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Zion’s History – A Venture in Faith

In the beginning…

zionexp Zion’s roots have their beginning with the first German Lutheran Congregation west of the Susquehanna River.  The German Lutheran Congregation “on the Codorus” was organized September 23, 1733, near what, eight years later, became the site of York. In 1781 it adopted a constitution, known as the “Kirchen Ordnung,” which gives the name “Christ Church” to the place of worship. On May 2, 1804, it was incorporated as “The Minister, Elders and Church Wardens of the German Lutheran Congregation in and near the borough of York in the County of York in the State of Pennsylvania.” A building was erected on a site donated in 1743 by the heirs of William Penn. Today this congregation is known as Christ Lutheran Church and is located on George Street in center city York.

During this time worship reflected the German tradition and services were conducted in the German language. However, over time, a group of parishioners began to desire worship in the more popular language of their new land – English.  So in 1847, the constitution was amended and the congregation was divided into a first or German branch and a second or English branch, each of which was to call and support its own minister, while the church building was to be used alternately.

In 1850 it was decided to erect a new church for the English branch upon the graveyard on South Duke Street, and the new building was dedicated July 13, 1851, as Zion Church. This building was improved and remodeled in 1870, in 1887, in 1905 and in 1914. This was the beginning of today’s Zion Lutheran Church in Manchester Township.

The dual organization of two congregations in one proved unwieldy and it was decided they should become separate congregations.  Hence, on August 31, 1860, the English Branch was incorporated as “The Minister, Elders and Wardens of the Second English Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of the Borough of York.”  “Second English Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of the Borough of York” became Zion’s official name.  Many decades later in preparation for the relocation to Manchester Township the name was legally shortened to “Second English Evangelical Lutheran Congregation.” The reason “second” was originally included in the name was because another group of Lutherans had already begun worshipping in English and so Zion was the second group to make the switch to the more popular and common language of English.

For decades on Duke Street Zion flourished as a congregation.  The first known Christmas Eve candlelight service in York took place at Zion in 1915. A Christmas Eve candlelight service has been held at Zion ever since and the congregation will hold its 100th such service on December 24th in 2015.

With the congregation’s growing reputation for music came a growing musical instrument as well.  The Aerola Skinner organ that is Zion’s today took its roots in small beginnings but grew and expanded over time. Today this American Classic Organ has 2800 pipes and 47 ranks making it one of the largest organs in the York City area. One of Zion’s organists, Adam Hamme, had a national reputation and really put Zion musically on the map. Another one of Zion’s organist, was Gerald Mummert, who came to Zion following his retirement at Christ Lutheran Church in York. Mr. Mummert was a pupil of Adam Hamme and first learned to play on Zion’s organ.  Also of note during this time was the construction of a gym on the Duke Street property. Many individuals and groups in the York area took advantage of this athletic facility to make friends and develop athletic prowess.

The New Beginning…

cranesIn the late 1980’s, as attendance was dwindling to 50 worshippers, the church began discussion on relocating the church to a suburban area of the community.  By 1994 membership had dropped to about 90 members.  The changing times and demographics no longer required two Lutheran congregations back to back as was the case with Christ and Zion. So rather than wait around for the congregation to eventually die on Duke Street the congregation instead took a bold venture in faith and decided to relocate. A site was selected along a stretch of Brandywine Lane in Manchester Township. The land was purchased from Paul and Florence Sprenkle. The congregation then called as its Pastor-Mission Developer, The Rev. Stanley W. Combs, to help the congregation to relocate and grow in its new location.

On the last Sunday in November 1995 the last service was held in the building on South Duke Street. At that time the building was officially decommissioned as a church.  Items that could not be taken to the new site were sold at auction. The congregation then exhausted the bulk of its financial reserves and went a million dollars in debt to build a new facility on Brandywine Lane. At the time the congregation was still worshipping less than 100 a week.

