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A History of Zion

Image by Rune Haugseng

From Plows to Pulpits

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

(2 Corinthians 3:17)

Christ had become academic. Pews were filled with unchanged lives. The forgiveness of sins became disconnected from its application to the believer in everyday living. A dead orthodoxy failed to bring the transformative power of the Gospel into everyday life. But the revivals came. Such was life 150 years after Luther before the ministry of Lutheran pietists the likes of Hans Nielsen Hauge. At the beginning of the 1800s, a Norwegian farmer's son began tramping over the mountains and valleys of the country preaching a message of repentance and personal salvation. Although branded a troublemaker by the state church, his message of spiritual awakening spread. They took fresh look at the New Testament church in Scripture, they studied the old story of freedom in Christ and living Christian faith, and they concluded that the local congregation is the right form of God's kingdom on earth, and that no power, except for God's Word, may dictate to it, not even a synodical hierarchy. This conviction was not simply a matter of church government, but rather a vision for Spirit-filled churches driven by their freedom in Christ. The movement for free and living congregations was born. Our forefathers sought to plant congregations who would promote a living Lutheran orthodoxy, churches filled with changed lives. They sought shepherds who would serve rather than dominate as overlords, pastors who would encourage lay people to exercise their spiritual gifts in Kingdom service. Georg Sverdrup and Sven Oftedal crossed the Atlantic with a genuinely radical view of Christian education and founded Augsburg College in 1869. They worked for a new kind of American church that was biblically-grounded, historically-rooted, and spiritually-living. They prized missions and emphasized evangelism to begin planting Lutheran free churches. And so our story began.

Coined with a Quarter

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)

This truth was close to the hearts and minds of the early pioneers that settled in this area. While they came to gain a livelihood, they understood that bread alone was not enough to have a happy living. A congregation where God's Word would be preached and the Sacraments administered was needed. So congregations were established, and Zion Lutheran Church has worshiped since 1903. Zion started with a quarter. It was given by Daniel Swenson in 1902 to start a new ladies ministry that would quickly become the catalyst for a new church. The new church became part of a large Lutheran parish including Lindahl (closed), Temple (closed), St Olaf (closed), Norman (closed), and Beaver Creek (still open). While the parish was begun in the Norwegian language, the faith of the fathers quickly came to be sung in the language of their children. Singing, teaching, and service have continued to be at the heart of our church family as we continue to serve the greater Tioga area. While most of the churches in the parish have closed, the heritage of determination to stand on God’s Word and let God’s Word stand continues at Zion. “Herren vare lov og tak for al sin naade,” or “the Lord be praised and thanked for all His grace!”

Image by Joshua Hoehne
Image by Timothy Eberly

Battle for the Bible

“Our congregations need to be set free, which is essentially the same as saying that they need to be awakened or revived. ” — Georg Sverdrup

Zion is a charter congregation for the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations. In the 1950s, controversy arose in American churches threatening the historic and conservative stance on the authority of Scripture. Led in part by Zion and her pastor, John Strand, a new church body was formed in 1962 (Pastor Strand became its first president). The purpose for forming the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations was to secure a home for churches whose commitment was to God’s Word, Christ’s freedom, and the Spirit’s mission. - God’s Word: The Bible is the inerrant Word of God and the authority in all matters of faith and life, and so the teaching and preaching of God's Word is the main task of the church. - Christ’s Freedom: The local congregation is the right form of the church, with no authority above it but the Word, so unity is a spiritual concept, not a man-made organization. - Spirit’s Mission: The church is called to become salt and light, actively seeking salvation of souls yet separate from the ways of the world.

Journey to the Hill

 "And they said, 'Let us rise up and build.' So they strengthened their hands for the good work."

(Nehemiah 2:18)

In August of 1903, the first official meeting of what became known as Zion Free Lutheran Church took place in the home of Mr and Mrs John Neset. By 1915, Zion began construction of a permanent building, and one year later the original building was completed. For the first service, members sat on kegs with planks nailed to them since pews were not yet present. By 1916, the original building was complete, followed by a sanctuary expansion in 1949, a youth center classroom expansion in 1957, a foyer expansion in 1969, and a third story classroom expansion in 1986. In 2007, Mercer Engineering was contracted to examine the aged building to assess the structure and feasibility for extension. After identifying major issues with both the roof and the foundation, along with accessibility issues from the stairs, as well as being landlocked, it was made apparent that a major change was necessary. After much time in prayer and thought, the congregation found that building a completely new structure was the best choice. After land on the hill was donated by the North family, the congregation arrived at a vision and building plan in 2013. The groundbreaking took place in April of 2017, and after much dedication and sacrifice, the building was completed in 2020, and the first service on the hill was held that September. In June 2023, the old steeple bell was transferred from Bakken Community Connections to Zion on the hill.

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