History of Zion Lutheran

Zion Union Church

Zion Union Church

Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Womelsdorf began as a union church in 1792.  It was founded by German Lutheran and Reformed settlers who relocated near Womelsdorf (then known as Middletown) from the Schoharie and Mohawk areas of New York.  Prior to 1792, Lutherans in the area gathered occasionally in houses or barns to hear visiting pastors such as the Revs. Von Duehring, Gerhart Henckel and Stoever.

Leader and organizer of the first organized congregation was the Rev. Christopher Emanuel Schulze, whose wife Eva was a daughter of Rev. Dr. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg.  Dr. Muhlenberg is called the patriarch of the Lutheran Church in America.

The son of Christopher and Eva Schulze,  Rev. John Andrew Melchior Schulze assisted his father as pastor of Zion Lutheran from 1792 to 1802.  Later the younger Rev. Schulze became a state legislator in 1806 & 1821, then state senator in 1822.  He was then elected sixth governor of Pennsylvania, serving two terms as one of the state’s most capable and popular governors.

That original congregation, known as Zion Lutheran and Reformed High German Church, set about to erect a house of worship.  Dedication of the stone building with a brick floor occurred in or about 1794.

In 1867, during the pastorate of Rev. Aaron Finfrock, an addition to the eastern end of the building, including an imposing spire containing a belfry, was erected.  It became the custom to ring the church bell at a specified time each day to provide the correct time to the community.

In 1887 by-laws were adopted changing the name of the congregation to Zion’s Lutheran and Reformed Church.

The original church building was used continuously by the Lutheran and Reformed congregations for over 120 years, the last service being held in 1918.  In the ensuing years it stood idle, deterioration set in, and the building was razed in 1956.

In 1907, the Zion Lutheran congregation was granted a charter as a separate Lutheran church  and the church treasury was divided between the Lutherans and the Reformed congregation.

It was in 1915 that the Lutheran congregation voted to begin construction of a church on the corner of Third and High Streets in Womelsdorf.  The new  building would be adjacent to the house which had served as parsonage since 1905 and would include an adult Sunday School room beyond the sanctuary.

The Zion Reformed congregation also began construction of a new church building in 1915, at the corner of Second and High Streets.

Ground was broken for Zion Lutheran Church on December 12, 1915.  Excavation began immediately and teams of horses removed nearly 1600 loads of earth.  1500 tons of rock had to be blasted out using 350 pounds of dynamite.  This unanticipated situation caused significant delay in beginning construction of the proposed building.

The foundation stone was finally placed in June 1916 and the cornerstone was laid October 8th that same year.  Dedication services were held June 16, 1918.

Zion’s pastor during the planning and construction of the new building was the Rev. Harvey S Kidd.  He has been credited with “constant and minutely detailed oversight—and daily watching every detail of construction—[which] actually saved the congregation more than $10,000”.  He was also instrumental in facilitating Zion Lutheran’s acquisition of beautiful stained glass windows for the sanctuary.  Although stained glass windows were not included in the original building plans, Reverend Kidd learned that a Philadelphia glass studio had crafted a set of windows for another congregation, who were then unable to pay for them.  Zion Lutheran bought them and they were installed during the original construction project.

Recent pastors of the congregation have been:

Rev. J. Robert Kehrli, 1977-1999, now Pastor Emeritus;  Rev. Lynda K. Haring, 2000-2008; Interim Pastor Rev. Thomas H. Reinsel, 2008-2011.

The richness of Zion’s history is enhanced by having taken place within the environs of Womelsdorf, organized in 1762,  and the Tulpehocken Region.

The Tulpehocken Settlement Historical Society in Womelsdorf, is a repository for a wealth of area genealogical and historical information. It also houses a museum of artifacts and area memorabilia.