Zion German Congregational Church 1914-1967
Zion German Congregational Church circa 1920. The photograph was taken from what is now Irving Park looking north across NE Fremont.
After a pastorate of eleven years at the Ebenezer German Congregational Church, a dispute caused Reverend John H. Hopp and a group of members from the Ebenezer Church to leave the congregation. This group organized the Zion German Congregational Church on April 13, 1914 at the home of Brother Conrad Helzer. Both churches were part of the Congregational Conference of Oregon.
Zion was commonly known as “Hopp’s Church” in tribute to its founding pastor. The first officers were: John H. Krieger, Chairman; Henry Schwartz, Secretary; John Weber, Treasurer; George Hinkle, John Hohnstein, William Lind, and Ludwig Sauer, Trustees; Conrad Repp, Peter Schnell and George Weitz, Deacons; Christina Herder, Organist. Many of these families had emigrated from the Volga German colony of Norka, Russia.
Zion German Congregational Church cornerstone - the inscription translates from the German to "Built in 1914 A.D."
Reverend Hopp was born in Russia on December 14, 1869 and came to the United States at the age of 19. After graduating from the Chicago Theological seminary he was appointed minister of a small congregation at Park Ridge, Illinois. In 1903, he came to Portland to serve a congregation of 70 members supported as a mission church by the general board of the Congregational denomination. From this group he was instrumental in organizing three additional churches, the Second German Congregational, the Congregational Brethren and the Zion Congregational, of which he became pastor when the structure at NE 9th and Fremont was completed in 1914. Reverend Hopp died on May 12, 1943 in Portland.
The members of the Zion Church purchased the site at NE 9th and Fremont and immediately began to build a new structure. While the church was being constructed the congregation worshiped at the First Mennonite Baptist Church on NE 6th and Fremont. The cornerstone for the church was laid on July 19, 1914. From that day on, the worship services were held in the basement of the new building until the remainder of the structure was completed. The total cost of the church amounted to $20,000, which included the furniture. The building was completed on November 8, 1914 and was dedicated that day. The parsonage was built in the same year at a cost of $1579. A beautiful tone bell, which called the people to worship for many years, was purchased and installed in the tower in April 1915.
According to the Minutes of the Congregational Conference of Oregon published in 1915, Rev. Hopp reported the following: "The Zion Church has had another year or splendid success. All the departments have been remarkably active in their respective fields. The Ladies Aid Society has a membership of eighty-two and is active financially, and all the other organizations deserve equal mention. The Sunday School is very well officered and well attended. The attendance at the church services and prayer meetings has been steadily increasing. The revival meetings in January were very successful. Eighty-five were converted. New life and new spirit were created in the church. Hoping that the coming year will hold a degree of prosperity and growth for our church, we take courage."
In 1914, the church reported 180 members (90 males, 90 females and 90 families). All members are shown as being "Admitted" in that first year of organization. John Weber is shown as the Clerk for the church.
By 1918, there were 248 members (130 males and 118 females) reported in the Congregational Conference minutes. Rev. Hopp reports: "Our church is getting along nicely. we have increased greatly in membership, especially during the last revival. We are on a solid foundation."
On the tenth anniversary of the church in 1924 there were 290 members and over 300 Sunday school pupils.
New immigrants continued to arrive from both the old country and the Midwest settling in Northeast Portland. The congregation continued to progress and grow in membership. In 1929 a beautiful pipe organ was purchased and installed at a cost of a little over $3,300.
The church was known as Zion Brethren Congregational Church in 1925. Reverend Hopp served the Portland German-Russian community for 22 years.
Reverend Tiede accepted the call to Zion Congregational Church on August 3, 1936. Shortly after his arrival he organized Sunday school classes and a short time later classrooms were installed which were a great help to the teachers. In the early days of the church all of the classes met in the basement, each class assigned to a separate bench. The teachers stood between the benches, each trying to speak louder than his neighboring teacher, his only teaching aid being the German Bible and the Lextion plus Christian Faith.
Reverend George J. Schmidt began his pastorate with Zion on July 11, 1938 and enjoyed a ministry of over two years before Reverend Kalmbach took leadership of the church November, 4, 1940.
Reverend Kalmbach was born on October 24, 1897 in Krasnodor (Caucasus), Russia and immigrated alone to America during the Russian Revolution at age 16. He graduated from the theological seminary in Yankton, South Dakota then known as the Redfield Academy and did his post graduate work at York College, Nebraska. Reverend Kalmbach was State President of the Congregational Conferences in Oregon and California. Reverend Kalmbach became a very successful real estate broker after leaving the ministry. He died on August 12, 1981. Many improvements to the church were made at this time including new pulpit chairs and a brass railing for the platform. Brother Borgardt donated a beautiful Baptismal Fount and Brother Brauer started a fund raising campaign which resulted in the purchase of a grand piano. After retirement, Reverend Kalmbach wrote a book titled An Angel on My Shoulder, a true story of his life. Reverend Kalmbach spoke Russian and frequently told stories about his experiences with the Russian sailors who loaded their ships with war materials in the Portland harbor.
