The beginning of this congregation goes back to the year 1900. Two families living in the Gwinner area at that time found the distance to Havana, where Rev. H.A. Faedtke (pastor of Immanuel, Harlem, ND) was conducting services, too great. The decision was made to arrange for services in Forman. The first service was conducted in the home of a Mr. Kastner on Nov. 10, 1900. Presumably Rev. Faedtke was contacted, since his preaching area reached from Casselton, ND, to Britton, SD, and from Cayuga to Jamestown. Up until the year 1907, services were conducted either in Forman or in private homes and schoolhouses north of town.
In 1905, Rev. Carl F. Linse accepted the call to Immanuel, Harlem, and was installed on July 16 at both Harlem and Gwinner-Forman the same day.
Since Pastor Linse also served Oakes, Nicholson and Verona, the people decided to call a student in the summer of 1906. Student Paul Danker was engaged for the winter of 1906-07, during which time he preached and prepared two children for confirmation. It is also significant to note here that Oakes received their first resident pastor in the person of Rev. P.W. Stolper in 1907.
Thus, with the organization of a congregation in Oakes, it was possible for Rev. Linse to conduct services in Gwinner (Willey Twp.), also. At this time there were more families in Willey Twp. than in Forman. The decision to divide the group and organize in Gwinner was made with special thought given to conducting a parochial school.
The division was effected on July 10, 1908. A constitution was adopted and the name Evangelical Lutheran Zion Congregation was accepted. Mr. Henry Schutt donated five acres for a church site, and Mr. W.O. Meltz, one acre for use as a cemetery. The congregation at this time numbered 54 souls, 24 communicants, 7 families and 6 voting member. On May 16, 1909, the little congregation decided to erect it’s own church. This decision was made in spite of their small number and moderate means. The cornerstone was laid on the evening of July 10. The church was completed and was dedicated on October 24, 1909.
In October of 1910, the Rev. K.F. Linse, who had served the congregation until that time, accepted a call to Illinois. The congregation remained vacant for quite some time but, on August 12, 1911, called Rev. P.W. Stolper of Oakes as their first resident pastor. In spite of the poor crop, the congregation decided to erect a parsonage and barn also at that time. At the end of three years, the buildings were paid for.
The congregation still had no school building. A public school building was purchased at a nominal price and moved onto the church property. It served its purpose quite well. Besides catechism and Bible history, secular subjects were taught by the pastor.
In the fall of 1917, Rev. Stoper was called to Minnesota. The congregation then called Rev. Eggers, who was installed in January of 1918.
On October 26, the congregation celebrated the tenth anniversary of the dedication of the church. At this time the congregation numbered 115 souls, 72 communicants, 19 voting members and 8 school children. Rev. Eggers served the congregation until the beginning of 1926, when he accepted a call to Waterville, MN. A call was then extended to Rev. A.F. Vomhof, who accepted and was installed at Gwinner and Forman on January 24, 1926 by Rev. E. Claus. Rev. A.F. Vomhof, as his predecessors before him, served Gwinner and Forman until 1930, when he accepted a call to the Ellendale congregation. The congregation was then served by Rev. A.A. Zuberbier of Stirum until June of 1931. At this time, the congregation called Rev. K.F. Wentzel of Craigmyle, Alberta, Canada, who was installed on June 28, 1931.
Zion was by itself at this time, but in August of the same year, Pastor Schamber of Lisbon accepted a call to Minnesota. Lisbon called once unsuccessfully. Then, due to the stress of the times, it was decided to have the Gwinner pastor serve Lisbon. Pastor Wentzel served the Lisbon congregation until late in the summer of 1947, when that congregation again installed its own pastor.
On March 18, 1932, services in Forman were discontinued. On January 1, 1934, Zion numbered 193 baptized members, 124 communicants and 29 voting members. The congregation observed the 25th anniversary of the dedication of Zion on September 2, 1934 with three services, two in English and one in German.
January 1, 1942 statistics showed 156 baptized members, 114 communicants and 26 voting members. The church attendance at English services in the spring of 1942 was very good. On July 5 of that same year, it was decided that all morning services were to be conducted in English, beginning the first Sunday in August. German services were to be held at other hours, and then only by special request. The annual meeting of 1946 granted permission to organize a Ladies Aid. The aid was organized and the officers for the first year were: Mrs. A.L. Holmstrom, president; Mrs. Harold Asche, vice president; Mrs. Leo J. Kilzer, secretary; Mrs. K.F. Wentzel, treasurer.
