NEW PALESTINE — It’s a story generations in the making.
It begins with people who bid goodbye to their families in Germany, traveling by boat to the United States’ East Coast, and then west by train to settle farmland.
It continues with a new Lutheran congregation that built a one-room school and later a church.
It stretches all the way to 2023, to middle schoolers reciting the Lord’s Prayer in German in honor of those early settlers, and to families making photo displays of a long heritage of a faith passed down.
Zion Lutheran Church celebrated 170 years of ministry in its services Sunday, with schoolchildren singing and playing handbells, with reflections on the congregation’s beginning and long history, and with socializing over Café Heidelberg cakes and cider afterward.
A number of present-day parishioners are descendants of the church’s early families. Myra (Roesener) Vaughn’s family traces back to Wilhelm Roesener, who came here from Germany in 1837. She said seven generations of her family have seen family members baptized, confirmed, and or wed at Zion Lutheran. Her great-grandfather, the Rev. Frederick Markworth, was pastor of the church from 1903-1940. Now she has great-grandchildren attending Zion Lutheran School.
Several longtime members of the church have memories in common: Being part of the Walther League youth group, attending school in buildings that predate the current school structure at 6513 W. CR 300S, and being close-knit with other families in the “German settlement” area of the community while enjoying the life of the congregation.
Maryellen (Folkening) Carter and her sister, Joan Wheeler, remember living close to the church and riding their bikes to school on warmer days. They remember their first Sunday School teacher, Anita Roesener, who would later marry and with her husband travel to India as missionaries. She was one of many people who stand out to Carter as she considers faithful examples throughout the years.
“They always beamed of the Lord’s love,” Carter said. “And that’s my goal, too. I hope I can, and hope I do.”
Carter remembers relationships people built and special times they shared. One school teacher played Burl Ives music for some students at his home, in a time when few people had a phonograph for playing records.
Each year on the teacher’s birthday, “Everybody would bring things from home,” such as canned goods, she said. They would tip off his wife to keep him home at lunch nearby a few minutes longer, while they stashed the goodies.
“We would hide things all over the school, and that was his birthday gift every year,” she said.
Hunting for gifts would have been simpler in those days, in the one-room school Carter attended. A pot-bellied stove heated it, students carried a cold lunch to school with them, and the restroom was outside.
She remembers those days fondly. Older students helped younger students pull on their boots during the winter. Jumping rope or playing Red Rover at recess involved just about every child at school.
Desks were grouped by grade level, and everyone heard all the other grades recite their lessons for the teacher.
“Really, you learned everyone’s lesson that way,” Wheeler said, of the years before she attended the expanded school built in 1950. “We thought that was an advantage.”
Paula Schramm remembers being an eighth-grader when her confirmation class of seven was confirmed. There were gowns, robes to wear during the service, and each confirmand had chosen a Bible verse to be read.
She too had a display board sharing family history. Jacob Schramm is the ancestor who came to the area from Germany in the mid 1930s.
Sunday’s service considered the journeys of those early settlers — of leaving the familiar, of learning a new language, and of children not seeing their grandparents again.
In his sermon Sunday, the Rev. Jason Taylor spoke of how Abraham in the Bible also left the familiar.
“He went out and away from his family,” Taylor said. “Abraham went because God called him… It still happens today, doesn’t it, that God calls people out of their comfortable zones, out of where they are located, to follow after him. …
“We’re just like those people that came over 170 years ago. We have the same mission. We have the same purpose, the same Jesus, the same Lord. And we’re all going home.”
PASTORS OF ZION LUTHERAN CHURCH
1853-1882 Johann Georg Kunz
1882-1884 Frederick Zagel
1884-1892 William Frederick Kaiser
1892-1903 Heinrich Henkel
1903-1940 Frederick John Markworth
1940-1945 Robert Godfrey Michael Trautmann
1945-1946 Chalmer Westhoff
1946-1966 Werner Philip Adam Krug
1966-1967 Cecil Skibbe
1967-1979 Paul W. Schwan
1979-1981 Lee Butz
1981-2007 Ronald W. Baumann
2007- Jason Taylor