Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, in Chattanooga, Ohio, is a member of the Northwest Ohio Mission District of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). Zion joined the NALC on 4 December 2011 when the congregation voted to disassociate from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). Zion had joined the ELCA in 1987, at the same time the ELCA was formed. Zion was a member of The American Lutheran Church before that time.
Zion Lutheran is located in Section 5 of Liberty Township, on the corner of State Route 49 and Tama Road, at the south end of Chattanooga.
Zion was formed in 1855 as an outgrowth of the west half of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Liberty Township. Zion’s first pastor was J.D. Gackenheimer, a traveling missionary educated in Switzerland and sent to America to serve German settlers with the Word of God. While serving an Evangelical church in Harrison Township, Van Wert County, he would travel to the Chattanooga area to minister to the Lutheran and Evangelical settlers by baptizing the children and serving communion to the adults.
The congregation worshiped in homes until 1860, when the members purchased land to build a frame church. Church elders Conrad Heffner and Frederick Herzog purchased the 100 x 85 foot parcel of land from Jacob & Charity Deitsch in 1860 for $5. The frame church was located immediately southwest of the present church. For seven years the building served both the Lutheran and Evangelical worshipers, after which time the Evangelicals sold their interest and organized their own church.
In 1863 the congregation purchased three acres on the south side of Tama Road from Conrad & Margaret Heffner for $5. A small Lutheran School was built there, run by the pastor and used during the summer for teaching the Bible. Today the parsonage, dedicated in 1947, sits on the south end of this lot. Two ball fields also occupy the lot and are used by local teams.
In 1889 Zion purchased 1/5 acre adjacent to the church from Michael & Elizabeth Zellinger, and in 1916 Henry C. & Margaret Baker sold an adjacent twelve by ten rods to the church for $260. The cornerstone for the present church building was laid July 2, 1916, during the pastorate of the Rev. W.F.H. Heuer. The present church was dedicated May 13, 1917 and the frame church was moved to the north end of Chattanooga, where it was used as a garage.
Zion was extensively remodeled in 1968. The upper balcony was made into three Sunday School rooms, the first floor under the balcony was made into two offices and a Sunday School room, and basement was remodeled. The sanctuary was redecorated in the late 1960s and again redecorated by Henry Husmann of Portland, Indiana, in 1992.
The first minister to be installed at Zion was the Rev. George Heintz in 1860. Zion and St. Paul Liberty have shared pastors during the years 1855-1883, 1914-1931, and 1978-2011. Two sons of Zion joined the ministry, Rev. B.F. Brandt and Rev. Paul Becher.
Services at Zion were held in German for more than sixty years. The first English service was held in about 1910 and some German services were provided into the 1930s.
Zion Lutheran Cemetery is located to the east of the church, the land deeded from Michael Burger in 1866. The oldest known tombstone is that of Agatha Heintz, who died in 1868. She was the wife of Pastor George Heintz. The Chattanooga Mausoleum Association purchased 100 x 60 feet of land immediately west of the cemetery from Henry C. and Margaret Baker in 1917. In 1997 the parcel of land between the church and mausoleum was purchased from Gertrude Hoblet and crops are grown on it.
During the past 160 years, nearly 1100 people have been baptized at Zion and over 900 members have been confirmed. Zion’s membership in 2004 was 187 baptized and 160 confirmed members.
Zion Lutheran and St. John Lutheran, Hopewell, joined to form a two-point parish in the spring of 2012. The current pastor of the parish the Rev. Karen Tamorria, who came in November 2012 and was installed January of 2013. Zion continues to teach the Word of God at weekly worship services and mid-week services during the Lenten season. Active groups include Sunday School, Zion Lutheran Church Women, a Bible Study group, Chatta-John youth group, Kingdom Kids, Zion’s Diner and summer Bible School.
By Karen Miller Bennett, CG, 2005; updated 2015.
The following narrative was written by Rev. Reuben Valentine Smith in 1955. It is his personal account of his experiences as a pastor at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Chattanooga, Ohio, from 1899-1905.
How I Came to Chattanooga
It is my belief that Providence directs our lives and that God rules His Church, although the human factors by which His Will is carried out often do their part imperfectly and at times even perversely. Yet I do not think that it was by mere chance that I was called to Zion’s Church at Chattanooga.
