Zoar UMC’s congregation celebrates longevityOctober 10, 2019
By BILL POWELL
ZOAR — There will be a Jubilee Celebration of worship, praise and fellowship Sunday recognizing the 175th anniversary of the founding of Zoar United Methodist Church.
Many church congregations — especially those springing up in the smallest hamlets — eventually must come to grips with their own life expectancy. But, despite Zoar being so small state maps don’t even show it straddling the Dubois-Pike county line, its church on the hill at 8818 W. Old State Road 64 perpetually brims with the singing, outreach and socializing of a vibrant church family.
There are reasons behind that longevity and vibrancy, according to Lee Bilderback, a Holland resident, historian and congregation member.
Initially, Bilderback says, a connection owing to northern German ancestry prompted the community, and thus the church, to stick together.
Zoar sits between Holland and Stendal and was actually on the edge of Dubois County’s “German area,” according to Bilderback.
“If one goes a few miles west or southwest, the settlers were from the southern American states,” Bilderback says, and that resulted in challenges involving some of the non-Germans living in the surrounding areas.
Bilderback says Zoar’s 1848 log church (and campground) was reportedly burned by an arsonist who felt God’s word should only be preached in English (as opposed to German).
The togetherness based on ethnicity lasted well into the 20th century as the German language remained part of the Zoar congregation’s regular services until 1946.
Families — and then extended families — grew within the church community and today worshippers attending Zoar UMC are still getting their individual spiritual needs met, according to Bilderback.
“Whether in worship, Bible study, outreach, fellowship, programming, or music, they feel good about their church experience,” Bilderback says. “In turn, they enjoy sharing their faith by working at the (Zoar) Mosquito Fest, EPIC youth worship or an outreach such as Feed My Starving Children or the United Methodist Women’s Fall Auction.”
Immigrants from Ladbergen, Tecklenburg, Westphalia, Germany, under the leadership of circuit-riding ministers, established Zoar Kirche in 1844. Circuit riders H. Koeneke and Konrad Muth converted many early settlers in outdoor camp meetings held around the Dubois-Pike county line, according to Bilderback. By 1838, members met in the homes of the Katterjohn and Fenneman families. Established in 1844 and organized as part the German Methodist Conference of the Methodist Church, Zoar originally served with the Huntingburg and Holland Congregations in the Huntingburg Charge.
The aforementioned log church — it sat in what is now called The Grove — was replaced by the Zoar Kirche closer to the top of the hill in 1871. Following tornado damage to that building, the current worship house was built in 1949.
Delores Hemmer, a member of the church for almost 70 years, drew from church histories Elmo Langebrake prepared for the congregation’s centennial and Bill Bartelt penned for the 125th celebration to arrive at there being 62 ministers and lay pastors during the church’s 175 years.
Incidentally, Langebrake was Bartelt’s uncle and Bartelt is, in turn, Bilderback’s uncle.
Hemmer’s research also found that the first Zoar Church picnic was May 18, 1901. Those attending were entertained with baseball games and the Zoar Band.
Zoar’s baseball team was called the Clodhoppers. Their opponents were teams from Huntingburg, Duff and a team called the Peach Grove Tigers, according to Hemmer’s research.
Sunday’s festivities begin at 9 a.m. with a Jubilee Worship Celebration of special music, recognitions and celebration in the Zoar UMC sanctuary. A fellowship gathering with time for visiting follows at 10:30 a.m., followed at 11:30 a.m. by a celebration meal featuring fried chicken and all the trimmings.
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