Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church
Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church has been a landmark in Lyons, Illinois, for many generations, and its prominent location on Ogden Avenue is a testimony to its longevity. This year – 2014 – Zion is celebrating its 130thanniversary in Lyons!
The earliest documented religious activity in the area was prior to the American Civil War. A “Germans’ Lutheran Society” was organized to meet every other week to conduct a Sunday school for its members and their children and to conduct worship services. Records of baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals have been maintained by what was then called the Proviso Congregation, which is now known as Immanuel Lutheran Church of nearby Hillside.
As the community in Lyons grew, Pastor Streiter, one of the Proviso’s early pastors, began to serve the Lyons congregation on a regular basis. He would preach every third Sunday “whenever roads and weather permitted” during the years from 1872 to 1878. Since his traveling was done either on horseback or by horse and buggy, services were held infrequently during the winter and other inclement weather.
During the years that Pastor Streiter preached at Lyons, the “First Religious Society of Lyons and Riverside” was formed. Most of the members of the old Germans’ Society became part of this group. The membership was primarily of German descent and Lutheran heritage. They purchased a chapel located on the Old Plank Road (Ogden Avenue), which was the main thoroughfare for those traveling between Chicago and western locations. Zion’s current facility is located on the site of this chapel. Both German and English services were conducted, as both languages were widely spoken in the community at that time.
As the young community grew, the congregation felt the need to conduct more frequent services. In 1878, Pastor Wessel Bohlen, of Summit, Illinois, to the south of Lyons, began to travel to Lyons to hold worship services every second Sunday afternoon. Children studying for their confirmation lived in Summit for six months, while they studied with Pastor Bohlen. How strange this seems to us now – the distance he had to cover was approximately 2 miles; we can drive to his church’s location in 5-10 minutes, depending on the traffic.
It was under Pastor Bohlen’s leadership that the congregation was organized and became affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Zion Evangelical Lutheran Congregation was chartered on October 4, 1884. The First Religious Society was dissolved, and all its property was deeded to Zion Congregation.
The new congregation enlarged its place of worship by placing the old wooden chapel on a stone foundation and adding a steeple. The first full-time resident pastor, Jacob Burckhardt, was called in 1895. Under his leadership, the congregation began to evolve into an active part of the community with many services to offer to the residents, and the need for a Christian day school was recognized. In order to house the school, the chapel building was raised and an English basement was constructed under it. Pastor Burckhardt served as the teacher until 1897, when Mr. F. A. Schoeneberg was employed to teach. Pastor Burckhardt served Zion for seven years until he accepted another call.
In 1902, Zion extended a call to Pastor Ladwig, who served the congregation for six years. During that time, the Choir and the Ladies Aid were formed. Pastor Ladwig was forced to resign because of ill health.
Pastor John W. Schert succeeded Pastor Ladwig in 1908, and due to the increase in church membership, plans were made to build a new house of worship. The chapel was moved to the rear of the church property and remodeled to house the school. In 1909, the building now known as Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lyons, Illinois, was built; the cornerstone was laid on August 22nd and dedicated the following December. Pastor Schert served the congregation until ill health forced him to resign in 1913.
Martin Nickel was installed as pastor of Zion congregation in December, 1913. His service, which lasted until 1946, is the longest in Zion’s history. Because of its length, the years of Pastor Nickel’s leadership are among the most notable. It was during that time that Zion’s membership was the largest in its history numbering around one thousand souls. There were organizations for every age level; both the Ladies Aid and the Men’s Club had active memberships as well as the Harmony Young People’s Society and the Sunday school. Probably the most fondly remembered group was the Concert Band composed of men from Zion who took an active part in the life of the community as well as performing at Zion functions.
Improvements were made to the church facilities and in 1927, a new masonry school building was constructed (at a cost of sixteen thousand dollars) and dedicated. A pipe organ was installed in the church sanctuary in 1936.Around this time, a significant cultural change was taking place, English replaced German as the primary language for the congregation; German services were eventually discontinued.
Pastor Nickel retired in 1946, and Pastor Carl F. Spaude came to Zion after serving as a U.S. Army chaplain. He sincerely felt that all members of the congregation should actively participate in its activities; membership in all groups increased steadily. The Parent Teacher Organization became an especially active group as the school continued to grow and required the employment of more teachers. In 1950, the congregation purchased a new masonry parsonage at 4033 Prescott Avenue to replace the old building adjacent to the church, which housed former resident pastors.