There had been some trouble in the congregation arising chiefly from the introduction of English services, and the pastor had accepted another call. So the officers had written to Rev. Philip Schmidt, who had been their pastor many years before. He was then at Grove City, near Columbus, a friend of mine but not a relative. He recommended me, and the congregation sent me the call. The remuneration was to be $350.00 a year, parsonage, fuel and horse feed. Twenty cords of good beech wood were neatly piled up along the drive. I did not have a wife and I never owned a horse, but I could live in the parsonage. I accepted the call.
On a Saturday afternoon in June 1899, I rode my bicycle out from Celina, set up my bed in the parsonage and was installed the next day. When the members saw me they were sorely disappointed. I was twenty-two years old and did not look more than nineteen; I was not the least bit impressive in size and quite evidently a town boy. They were puzzled over the choice Rev. Schmidt had made, but their doubts and misgivings were dispelled in a practical way.
The deacons had planted about half of the parsonage lot in corn and had not done anything to it since. It was the end of June and the corn was about knee high and the weeds were higher. As a boy I had spent several weeks every summer on the farm of my great-uncle. (It is now the airport of Columbus.)
At breakfast on Monday morning, wishing to show off my knowledge of farming to Mr. Becher, I remarked that the corn ought to be plowed. He saw how much of a pretense that remark was and he called my bluff by saying: “Why don’t you plow it?” I refused to be intimidated and came back with “I would, if I had a horse and a plow.” Mr. Becher capped that by offering the use of a horse and plow, and the result was that the first bit of pastoral work that I did in my first charge was the plowing of a corn patch.
The next few mornings I also cleaned up the garden and the lawn. When the members came to church on the following Sunday and learned that I had done the work myself it created somewhat of a sensation and removed their misgivings about my ability to adapt myself to country life.
The church council was holding its meeting on the lawn on a warm evening late in June. Various matters had been discussed when one of the members said, “Reverend, when are you going to start the school?” I said, “What school?” The answer was “Our preacher teaches a German school for our children every summer.” My reply was, ”There is nothing about a school in the call.” They said, “Oh yes there is. It says ‘the pastor is to take care of the instruction of the young’.” I had thought that this meant catechetical instruction such as I had given. They told me that it meant that I was to teach school several months every summer; that I could take it easy–three half days a week would be enough.
It was a good thing that we were sitting in the dark and the expression on my face was not visible. My reply was that three half days a week would be only a mockery of a school; that if they really wanted an effective school I would give them one: five days a week, full time from July to Christmas, and in alternate years the catechumens would go on until Easter. What a job I was wishing on myself! They enthusiastically promised that they would see to it that the children would attend. So, that arrangement was accepted and carried out for the six years of my incumbency.
The school house was something–it was an old building about 28 by 14 feet. Some of the weather boarding was loose and part of the plastering was cracked. Instead of desks and seats there were old oaken benches with writing boards, each bench seating four pupils. There was an old box stove and a small reed organ. Later, largely through the kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Herzog, we got an adequate building.
But we had a real school. The children came, an average of 35 to 40 a day, ages 6 to 14. They kept me busy. It was a new experience and a challenge for me. I read books on teaching methods and did my best. I believe to this day that my hard work was not wasted and that the school was a real blessing to the congregation.
Incidentally, we also had fun. The boys helped me harvest the corn and I bought some equipment and we, including me, played baseball and football. This shocked some of the older members, but the youngsters liked it. One of the boys who was with us a part of the time later did quite well in professional baseball.
A Busy Preacher
I was a very busy person. I had the school on my hands. I preached a German sermon every Sunday morning and an English one every two weeks in the afternoon. They were not hastily dashed together, but carefully prepared. I read and I kept up my Greek. When there were vacancies in the neighboring churches I often acted as a supply. There were sick calls to be made and visits to the members. I managed to do some general reading and prepared several papers for our conference. Two of them that later appeared in print were a factor in my election to a professorship. Incidentally, the old Auglaize Conference was a very good one. Outstanding in its membership were Dr. R. D. H. Lenski, who was later Dean of the Seminary, Dr. E. Poppen, later President of the American Lutheran Church, Dr. William Emch, who is still writing for the Lutheran Standard, and others who were mentally alert and energetic. It was not a place for a lazy preacher.
