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Zion Lutheran Church Ipswich, South Dakota


Zion Lutheran Church is numbered among the oldest congregations in the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Its early beginnings reach back to 1917, when a handful of families gathered for worship in Union Township, southeast of Ipswich. Served by a Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) pastor out of Roscoe, this small band of Christians held services in family homes (Wietgrefes, Gerhards, and Habecks), a school house, and a vacant church building.

It wasn’t until 1923 that this fellowship of believers organized as an independent congregation in the town of Ipswich, South Dakota. Their first resident pastor was the Reverend Walter J. Meier.

For most of Zion’s existence, the congregation has shared their pastor with other like-minded congregations.

They had a dual parish with a small congregation in Loyalton during Pastor Egbert Schaller’s tenure. When the next pastor was called, Zion established a joint parish with First Lutheran in Faulkton, South Dakota. In more recent years, the multi-parish was expanded to include Redeemer Lutheran in Bowdle, South Dakota. And when First Lutheran disbanded, Zion went back to being part of a dual parish with Redeemer.

Some of the pastors that served Zion over the years, who are familiar in our fellowship, include Pastors Egbert Schaller, Marvin Eibs, Leland Grams, David Fuerstenau, and George Dummann.

Zion got its first permanent worship home in 1931. The congregation acquired a small country church located in Cloyd Valley, southwest of Roscoe. The cost of moving the church building to Ipswich was $100.00, which had to be borrowed. This little church was a humble sanctuary without modern conveniences. The basement floor was unwashed gravel. The church had no indoor plumbing, and a coal furnace served as its source of heat.

Over the years, the Lord blessed the congregation with numerical growth. 

In the 1950’s and ‘60’s, the pre-communicant members attending Sunday School averaged in the forties. In 1958, the number of baptized members was 110.

With the sanctuary and classrooms filled to capacity, it became apparent that a larger church building was needed. A piece of property in Ipswich was purchased in 1974, and in 1978, ground breaking was held and construction started. Planning and construction was all done by volunteer labor from within the congregation. Moss rock and petrified wood was hauled in from fields around Hettinger, North Dakota. The rock was used for the front exterior and interior wall, altar, pulpit, and lectern. The new church was dedicated in 1981.

In the following years, most of the younger members moved away in order to seek employment elsewhere. 

With the membership becoming smaller in number and older in age, it became increasingly difficult to adequately maintain the property. To remedy this situation, an arrangement was worked out with a local funeral home business. The property was sold to Gramm Funeral Home. A joint-use agreement was established in which the congregation could continue to conduct worship services and other church-related functions in the expanded, remodeled facility without any cost to the congregation, for as long as it continues to exist.

During the early years of the congregation’s history, Zion was affiliated with  the WELS, having voted to join that fellowship in 1930. But on October 19, 1959, the congregation voted to leave the WELS over doctrinal differences. In 1962, Zion became a member congregation of the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC).

Over its long history, the Lord has blessed Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church through the Gospel ministry. Many souls were brought into God’s eternal kingdom through mission outreach and the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, and were spiritually nourished and sustained through the Gospel in Word and sacrament. The final end and goal of the Gospel ministry is the victory celebration of believers passing from this temporal world into the eternal habitations of heaven.

To God alone be all the glory.

Mark Gullerud is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Bowdle, South Dakota, and Zion Lutheran Church in Ipswich, South Dakota.