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Zion Lutheran Church, Liberty Township, Mercer County, Ohio

Organized:  1855  
:  Active
:  Lutheran (NALC)    
:  9764 SR 49, Rockford, OH, 45882
:  Section 5, Liberty Township, corner Tama Rd. & Ohio 49, south edge of Chattanooga
:  419-363-2035
:  B,M,D,Cf,Cm, Ger. & Eng., 1855-present, at church; compiled and translated in Zion Lutheran Church, the First 75 Years, 1855-1930 by Karen Miller Bennett, at the church, Mercer County Public Library, Celina, Ohio, Allen County Public Library, Ft. Wayne, Indiana, & Hamilton County Public Library, Cincinnati, Ohio.
:  Yes, ¼ mi. east of church; Chattanooga Mausoleum at the west end of cemetery.
: Congregation formed from dissenters from St. Paul Lutheran, Liberty; shared early minister with St. Paul UCC at the present site of Grange Hall on Tama Rd. 1860: frame church built; 1917: current church built.

Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church is a member of the Northwest Ohio Mission District of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). Zion joined the NALC on 4 December 2011 when the congregation voted to disassociate from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). Zion had joined the ELCA in 1987, when the ELCA was formed. Before that  Zion was a member of The American Lutheran Church.  Zion Lutheran is located in Section 5 of Liberty Township, on the corner of State Route 49 and Tama Road at the south end of Chattanooga.

Zion was formed in 1855 as an outgrowth of the west half of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Liberty Township.  Zion’s first pastor was J.D. Gackenheimer, a traveling missionary educated in Switzerland and sent to America to serve German settlers with the Word of God.  While serving an Evangelical church in Harrison Township, Van Wert County, he would travel to the Chattanooga area to minister to the Lutheran and Evangelical settlers by baptizing the children and serving communion to the adults.

The congregation worshiped in homes until 1860, when the members purchased land to build a frame church.  The elders, Conrad Heffner and Frederick Herzog, purchased the 100×85 foot parcel of land from Jacob & Charity Deitsch in 1860 for $5.  The frame church was located immediately southwest of the present church.  For seven years the building served both the Lutheran and Evangelical worshipers, after which time the Evangelicals sold their interest and organized their own church.

In 1863 the congregation purchased three acres on the south side of Tama Road from Conrad & Margaret Heffner for $5.  A small Lutheran School was built there, run by the pastor and used during the summer for teaching the Bible.  Today the parsonage, dedicated in 1947, sits on the south end of this lot.  Two ball fields also occupy the lot and are used by local teams.

Zion Lutheran Church, Liberty Township, Mercer County, Ohio, Old Frame Church

In 1889 Zion purchased 1/5 acre adjacent to the church from Michael & Elizabeth Zellinger, and in 1916 Henry C. & Margaret Baker sold an adjacent twelve by ten rods to the church for $260.  The cornerstone for the present church building was laid July 2, 1916, during the pastorate of the Rev. W.F.H. Heuer.  The present church was dedicated May 13, 1917 and the frame church was moved to the north end of Chattanooga, where it was used as a garage.

Zion was extensively remodeled in 1968.  The upper balcony was made into three Sunday School rooms, the first floor under the balcony was made into two offices and a Sunday School room, and basement was remodeled.  The sanctuary was redecorated in the late 1960s and again redecorated by Henry Husmann of Portland, Indiana, in 1992.

The first minister to be installed at Zion was the Rev. George Heintz in 1860. Zion and St. Paul Liberty have shared pastors during the years 1855-1883, 1914-1931, and 1978-present.  Two sons of Zion joined the ministry, Rev. B.F. Brandt and Rev. Paul Becher.

Services at Zion were held in German for more than sixty years.  The first English service was held in about 1910 and some German services were provided into the 1930s.

Zion Lutheran Cemetery is located to the east of the church, the land deeded from Michael Burger in 1866.  The oldest known tombstone is that of Agatha Heintz, who died in 1868.  She was the wife of Pastor George Heintz.  The Chattanooga Mausoleum Association purchased 100×60 feet of land immediately west of the cemetery from Henry C. and Margaret Baker in 1917.  In 1997 the parcel of land between the church and mausoleum was purchased from Gertrude Hoblet.

During the past 150 years, nearly 1100 people have been baptized at Zion and over 900 members have been confirmed.  Zion’s membership in 2004 is 187 baptized and 160 confirmed members.  Zion continues to teach the Word of God at weekly worship services and mid-week services during the Lenten season.  Active groups include Sunday School, Women of the ELCA, a Bible Study group, Luther League, Kingdom’s Kids, Zion’s Diner and Bible School in the summer.




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  1. The sign in front of church as well as the short worship notice in the Photostar indicate a bit of a transition in the local Lutheran churches. Has Pastor Swanson moved away? Who is Pastor Tomaria? Are St. Johns, St. Pauls and Zion again forming a pact to obtain a minister?

    1. Zion, Chatt, voted to leave the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) and join the NALC (North American Lutheran Church) in December 2011. Pastor Swanson and St. Paul Liberty remained with the ELCA and Pastor Swanson resigned as Zion’s pastor in December 2011. St. John Hopewell had left the ELCA and joined the NALC a few months before that. Zion and St. John Hopewell decided to become a joint parish in 2012 and started the call process to obtain a pastor for the new parish. Pastor Karen Tamorria accepted the call in the fall of 2012 and moved to Chatt in mid November 2012. She now the pastor for the Zion/St. John parish.

  2. Thank you, Karen. As we pass both churches on our usual trip to the area, and as former members of both churches, I have watched the signs change with some curiosity. It is actually very reassuring to see the home churches move to NALC as I could never understand the insane switch to ELCA. The kind, wonderful people that I knew growing up in those churches were strong, like minded Lutherans. I am very pleased that I am not the only one who could not compromise everything taught in those years of training, growing and sharing. Pastor Green, Pastor Hoke, and Pastor Miller were strong, principled men who laid down some pretty clear rules, values and expectations that I will never forget or abandon. I remain grateful to both congregations, and actually find great hope and peace in the two joining together to support a pastor. May she and they enjoy great benefit and favor in their journey to do God’s wil.

    • Ann Bolton on August 9, 2022 at 2:53 pm
    • Reply

    Hi Karen. I am one of the 1100 people to have been baptized at Zion Lutheran Church. My maiden name is Betzel, and in 1950 I was baptized there as an infant. My grandparents were members there: Fred and Ruth Betzel.

    In your research, have you found the Betzel and Fisher families? My cousin has done extensive family research so I am forwarding your website to her.

    Thank you,
    Ann Betzel Bolton

    1. Nice to hear from you. I think we have met. Were you at one of Zion’s 150th anniversary celebration Sundays in 2005? Maybe there with your father? To answer your question, yes, I have written several Tombstone Tuesdays about Zion’s Betzels and the Fishers. They can be found by using the search feature in the upper right of Karen’s Chatt’s home page. If you search for “Betzel” quite a number of Betzel blogs will come up and some about Fishers. Thanks for writing!

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