Zion Lutheran Church - 100 Year History Preface

Zion Lutheran Church History

First Hundred Years

Picture of Zion Lutheran Church about 1920.

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 afterwards.

         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

View Point

         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!

         Gary Kubina


         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

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