zion zionline        A History of Zion Lutheran Church

    1893 was an amazing year for Milaca. Three new churches were born that year - the First Baptist Church, the Evangelical Free Church, and the Swedish Lutheran Church.  All three churches are still here, still growing and prospering, and celebrating their 110th birthdays, but only one of the three churches is still on the original ground chosen by those long ago ancestors. That one is Swedish Lutheran - eventually changed to Zion Lutheran so as not to frighten the Norwegians and Germans and Danes and Finns and Irishmen and all the other people who later came to worship there. Take a quick trip through Zion's history from a pastor by pastor perspective - a view from the parsonage.  (See photos of all of Zion's pastors)
    The Swedes who started Zion were new in town, new in Minnesota, and new in the United States. They were new and they were poor, yet they felt a strong need for a church of their own. On October 27, 1893, 58 people met in the opera house on the corner where Stewart Jewelers is now and they formed the Swedish Lutheran. The next day the fledgling church was adopted into the Augustana Lutheran Synod. The Mille Lacs County Lumber Company sold land to the new church - the very land where Zion stands today - for $50. The members met in private homes until the first small church was finished - just in time for the Christmas morning Julotta service in 1894.
    While the new church waited for a pastor,  they were served by several seminary students. One of those students - Oscar Elmquist - worked especially hard to get the new church going. While he served the new Swedish Lutheran he started the Young People's Society, increased the size of the Sunday School from 35 to 150 children, served four other small churches, and in his spare time he taught school full time at Vondell Brook!
    Swedish Lutheran's first "real" pastor was Erik Hedeen (1900-1903). The parsonage he moved his family into was a small two room house the church had purchased for $450, so his first task was to convinced the church to enlarge it and build a barn for the horse he needed for transportation.
    Anders Dahlberg (1904) was the next pastor. People said he was a good preacher and everyone seemed to like him, but he only stayed four months.
    The next pastor was A.J. Elmer (1905-1909). He had a very impressive moustache, and was remembered for his patience, his kindness, and his faithfulness. He worked hard to help the congregation become self-supporting.
    Gustaf Dagner (1910-1914) came next and took on the huge task of building a new and bigger church. Members didn't have much money but they had faith. They built the building which is the main part of the present Zion - it cost $10,000. They moved the old church building across the street - you can still see it sticking out the top of the Peterson Johnson Funeral Home. While the building was under construction, the Swedes were invited to use the Norwegian Lutheran Church (Trinity) down the block on Sunday afternoons. The new church added Zion to its name, and in 1914 the new Swedish Zion Lutheran was ready for its first service - again, the traditional  Christmas morning Julotta service. Pastor Dagner expected his Confirmation students to know the answers to 150 questions and be ready to give those answers in front of the whole congregation!
    Zion's next pastor was August Lawrence (1918-1922). He came as a student one Christmas and then returned to Zion after he was ordained. His mettle was immediately tested by the influenza epidemic of 1919. Pastor Lawrence's main task was to make sure the rest of Zion's new church debt was paid off, and he also started the practice of using offering envelopes.
    Olov Berg (1922-1927) came next and began having a service in English every Sunday in addition to the Swedish service. Pastor Berg's wife and four children were probably the reason Zion built a new eight room parsonage. It only cost $8,000! Legend has it that one of the pastor's sons would wait until his father's Sunday sermon was under way and then he'd take the horse and buggy out for a joy ride. "Shadow Socials" were popular with the Luther Leaguers - young ladies baked pies and stood behind a hanging sheet as their pie was auctioned off, young men guessed whose shadow it was and bid for their favorites. Then baker and bidder shared the pie.
    Zion's next pastor was Gottfried Carlson (1927-1933). He was a good preacher and a good teacher. On cold winter days, he conducted Confirmation classes in the kitchen and  on really cold days, he held class in the furnace room! Pastor Carlson put the Luther Leaguers to work cranking the mimeograph machine that printed the Sunday bulletins. He also started keeping all the church records in English instead of in Swedish.
    When the Depression hit Milaca, it became impossible to afford a full time pastor, so Zion was very lucky to find Hans Yngve (1933-1938). He was willing to serve part time because he had another job - he was Field Secretary for the Anti-Saloon League. He didn't have a car and had to ask parishioners for rides. Mostly he walked, so he often had holes in his shoes.
    Times were better when Herman Soderberg (1938-1942) arrived at Zion. A lot of repairs had been put off during the Depression, so a lot of fixing needed to be done. The parsonage and the church got a much needed sprucing up, the church got a stoker for the furnace, and Zion got its first pipe organ.
    Reuben Carlson (1942-1948) was Zion's next pastor. World War II was going on and that was probably the main reason Pastor Carlson started putting out Zion's first newsletter. It was called "The Zion Herald." and was sent to all the members and to all of  Zion's 43 young men and 3 women in the armed services. Services in Swedish were only held once a month, and in 1943, Zion celebrated its 50th birthday. 
    Next came Carl Olson (1948-1956) - a big man with a big voice, a big moustache, and a big family. He really needed the big parsonage! He was a widower with six children who remarried and had three more children with his second wife who was described as "a dear little Swedish lady that everyone loved." His son Lester was ordained as a Lutheran pastor while Pastor Olson was at Zion.
    While Frank Lunn (1957-1966)  was at Zion, the educational building was built. It cost $76,000, but by the time he left, most of that debt had been paid off because  the public school across the street was overcrowded and needed to rent classroom space from Zion. Pastor Lunn had the first out-of-parsonage office in the brand new building, and he organized Zion's first library. He was a good preacher, a good teacher, and a good administrator. He could fix anything that needed fixing and he was my dad. He was good at that too.
    Elroy Blomquist (1967-1985) stayed at Zion longer than any other pastor in Zion's history. During his time at Zion, the remaining debt on the educational building was paid off and the mortgage was ceremoniously burned. Zion donated land to Catholic Charities so that the Key Row apartments could be built, and  a new pipe organ was installed in the balcony.
    Charles Henneman (1985-1998) was the pastor when Zion celebrated its Centennial in 1993. Centennial Hall was added onto Zion and the sanctuary was enlarged. The church was made more accessible with a new entryway on the south side of the church and an elevator.
    Jon Olson was  Zion's pastor from 1999- 2005 when he retired. He was born in Milaca, and even though he grew up at Trinity, he was still willing to accept when Zion called him! He brought back the old Swedish tradition of the Christmas morning service, and he began a new tradition - a New Year's Eve gathering and worship service. He started an informal Saturday evening service during the summer, and he made Communion available every week. He's an excellent preacher and teacher, plays the guitar and the piano, and has a very agreeable voice for singing, speaking, and laughing! See photos of his retirement party.
    On Sunday, October 12, 2003, Zion celebrated with old and new members and friends - celebrated 110 years of worship and stewardship and fellowship and friendship. We remembered 110 years of prayers and hymns, work and sharing, joy and sorrow. And then we got started on the next 110 years. See photos of the 110th Anniversary Celebration.
    On Ash Wednesday, 2006, Pastor Stephen Blenkush began as Zion's new pastor. He was installed on March 26th. ZIon looks forward to new challenges and continued growth in God's amazing grace in the years ahead!