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
Zion Lutheran so as not to frighten the Norwegians and Germans and
Finns and Irishmen and all the other people who later came to worship
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
the new Swedish Lutheran he started the Young People's Society,
the size of the Sunday School from 35 to 150 children, served four
small churches, and in his spare time he taught school full time at
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
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
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
of the present Zion - it cost $10,000. They moved the old church
across the street - you can still see it sticking out the top of the
Johnson Funeral Home. While the building was under construction, the
were invited to use the Norwegian Lutheran Church (Trinity) down the
on Sunday afternoons. The new church added Zion to its name, and in
the new Swedish Zion Lutheran was ready for its first service - again,
traditional Christmas morning Julotta service. Pastor Dagner
his Confirmation students to know the answers to 150 questions and be
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
1919. Pastor Lawrence's main task was to make sure the rest of Zion's
church debt was paid off, and he also started the practice of using
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
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
were popular with the Luther Leaguers - young ladies baked pies and
behind a hanging sheet as their pie was auctioned off, young men
whose shadow it was and bid for their favorites. Then baker and bidder
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
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
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
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!