A SLICE OF LIFE IN THE CLC
SNAPSHOTS OF CONGREGATIONS FROM AROUND THE CHURCH OF THE LUTHERAN CONFESSION
I would imagine that the sight of a white, wood-framed church, sitting out on a hill in the midst of a rolling countryside, would turn the thoughts of many to the nostalgia of yesteryear—to a time when many family farms dotted the landscape of the Midwest and prairie states, a time when moms and pops raised large families, eking out a living on a quarter-section of land. I speak of nostalgia because many such country churches no longer exist, owing to the once-thriving population of rural America having moved to metropolitan areas for work.
Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Hidewood Township, has proved to be the exception to the rule. Located in the country, in the Coteau hills of eastern South Dakota, some twenty miles to the south and east of Watertown, Zion has existed as a congregation since the late decades of the 1800’s. In its early years, the mostly German Lutherans who settled in the area were served by circuit-riding pastors, and they met in homes and in a schoolhouse until 1899. It was then that their first church building was built. Since then the building itself has seen several changes. The church was expanded to its present size in the 1940’s, and more recently a comfortable entry, which gave much-needed gathering room as well as indoor plumbing facilities, was added.
The wind, synonymous with South Dakota in the minds of many, blows incessantly through the Hidewood hills. And as the building has weathered the wind, so the congregational membership has also stood the test of time. In the late 1950’s various members of Zion and of Trinity Lutheran in Clear Lake, South Dakota, along with their pastor, Albert Sippert, withdrew from the WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod). By 1960 Zion was a member congregation in the CLC and became a dual parish with Trinity Lutheran in Watertown, South Dakota. Both were served by Pastor Christian Albrecht.
Since then Zion has seen its membership wax and wane. Currently, area agriculture is dominated by huge dairies and industrial farming. Nevertheless, members of Zion who do farm have come up with ways for some of the next generation to “stay home”—in taking over family farms, raising cattle, and hauling feed, cattle, hay, and grain. Zion currently numbers twenty-nine souls, mostly divided between members scattered in area farms and others residing and working in nearby Brookings. However, its relatively small count in numbers does not reflect the size of the congregation’s wholehearted dedication to worship around God’s Word. Attendance at services reflects a healthy percentage of the congregation, and Zion has recently seen internal growth (five children aged six and under) and also visitors with children—all of which makes for lively Sunday mornings and an active Sunday school.
Besides sharing a pastor, Zion and Trinity also share a summer outdoor service and picnic in Watertown. They also work together for summer vacation Bible school and Christian elementary education at Trinity. Having South Dakota State University located in nearby Brookings has made that city a good location for a monthly Bible study, currently held at a member’s home.
Because agriculture is such a vital part of eastern South Dakota’s economy, Zion’s members are very familiar with the challenges and successes, the disappointments and joys that come with the raising and harvesting of crops, and the need for relying on our gracious Lord through it all. In the same way, Zion anticipates the Lord’s gracious blessings, as He sees fit, on their continuing use and spread of His Word in their part of His world.
Paul Krause is pastor of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Watertown, South Dakota, and Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hidewood Township, South Dakota.