Zion Lutheran Church History
First Hundred Years
The Zion Lutheran Church about 1920.
Click to enlarge.
When a church is a hundred years old, whom do you go to for a Preface? All original members of Zion
Lutheran Church are long passed away to their reward. Very few members from the last celebration, the
60th Anniversary, remain in the congregation. Memories from the past obviously fade. We are thankful that
memories are as good as they are and especially appreciate the work of long-time members in review of this
year book in its completed form. Times change. Familiar people in service to their church are no longer with
us. So where do you go for a Preface? Three different perspectives are reflected in this Preface, each
having its own flavor and presenting its own view of Christís work in Zion Lutheran Church. Gary Kubina is a
child of long-time members Victor and Ella Kubina; he grew up in Zion. Ernest and Henri Etta Burnett have
been involved in the life of the church beginning in the 1970s. We are thankful for their crafting the following
thoughts for this Preface.
A Broad Overview
Swedish Lutheran Zion Church was organized in 1905 by people from the Midwest, mainly the Chicago
area. They were lured to the Silverhill area by the rich farmland. During the early years of Zion, they met in
Oscar Johnsonís land office and probably other public buildings. In 1914 the congregation began
assembling pledges for a building and began construction in 1915, the church building in which we now
worship. The land was donated by Mr. Johnson. The beautiful pulpit, altar and posts of the church were
made from local heart pine. Unique in the construction of the building are the two metal rods that reach from
side to side to hold the church together. They can be seen in the sanctuary. The stained glass windows are a
later addition. They were crafted and donated in 1985 by family member Lee Nitteberg who was living in
California. Members drove a pick-up to California to fetch the windows. Robert and Charles Nitteberg built
the frames and installed them.
Zion Church has been affiliated with several Lutheran bodies. Originally there was the Augustana Synod,
then the United Lutheran Church (UCLA), the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), the Evangelical Lutheran
Church in America (ELCA), and now the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (AFLC). Services
were held in Swedish until about 1920. Church records, however, continued in Swedish for several years
In the late 1920s and 1930s Zion had a close relationship with a Norwegian congregation in St. Elmo, AL. Its
name was St. Elmo Lutheran Church. Over the years these two congregations helped each other with
pastoral exchanges and had many fellowship gatherings. That church has been disbanded for many years,
but we still hear of the close association of these two Scandinavian congregations.
As in many small rural churches, there have been highs and lows. I think we are somewhere in the middle at
this time. We have supported missionaries and seminarians. We have been involved in establishing several
new congregations and we support local and church-wide charities. A big accomplishment in 2004 was when
we completed our new Parish Hall. This has allowed us to reach out to our members and to the community.
Over the years, our attendance has been like a roller coaster. We have had to rely on other congregations
such as St. Paulís and St. Peterís Lutheran Churches in Mobile to fill our pulpit. At times we were not a viable
church because we did not have the people or the resources. That has changed. We are making a difference
in our community and in our church. I believe we are slowly moving forward as a congregation and a lot of that
has to do with the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations. Also, we now have a full time pastor who
lives in the community and who is interested in our past, present, and future.
Men have not been active in the same way as the women of the church over the years, but men have been
involved in a variety of menís groups even during my tenure at Zion, but the continuity present in the LCW
has been wanting in menís groups. But we have been encouraged over the years by fellowship among our
peers and in our church at large.
Zion Church has been advised more than once that it would not survive. But, let me tell you one thing. In
2005 Zion celebrates its Hundredth Anniversary. And believe you me, it is still kicking! No one can foresee
the future but things are looking up by the grace of the same God raised up in Silverhill a hundred years ago.
To God be the glory!
