Mt. Zion Lutheran Church, lovingly called the “beautiful church on the hilltop,” dates to 1829 when Abraham Smutz and his family sold a parcel of land to a group of church trustees. This land contained a house that the deed required to be used as a school and church, for any denomination in the area.
Various denominations, including the Lutherans, Christian, Brethren, and Mennonites used this building, which stood on the site of the current church’s parking lot. Early records indicate Mt. Zion’s congregation, many of which had formerly attended Emanuel Lutheran Church in Woodstock, were meeting in this church twice a month during the 1870s. A minister, usually from Woodstock, preached here and at Toms Brook.
In 1884 the Lutherans in the area began work on their own church building beside the Union church. Most of the labor and materials associated with the building was donated by the members of the congregation. At the time the minister was A.A. Bushong, who formally dedicated the church in November of 1884. The area surrounding the new church had previously been dedicated as a cemetery and the first burials at the site occurred in 1882.
Mt. Zion was unable to support a minister on its own for very long. In 1895 they joined with St. Luke Lutheran Church to form a new parish. The coordination would last, with a few interruptions, to this day. One of the early ministers to serve the congregation noted he travelled 1,220 miles and preached 84 sermons at the two churches in 1900.
Three years after this report, Mt. Zion and St. Luke joined with Lebanon Lutheran Church in the north end of the county to form an expanded parish. This decision meant their minister served an area 20 miles long. To ensure he had enough animal transportation to make this journey, the parish provided him with a pasture and horses. Since transportation was limited, services were only held twice a month at each church. Mt. Zion hosted the minister on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Sundays when communion was also held.
In 1908 the church building was drastically changed when a narthex and belfry was added. This altered the character of the building which had formerly been a more primitive style that shunned the more elegant features of other churches. The membership of the church around that time was quite expansive and numbered 156 adults in 1912.
Other changes occurred over the next several decades as modern utilities came to the area. In 1925 electricity was added to the church’s parsonage. During the next decade a sink and water pump were also added. Finally, the church’s first bathroom with indoor plumbing was installed in 1943. These facts indicate the time when these services arrived in the area.
Another change occurred in 1948 when the church replaced the dual entrances and aisles, originally designed to segregate men and women, with a single entrance. During the project the church also added a large altar picture featuring Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to honor members who had fought in World War II, including the congregations single female veteran. When these changes were dedicated in 1949, the church listed 150 communing members.
In the decades that followed, the make-up of the Lutheran Parish to which Mt. Zion belonged changed drastically. Lebanon Church left the parish in 1969 when the other churches voted to realign the parish to include only two churches. This arrangement would last until 1988, when Mt. Zion decided to become a one-church parish. Unfortunately the church was unable to support a minister on its own. After many difficult times, and several pastors, Mt. Zion and St. Luke rejoined in 2015 and continue to operate as a dual parish today.