After Pastor Spaude’s retirement, Willard C. Laatz took over as Zion’s pastor in 1956. The interior of the sanctuary was extensively remodeled - remember the beautiful angels? After a sustained program of fund raising (Forward in Faith) a modern school building and gymnasium were built and dedicated in 1961. The old school building was renovated to house the library and meeting rooms.
Zion was without a pastor for nearly one year following the departure of Pastor Laatz to another call. Pastor Merwin C. Desens came to Zion in December, 1965. At this time, the day school was well known in the community. Its staff was the largest in its history, and it enjoyed a reputation for offering a fine, Christian grammar school education.
In 1970, Pastor Desens accepted a call. Zion was left without the leadership of a pastor for 22 months. In January 1972, Zion’s members welcomed Pastor David T. Kluge. In 1977, generous memorial gifts enabled the congregation to build the Christoph and Augusta Benke Memorial Organ.
With membership declining significantly due to the growth of the western suburbs, Zion was forced to close the day school in 1978. The ceremonial burning of the mortgage in 1981 enabled the congregation to make many capital improvements, which had long been neglected. However, the doors to Christian education did not remain shut, in 1983, Zion Christian Preschool was opened serving children from Lyons and surrounding communities until it closed in 2004.
Pastor Kluge retired in 2002, after serving 30 years (the congregation’s second longest term in Zion’s history). Pastor Emeritus Sidney Frazen served as vacancy pastor from April, 2002, to November, 2003. In November 2003, Mark Surburg was ordained and installed as Pastor of Zion. His extensive knowledge of the Bible was evident in both his sermons and Bible classes. Pastor Surburg accepted a call in June,2006.
Pastor Frazen returned as vacancy pastor from July, 2006, to November, 2008. His knowledge and guidance helped Zion congregation move forward to a new concept - a partnered ministry. The Opportunity Investigation Committee (OIC) was formed and in order to fully understand the partnered ministry had many meetings with Zion’s congregation. The OIC also met with many sister congregations to determine which congregation would be willing to accept a shared ministry. Faith, Westchester, was asked to accept Zion, and with their acceptance, Pastor Prentice was called and installed in November,2008, as part time Pastor of Zion. The partnership ministry group consisting of members of Faith and Zion meet once a month to actively work together on our shared ministry. On October 4, 2009, we celebrated 125 years with a Celebration Service and an open house. A catered dinner followed worship in the gym. Pastor Prentice will become a full time Minister of both Faith and Zion in 2010. Again, there is a spirit of optimism and a renewal of faith, and the congregation looks forward to future years of growth.
In 2010 Pastor Prentice, after much thought and prayerful consideration, believed that the Lord was leading him to continue as a worker Priest. So the partnership started a search for an assistant pastor to serve with Pastor Prentice and the Faith/Zion partnership. In April of 2010 Pastor Matthew J. Gunia was installed to the partnership in a joint Worship service.
In the spring of 2012, Pastor Prentice, after much soul searching, decided to devote his limited ministerial time as a worker Priest to Faith solely and asked for a peaceful release from his call to Zion. In the mean time, Pastor Gunia received and accepted a Divine call to another congregation and Zion began to look for another congregation to form a partnership with.
In May of 2012, Zion was approached by Grace Lutheran Church from Willow Springs which had been praying for a partner congregation for a year. After several meetings,Zion called and installed Pastor William J. Orr on July 1, 2012
In 2016, Pastor Orr accepted a call, but our partnership is still thriving. We were experiencing a vacancy and being led by Pastor Walter D. Otten and Pastor Lynn A. Hanson as we searched for a new shepherd. In January of 2018, Pastor Mark W. Duer accepted our call. We welcomed him into our family and are looking forward to the gifts that he brings to us.
There are still many challenges facing Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. The parish has seen many changes since the years of the little wooden chapel on the Old Plank Road. The steeple of Zion Church stands today as a symbol to the surrounding community that Zion and its members are still active in ministry. Christ is our rock and shield, through faith, and by His grace points the way to eternal salvation. Thank you, Lord, for guiding us through these many years.
We look forward to further ministry and growth in Lyons and beyond!