Ernest E. Burnett
A Womenís Ministry
We called ourselves the "L.C.W" or the "Ladies Aid" regardless of what the church hierarchy named us. We
met monthly and enjoyed each otherís company. We gave up trying to have a Bible Study or present
programs because no one felt competent to be the leader. There were an opening and closing prayer and
perhaps a shared poem or article. Our gathering consisted of a business meeting with the reading of minutes,
treasurerís report, and discussion of future and ongoing projects. After the closing prayer, we sang "Praise
God From Whom All Blessings Flow." Some times we watched part of a Christian video and most of the
time a work day was scheduled for sewing projects.
Lillian Moseley ably and graciously served as president for many years followed by Eleanor Nitteberg.
Others who were in regular attendance were: Alice Seymour (now deceased), Violet Buonauro, Charlotte
Zander (now deceased), Della Sandell, June Langenbach, Ella Kubina and Henri Etta Burnett.
Ongoing projects consisted of making quilts and baby layettes to send overseas, making lap robes for area
nursing homes, and creating banners to enhance our worship service. There were usually two sewing
machines going. The iron and ironing board were set up and tables were pushed together to do the cutting.
The Christmons that decorate our tree at Christmas were made by these dedicated ladies.
We took up an offering at every meeting. With our offerings and the money made from fish fries we
supported a missionary family, bought items for the church, and gave to local social agencies.
Two yearly projects close to Eleanor Nittebergís heart were the Heritage Day Fish Fry and the Robertsdale
County Fair. At the fish fry Eleanor saw that each lady willing to serve had a special job. She also organized
the men to help--Charlie Canning, Pete Midgarden, Victor Kubina, Emil Sandell, to name a few. The night
before, Eleanor, with help, set up to accommodate the 250 or so people who would come through the line.
The menu was fried mullet, baked beans, slaw, hush puppies, ice tea, and cake. Fred Langenbach made and
fried the hushpuppies. Robert Nitteberg and several other men fried the fish on the screened porch in the old
building and a "gofer" passed the fried fish through the window over the sink in the kitchen. All of the ladies
baked and brought a cake for desert with the meal. Any left over food was taken to Baldwin County Mental
Health off of Highway 90 or the girlís home in Silverhill. Our day started at 8:00 and usually ended with the
cleanup at 3:00. Those who were able were on their feet all day. For several years we had baked goods
and crafts for sale on Heritage Day.
We entered the county fair for many years and usually placed among those winning. When we won first
place, we were able to donate the $100 prize to the church. Eleanor and Robert Nitteberg with the help of
others spent many hours putting the booth together, to the glory of God, and to have the name of Zion
Lutheran Church before the community. The millennium was the last year we entered and we won first place.
The ladies of the LCW seemed most happy when they were busy with their hands and working toward the
goal of helping others. It seems that their motivational gifts were givers and servers. Praise the Lord for their
ministry of love and compassion in the Name of Jesus!
Henri Etta Burnett
A Youth Ministry
View Point from the 1960s
What do you do for a preface to a 100 year history of a church? Well, look to memories, of course! For
those of you who are relatively new to Zion, my Mom is Ella and my Dad was Victor Kubina and my brothers
are Jim (Jimmy) and Ron (Ronnie). I grew up primarily in the time when Zion was part of the LCA, born
August 1, 1957, baptized December 8, 1957 (St. Paulís Lutheran in Foley), confirmed July 4, 1976, at Zion,
and married to my wonderful wife Beverly on July 4, 1987, at Zion, of course. I now attend St. Paulís
Lutheran in Mobile (Pastor Dr. Karnig Kazanjian). I am a Math Teacher at Citronelle High School in Mobile.
I thank God that my parents were Christian role models. Attending Zion Lutheran Church was a big part of
the growing process for me. I remember the building and the grounds, but especially the people. I
remember ringing the enormous bell and having the rope lift me off the ground. I remember special events
at Easter and Christmas. I looked forward to the Easter candy, even as I got older. One Christmas my two
brothers and I played the three wise men. During the play, someone wound up the musical lamb beside the
manger, and I started to giggle. I remember lots of dinners. We are Lutherans, after all.
