4 is a way to share memories of those who have gone on,” commented lifelong member Kathy (Ideker) Fitzpatrick.
“We are told God wants us to stop, pray and listen to what He wants us to do,” stated Lorene (Wohlers) Miller, “and then step out in faith to do His will.”
The celebration is a time to remember, rejoice and renew.