During the month long transition period between moving from Duke Street to Brandywine Lane, Zion held services in the social room at Sprenkle Village Retirement community, which is only down the hill from Zion.

Ground Breaking was held in the rain on April 30, 1995. This officially began construction on the new home of Zion Lutheran Church. The foundation was poured and so it began. There was no turning back now. Construction continued into the summer and fall months with the cornerstone being laid on October 15, 1995. The cornerstone references Matthew 28:19 which reads “Go forth and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Then came the huge task of moving Zion’s 2,800 pipe, Pipe Organ. Several companies were called in to look at the project but only one accepted the risky move. The pipes were removed from the old sanctuary one at a time and moved to the new Zion. All of the pipes arrived at the new site in good condition and the $600,000 musical instrument was reassemble successfully.

The building was finished, it was the day all of Zion’s members wanted to see, moving day! Zion’s pews, altar, cross, stained glass windows as well as thousands of other items were removed from the downtown church and brought up and installed at the new Zion.  The moving company moving Zion’s Tiffany glass style altar, marble baptismal font and ornate wooden pulpit across town requested the items be insured for $100,000. They all arrived safely.

The first service was held at the new Zion on December 17, 1995. A week later, the first Christmas Eve was celebrated on “the hill.” This included the historic Christmas Eve candlelight service as well as a newly initiated family oriented Christmas service.

DSCF0041Zion has continued to thrive and grow at its relocated ministry site in Manchester Township. Six months after arriving at Brandywine the congregation had grown to the point of offering a second traditional service on Sunday mornings.  The congregation would eventually go on to offer two multi-media contemporary services as well.

The building has been expanded twice. The first expansion being announced at the buildings dedication in the spring of 1996. This first addition would house a choir room, nursery, four Sunday school rooms and additional storage. Built in 1997 the Sunday School addition was a welcome sight to the teachers and children of Zion.

As the years went on Zion decided that its current Fellowship Hall did not have enough space for its growing congregation, then topping 700 members. In 2000 the fellowship hall addition was build and dedicated on Christmas Eve, December 24th, 2000.

Zion’s interior is that of a traditional church complete with pipe organ, which is the second largest in York City. The Narthex offers a place for worshipers to catch up with friends or sign up for events. The fellowship hall offers a place to come and have a cup of coffee on Sunday morning. It also provides ample meeting space for the several scout organizations based at Zion, Lenten dinners, and committee meetings. The preschool and Sunday school rooms offer a place to learn. You’ll see a scurry of activities in the choir room as our music directors prepare Sunday’s Service music. The noise of children can be heard across the hall in the nursery where kids gather, with proper adult supervision to play and have fun.

Today’s Zion has over 900 members with a fourth of them being under the age of 19. Zion continues to be a congregation willing to take risks and venture in faith for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Pastors of Zion…

Rev. James Allen Brown, 1848-1849
Rev. Abraham Essick, 1849-1850
Dr. Charles Martin, 1851-1855
Rev. Aaron Walter Lilly, 1855-1897
Rev. Thomas Thompson Everett, 1898-1914
Rev. George Albert Getty, 1914-1930
Rev. W. Raymond Sammel, 1931-1950
Rev. George W. Wilt. 1950-1967
Rev. Franklin Fry, 1967-1969
Rev. Thomas Myers, 1969-1973
Rev. Howard O. Walker, 1973
Rev. Millard Stiles, 1973-1979
Rev. Robert Lang, 1979-1983
Rev. William Beck, 1984-1985
Rev. William Sowers, 1985-1992
Rev. Thomas McKee, 1992-1994
Rev. Stanley W. Combs, 1994-2014
Rev. Christine Baby-Jones, 1998-2001
Rev. Dr. Janyce C. Jorgensen, 2001-2024
Rev. Haley Vay Beaman, 2013-2016
Rev. Benjamin Erzkus 2017-2019
Rev. Kevin C. Stout 2023-Present