Reverend Theodore Strobel arrived at Zion on January 1, 1947. In 1952, the question of whether German or English should be used in church services was a matter of great concern to the church membership. Many of the younger people lost interest in the church because of their inability to read and understand the German language which was used a most services. Some younger people left the church and the Albina neighborhood to seek English speaking churches and new areas to live. A compromise was made and the younger people were allowed to buy the English Hymnals; this made it possible for young and old alike to worship in the language best understood. The language problem was not resolved in Reverend Strobel’s pastorate but would diminish by the early 1960’s as English became the primary language used in church services. At the same time the language issue emerged, the need was felt for an organization of young married couples. The Fellowship Club was the result of this need and this group became one of the most active organizations in the church. Reverend Strobel also organized a Junior Choir in 1947. Reverend Strobel also served as the pastor of a church in Lodi, California. Reverend Strobel’s first wife died and he remarried. Reverend Strobel and his second wife died within hours of each other.
Reverend Geier accepted a call to Zion in 1952 and coordinated the activity for the 40th Anniversary of the church. During this time a building fund was created toward a goal of a much need educational and social annex. Tower chimes were donated by Ross Hollywood Chapel and installed.
Reverend Biel arrived in August 1954 and brought new people and energy to the church. He was an active and dynamic leader, constantly seeking new ideas for the betterment of the church. During his pastorate Zion hosted two Pacific Conferences in 1956 and 1961. Reverend Biel was vitally interested in the youth of the church and the community. He reorganized and directed the Junior Choir. Under his leadership a daily vacation Bible school was organized as well as retreats to Camp Adams.
Reverend Biel and family. Photograph courtesy of Linda Crain.
In 1955, the congregation purchased a very fine parsonage several blocks from the church. This purchase allowed the former parsonage to be used as a church annex.
In March of 1958 the name of the church was officially changed from Zion German Congregational Church to Zion Congregational Church of Portland, Oregon. A short time later the church changed from German to English services, and new English hymnals were purchased. This brought new life to the younger generation.
On December 2, 1960 the congregation voted to approve the Constitution of the United Church of Christ and become officially affiliated with that body.
In December of 1966, the Brethren and Zion Churches voted and approved a merger of the two churches. In April 1967, a consolidation plan for merger is adopted and the Zion parsonage is sold.
The first service of the newly merged Congregation was held in July 1967.
The farewell service was held on August 6, 1967 and 155 members of the Brethren Church joined the Zion Church with its 265 members to become the Zion Brethren Church of the United Church of Christ.
The Brethren Church building was sold in October 1967 for $35,000.
Affiliated with the United Church of Christ, the Zion Congregational Church merged with the German Brethren Church on June 29, 1967 and the church was renamed Zion Brethren United Church of Christ. The Brethren church building was sold and the Zion church building was used until a new facility could be built. The merger did not solve all of the problems. Six years after the merger with the Brethren church, under the leadership of Reverend Klein, the congregation relocated to a new $180,000 structure on 3.5 acres at 3201 NE 148th Street and changed the name to Rivercrest Community Church. The Zion church building was sold.
Pastors of the Zion Church
Confirmation was a rite of initiation in the Volga German Protestant churches and tended to be seen as a mature statement of faith by an already baptized person. Confirmation was typically required to become a member of the church and the public ceremony was usually held as part of the Palm Sunday service each year.
A list of the confirmation class members and photographs (if available) for each year are linked below:
- May 28, 1915
- April 16, 1916
- April 1, 1917
- March 24, 1918
- April 13, 1919
- March 28, 1920
- March 20, 1921
- April 9, 1922
- March 25, 1923
- April 13, 1924
- April 5, 1925
- March 28, 1926
- April 17, 1927
- April 1, 1928
- March 24, 1929
- April 13, 1930
- March 29, 1931
- March 20, 1932
- April 9, 1933
- April 14, 1935
- April 5, 1936
- March 21, 1937
- April 10 1938
- April 2, 1939
- March 17, 1940
- March 29, 1942
- April 18, 1943
- 1944 - No confirmation class is listed in the church register
- 1946 - No confirmation class is listed in the church register
- 1948 - No confirmation class is listed in the church register
- April 10, 1949
- April 8, 1950
- April 18, 1951
- 1952 - No confirmation class is listed in the church register
- March 29, 1953
- April 11, 1954
- 1955 - No confirmation class is listed in the church register
- March 25, 1956
- 1957 - No confirmation class is listed in the church register
- March 30, 1958
- March 22, 1959
- 1963 - No confirmation class is listed in the church register
- March 22, 1964
- April 11, 1965
- April 3, 1966
Please contact the web-master if you have additional information or photographs of the Zion confirmation classes.
