Zion Works to Save bit of History

Becker, Michael. "Zion Works to Save bit of History." Journal-Advocate, 29 July 2005.

Built to serve the community of German-speaking immigrants from Russia, Zion United Church of Christ is one of the few remaining monuments left to that unique group.

But the building is old and needs help - some $200,000 in help. The church is now undertaking some heavy fund-raising so it can donate $50,000 to this project. The other $150,000 would come from the State Historical Fund.

The congregation is small, fewer than 100 people, noted Lois Christiansen, a member of the congregation. "But a lot of them are descendants of the original Russian Germans," she said.

For that reason, Christiansen said the building is worth saving. In 2001, the church was given historic property designation by the state. And the congregation was given a $10,000 grant last year from the historical fund to pay for an architectural assessment.

Zion United Church of Christ was built by German immigrants from Russia. After receiving designation as a state historical site, the congregation is now seeking a grant to make needed repairs.

The findings make for somewhat grim reading.

"The building's kind of falling in on itself," she said.

Slaterpaull Architects' study found some "critical deficiencies," and recommended they be addressed immediately. These include installing ties and sag rods to keep the walls from blowing out further, installing a new furnace, and running new electrical wiring.

Zion, described by Slaterpaull as being Romanesque Revival in style, was built in 1926. Services and confirmation classes were held exclusively in German until 1936, after which services were held in both English and German. In 1945, German was dropped and only English was used.


Fund-raisers planned

The church was built by Germans who had migrated from the Volga River valley in Russia to Logan County in early part of 20th century.

That community's history dates back to 1763, when Russian Empress Catherine the Great invited them to settle what was then largely undeveloped land. The Germans started leaving in 1874 when they were no longer exempted from Russian military service. Emigration reached its peak between 1905 and 1914, which is when most of them arrived in Logan County.

After they settled here many of them worked the beet fields, and helped build the Sterling sugar factory, the old Logan County courthouse, and North Sterling reservoir.

In 1911, 24 German immigrants voted to form Der Deutsche Congregational Zion Gemeinde, or the German Congregational Zion Church, in Sterling. They bought the old Roman Catholic church on 5th and Chestnut for $2,000, and later built their church there.

Early church documents indicate three columns of pews were built so that women could sit in the west pews, men in the east pews, and married couples in the middle pews.

In 1960, the congregation voted to join United Church of Christ. As late as 2001, it still had two members who had been born in Russia.

Christiansen and Lona Barber are spearheading the fund-raising efforts as well as the grant applications. A noodle sale is planned for Aug. 1. In September, church members will prepare and sell cabbage pockets. The traditional German dinner is slated for October.

Christiansen said they hope to have the $50,000 raised by then, as the application for the $150,000 state grant must be in by Oct. 1.

"We're just trying to rally the congregation," she said.

And save a piece of county history as well.

Reprinted with permission of the Journal Advocate.

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