Even to this day, when I return to Zion, I am greeted like an old friend or family member. I can recall people
from my childhood. It was like taking a mental roll call each Sunday, because you knew exactly where
everyone sat, pew by pew -- and you knew everyone. As a child I can remember going to Sunday School.
Mrs. Kinard taught me so much of the Bible, but she always made it relevant to my life. She was such a
good teacher. As I got older, the sermons during church service started to sink in and make sense. Growing
up in the church was not just a physical growth over time, but more importantly, a spiritual growth. I was
confirmed and married in Zion Lutheran Church.
When my fiancťe, Beverly, walked into the church for the first time, she said, ďThis is it.Ē Pastor Nipper (our
Mobile pastor) and Pastor Jolliff (my Zion pastor) both performed the wedding. A thread from Zion has
certainly weaved itself into my life. I will pray for and think fondly of the people at Zion Lutheran Church.
Some memories never fade. Zion, I know your doors will always be opened to me and to the community.
May the love of Christ continue to be shared within your walls!
The assistance of members and friends of Zion Lutheran Church in assembling the following material is
gratefully acknowledged. Memories, documents, and pictures used in this brief history of our church can only
suggest the depth of struggles and successes of the fellowship in Christ we all share through the Zion
congregation. Please recognize that not all materials could be used in this year book because of space
limitations. We are thankful, however, to all who provided information and historical documents and pictures.
A careful reading of this document will affirm the graciousness of the Lord Jesus Christ in sustaining the little
Zion congregation through an eventful hundred years. The organization of this brief history is summarized in
its title. This is a year book with events organized by year. Groups of years occasionally are given a broad
title to connect the flow of events. Names of people, places, and events may be in bold print and underlined
for easier reading. The vast majority of the history is directly drawn from church documents archived from
1905 to the present. Whether our church archives or other resources were accessed for our history, all
material is footnoted for source. In the last pages is the historical record of membership for our first hundred
years as we have pieced it together. Unfortunately, there may be gaps in membership rosters relating to
lost documents or poor record keeping. ~ Pastor Dave Johnson, Editor
Introduction and Organization
This century review of the activities of Swedish Lutheran Zion Church of Silverhill, Alabama, (aka Zion
Lutheran Church) was produced to support the celebration of the first hundred years of the congregationís
existence. As the reader will note, this document has been organized by year starting with some background
on the early development of the Silverhill area and the Lutheran experience prior to the actual organization of
Zion in 1905. Some information has been limited for several of the years but many events have been
remembered with anecdotes and facts. Of course there have been many things that are not remembered
and no doubt some memories are a bit inaccurate. Please feel free to make observations or annotations in
the margins as you read our history. We have attempted to supply a historic list of members since the
beginning, but we know there were incomplete membership records for at least 20 years during the 70s and
80s so additions may be needed in that time range particularly.
The congregation is greatly indebted to Pastor Dave Johnson for leading this history effort and writing most of
it. In addition, he oversaw much of the research. He even had to increase his knowledge of the Swedish
language to read and understand the records for the first thirty years or so. Many of our long-time members
have provided memories, old written material, and pictures that have been a great help in understanding what
God has done for us in blessing Zionís first hundred years.
There have been many high points, of course, and tough times during the years, but through them the Lord
has allowed the congregation to continue and to seek to do His will. The church has been associated with
several Lutheran groups during its existence, the most recent the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations.
The move to the AFLC has brought Zion ďfull circleĒ as it rediscovers its pietistic roots. The clear and
conservative understanding of Godís Word as understood by the early Augustana Synod and as Luther
himself expressed it at the time of the Reformation, is again celebrated and honored by Zionís membership.
Zion's web site at www.LutheransInSilverhill.com contains lots of additional material, especially pictures
and sound. In addition, it has a current schedule of services, events, and activities if you desire a church home.
Peter Midgarden, Congregational President