Transportation Fifty Years Ago
The first time I went to Chattanooga the railroad agent sent me to Covington on the Pennsylvania and from there I was to take a “mixed” train to Celina. The mixed train was a local freight. I rode in the caboose. The train stopped at almost every cross road and got to Celina three hours late. The long wait was rather hard on the man who was to meet me and made him rather nervous and quite talkative. Then there was a three hour drive to his home and it was after dark before we got there. Later when the T. and O. C. ran an extension to St. Marys we could take the interurban from there to Celina and the connections were better.
From Celina there was the long drive with a slow farm horse. The roads were dusty in summer and muddy or very rough in winter. In the northern part of the county few roads were gravel and even these were not very good. The rest were mud. And what mud it was! It would pack up on the wheels of a buggy and then break off in great chunks with loud cracks. It had extraordinary adhesive powers. I once saw a man walking on the berm driving a large farm horse hitched to a buggy and the horse had a hard time getting through. One day in spring a man had a team hitched to a light buggy. He inadvertently flicked the horses with his whip. They lunged forward and broke both singletrees.
One Sunday afternoon I left Chattanooga in a buggy to drive to Hopewell. It took me one hour to get to St. Paul’s Church. There I spied Rev. Althoff’s cart in his yard. I left the buggy there and hitched to the sulky and made the next six miles in an hour and a half. All the while I was haunted by two worries: one that the rain which threatened might break at any moment, and the other that the congregation would leave before I got there, neither of which happened.
When the roads were fair I rode my bicycle and I hired or borrowed a horse and buggy. The people were very kind. At other times I walked. Some days in making calls I would cover twelve or more miles, stopping at several places. One of my best hikes was one from Berne that I made in 2 3/4 hours while carrying a small satchel. The hardest one was eight miles from Tama, through a fairly deep and light snow. When the mud was too bad I wore rubber boots, cut across fields, or walked on the berm. When I got to my destination, I would take them off and did my visiting in my stocking feet if my hosts did not supply slippers. Some of my city friends thought that I was suffering hardships. I did not think so. I was young and strong and my life had the flavor of an adventure.
The Debates at the School House
Life was not all work and seriousness. For several winters, the young folks of the neighborhood organized and held debates in the little red school house a half mile down the road. They debated such time-tried topics as “The pen is mightier than the sword” and others of the same type. They would coax me to attend. Then they would need one more person on a team and would draft me into service. On one occasion the question was “A man will do more for love than for money”, and they placed me on the love team. I orated about the great lovers of history: Anthony and Cleopatra, Abelard and Heloise, and so forth. But John Kable matched all my eloquence with the charge, “If that young preacher thinks so much of love, why is that parsonage standing empty all these years?”
Threshing was a big event in the lives of the people. It was the bringing in of the harvest and there was a feeling of joy and satisfaction. The neighbors came to help the men with the work and the women with the cooking. There was a big dinner and I was invited. Almost invariably when I got there they would be a man short. If they sent me out to load sheaves from the field it was all I could do to get a heavy sheaf of wheat up high on the load. But they generally put me to tabling, then they would speed up the engine and get a laugh out of watching me sweat and get blisters on my hands.
The last two incidents would indicate that I entered whole-heartedly into the life of the community and I am glad that I was no prig and that I could do so without pretense. So the life of my people was also my life. There was much hard work and there were serious times and there were happy times. Their sorrow was my sorrow and their joy was mine also.
My six years of service at Chattanooga ended just fifty years ago. They have always remained in my memory as a pleasant and rewarding experience. And when my thoughts revert to them, I am filled with thankfulness to the members of Zion’s Church, to the people of the community, and, above all, to God, who let my lines fall in pleasant places.
The Rev. Dr. Smith was born 14 February 1877 in Columbus, Ohio, to Benjamin L. and Mary Ann (Poth) Smith. He graduated from Capital University in 1896 and from the ELT Seminary in Columbus in 1899. He served at Zion, Chattanooga, from 1899-1905 and at a church in Marion, Indiana, from 1905-06. He returned to Columbus and became a college professor and Dean of Classic Language at Capital University from 1906-1955. He completed nearly fifty years of uninterrupted teaching and missed only two days of classes during that time. He was married to Nora Mangold. Rev. Smith died of a sudden heart attack in Columbus on 18 November 1955 at the age of 78.