Photographs and Stories
Story contributed by Marcia Staunton – Portland, Oregon
I was confirmed at Zion Congregation Church on Palm Sunday 1957. Members of my class were Karen Spady, Russell Morrison, Marlene Speck, Donald Schnell, Marilyn Miller, Roger Wagner, and myself (Marcia Lincoln). The minister was Reverend Kenneth Biel.
We started our class the fall of 1955. The reason for the early start is that there would be no class in 1956. The Reverend Biel thought that we would learn more this way.
We had a confirmation book, our Catechism book, and our Bibles. We had assignments to read and memorize each week. Our classes were held almost every Saturday morning in the church. Each class lasted two to three hours. If the Pilgrim Fellowship Group took a trip or visits to another church that became part of our learning also.
On Palm Sunday we had to wear white robes and the girls had pink and red corsages and the boys had pink carnations. Yes, even the boys wore white robes. We were asked questions and nobody knew which questions we would each get so we were expected to know it all. We each had one Bible verse that we had to memorize. I left out a line when I recited mine. Dick Costantino made sure I knew about it.
We had to wear our robes again on Easter Sunday and took our first communion as a class with our parents.
Sausage Dinners at Zion
Story contributed by Marcia Staunton – Portland, Oregon
Beginning in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s, the Zion Church held popular Sausage Dinners sponsored by the Fellowship Club (young married couples).
The menu was German sausage, fried potatoes, baked beans, coleslaw, rye bread, pickles, and homemade pies. Potatoes were donated during the early years by Howard Winters of Troutdale, Oregon (a friend of my folks). We would go down the night before and peel potatoes and Esther Klaus Heron would fill the roasters full of baked beans, set the tables up and have lots done before Saturday night rolled around.
The dinner was cooked in the parsonage next door several years and the hot water tank was tapped with hoses so they could do dishes. My dad made the coffee and did dishes. When the dinner got too big to have in church basement, the event was held for a couple of years at the Mayflower Dairy auditorium.
I used to help serve the meals. I always carried pie trays because mother and Bernice Wagner worked in the pies. I even got tips a few times for finding special varieties for people.
For a few years, the sausage was made at John Sinner’s Meat Market. The men would go down and work at this then they would smoke the sausage.
The dinners were a lot of work to put on. Rivercrest Church held the dinners for two years in the early 1990’s. Too much work and not enough help.
The article above was published in the Sunday Oregonian on July 19, 1914 (page 15).
The Zion German Congregational Church members circa 1914.
Zion German Congregational Church members - year unknown.
The following is a letter written by Reverend Klein to the members of the church. The letter is not dated but was probably written in 1970 or 1971.
ZION BRETHREN UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
831 N.E. Fremont Street
Portland, Oregon 97212
This letter is to convey to you some of my personal feelings and concerns. I'm concerned about a number of things but one concern that has priority, is my church. Our association together through the years has had depth and meaning to it. This very fact makes me feel that I should not hesitate in writing to you.
My church is the Zion Brethren Church, which came about through a merger of two churches about four years ago. They were both from the same background and were spiritually compatible. In fact both of these churches fellowshipped together through the years within the same denomination. A merger was the natural result of our past associations.
You know the story and you know it well as it relates to many churches throughout the country. The Zion Brethren Church of Portland is no exception. The young people marry, move to the outlying areas of the city and the elderly‑pass away. A community once intact with familiar faces soon is taken over by people of other races, colors and creeds. You reach out to minister to your new neighbors but there is very little response, if any at all.
We have all seen towns that have died a slow, painful death. Buildings that were once brightly lighted, occupied and useful have become just so much brick, mortar and peeling paint. The happy noises of children and people are gone, only stillness and the waiting. Some of us know of churches that have died, mostly due to the lack of people. It isn't a pleasant sight and it doesn't happen overnight. It's a slow, painful death and sometimes it takes a number of years.
We, of Zion Brethren Church, have to look long and hard to spot any so-called signs of growing pains. But our church is still spiritually vibrant and moving forward. We have voted to relocate and build our sanctuary in a new and growing area. We purchased an excellent site last July, the architectural drawings are complete and our present church building is up for sale. As a congregation, we are stepping out on faith.
Our congregation has established a “Building Fund Memorial" and the results have been gratifying. This brings me to the purpose of this letter. I want you to give some thought to the following. Would you be willing to give a gift to the Building Fund of Zion Brethren Church or a memorial gift in memory of a loved‑one? I trust that this will have nothing to do with our personal ties but solely with Christian compassion and concern. Gift or no gift, we continue on as before. Thanks for letting me share this concern of mine with you.