On August 9, 1948, Pastor Wentzel preached his farewell sermon at Zion, having accepted a call to First Trinity at Wayne, NE. Pastor Wentzel had been with the congregation for 16 years. In 1948, the Lisbon congregation, which had been served for so many years from Gwinner, began to return the service in the person of Rev. A.L. Grumm. His successor, Rev. L. Becker, continued to serve the congregation from Lisbon. Rev. M.O. Blaske of Stirum and Rev. L.A. Dierke of Barney had also served the Zion congregation.
While Pastor Becker served the group, the congregation built the church at 107 South Main Street in Gwinner. The dedication of this church was held on May 13, 1956. On September 21, 1958, Zion Lutheran of Gwinner and Immanuel Lutheran at Stirum formed a dual parish and called a pastor to serve this dual parish. On July 29, 1962, Reverend Donald Sprengler was installed as pastor of Zion and Immanuel. He served these congregations until 1970. After a short vacancy, Rev. K.C. Jenks was installed on Nov. 20, 1970.
In 1971 an evening unit of the LWML was organized. A new addition was built onto the west end of the church in 1977; it included a narthex and two Sunday School rooms. Rev. K.C. Jenks accepted a call to Minot, ND. Rev. Terry Martin was installed as resident pastor in 1978. On May 17, 1981, the 25th anniversary of the church building was celebrated. The public school used the church basement in 1982, while a new school building was under construction.
On June 25th and 26th, 1983, the 75th anniversary of the congregation was celebrated. At this time the congregation numbered 267 souls, which included 197 communicant members.
In 1988, Rev. Terry Martin accepted a call to Pettibone and Woodworth, ND. Rev. Gary Buss of Lisbon served the congregation until April of 1989, when Rev. Travis Grubbs was installed. Groundbreaking was held in Gwinner for a new parsonage, which was built during the summer. Rev. Grubbs and family moved into the new parsonage on September 1, 1989. Rev. Grubbs accepted a call to Pennsylvania in 1997. Rev. Donald Polege of Lisbon served the congregation until June of 1998.
On June 28, 1998 Rev. Kirk Douglas was ordained and installed. The Zion Building Improvement Committee was formed in the summer of 2000 to explore solutions to the challenge of handicap accessibility and space. Members were Rich Beaver, Duane Bergemann, and Lonnie Hoechst, who quickly concluded we had three options: add an elevator or lift, major remodeling, or build new. Numerous remodeling options were considered over the next six months resulting in a special meeting in March, 2001. It was decided we would proceed with some type of project. A preliminary vote also showed members in favor of a new building versus remodeling. The fund raising effort formally began after the April 2001 voter’s meeting. A questionnaire for pledges yielded only that we needed to come up with a more detailed plan, while giving prayerful consideration.
A special building meeting on November 14, 2001 was informational and displayed drawings of several remodeling options created by Lonnie Hoechst. While these were being considered in the following months, it was decided we needed a larger and more diverse building committee. Elected at the April, 2002 voter’s meeting were Larry and Sharon Bartz, Rich Beaver, Jay Enderson, Sparky Enquist, and Cindy Enderson.
The plan to remodel faded in the following year as the costs seemed to exceed the value, and church attendance was growing. Therefore, in February 2003, the congregation voted to approve the building committee’s proposal for a new church. The project moved into high gear for summer construction to start. After a special voters meeting in April, 2003, the building committee chose the location at south 1st St. The land was donated by long-time member, Dale Asche.
Groundbreaking took place on May 18, 2003. Jay Enderson was hired as the main contractor. We are blessed to have a member capable of doing this. The many details of a new church were determined by the building committee and the congregation as work progressed through the fall and winter of 2003-2004.
The building fund grew as the building did, and without any special fundraising efforts, we exceeded our donation goals for each stage. The congregation, and most certainly the building committee, served as both architect and general contractor. The many hours of volunteer labor aided the progress of the project, both physically and financially. These efforts were truly a show of dedication and desire to make our new church a reality.
The first worship service took place on June 20, 2004. The only things missing were the outdoor bulletin board and bell, which will be moved when the landscaping is complete. We thank the Lord for the dedication of time, talents and stewardship that made this project successful. We hope you join us often to give praises to our God, the Builder of Everything.