ZION HISTORY : THE VIRTUAL TOUR
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Early 20th Century
With the death of Pastor Scheib, Zion Church entered upon the long road back into the communion of the entire Lutheran Church. The tempests of the 18th century, which shook Zion and caused the radical changes from the conservatism of Kurtz through the extreme orthodoxy of Haesbert to the rationalism of Scheib, were outlived. But with the death of the man with whose name the church had come to be identified in the outside world, little remained that promised to be the foundation for a new start. The essence of Pastor Scheib's life and work had been a humanistic open-mindedness, an idealistic readiness to serve and live by faith. This attitude enabled the three pastors who have since held the pulpit of Zion Church to close the ring of the historical progression on which the life of every congregation travels around its center, Jesus Christ.
The difficulties confronting Zion were not only of a spiritual nature. The question of reorganization had been delayed from year to year. The clearance of the lot on Lexington Street had imposed a heavy debt on the treasury of the church. The original deeds, containing clauses regarding the property of the church which prohibited the sale of ground and allowed its use only for purposes of worship, again presented a problem. A congregational meeting on the question of disposing of property brought no results.
Although the young assistant pastor had the support of John Boring, the president of the Church Council, no action could be taken. All who were concerned with the reorganization faced the difficulties of this transitional period, when the old ideas were still deep-rooted and the new had not yet been sufficiently formed.
With the election of Wilhelm T. Schultze as president of the Church Council, a movement for a new constitution got under way. Both Pastor Hofmann and Mr. Schnltze prepared the text of the constitution, which was accepted by the congregation in May 1892. Without any radical changes, for which the time was not yet ripe, it introduced the following new provisions:
For the first time in Zion's history the women of the congregation were allowed to participate in the election of the preacher. The amount of the regular contributions was left to the discretion of the members, a minimum of five dollars a year enabling them to vote. The Church Council, which so far had consisted of elders and vestrymen, was reorganized. Only one type of councilman was created. The office of the trustees was abolished and their duties transferred to the Church Council.
The enactment of the new constitution during the lifetime of old Pastor Scheib made it the more valuable an instrument for Pastor Hofmann when he became the sole leader of the church. Also during the decade between 1890 and 1900, the question of the deeds was solved through the untiring efforts of Adolf Sirnon. The minutes of the Church Council of these years bespeak the labor of this man in disentangling the church's disadvantageous legal position. The president of the Church Council, Wilhelm Schultze, finally succeeded in having the restricting clauses of the original deeds annulled by the Maryland Legislature.
Now Pastor Hofmann could concentrate on the spiritual life of the congregation. Beginning in March 1891, he had edited the Kirchenblatt, in which he explained his stand. Ever since, the Kirchenblatt (later Gcmcindeblatt, now Monatsblatt), has proved a valuable instrument by means of which the pastor, the Church Council, and the various church organizations have remained in close contact with all the members of the church.
The worship service received the form which still survives today; and, although it deviates considerably from the Lutheran liturgy, it constituted an important step forward when we consider the formless style of Pastor Seheib's "lecture services."
Young Hofmann found it difficult in the beginning to convince the congregation that the singing during the service was not aimed at achieving top musical quality, but should be an expression of common praise and prayer. For many decades congregational singing had been neglected altogether. Many of the well-known Protestant hymns were unfamiliar to the congregation.
The old hymn book Neuestes Gemeinschaflliches Gesangbnch, printed in New York in 1850, which contained over 650 hymns, many of them antiquated, proved entirely inadequate. In March 1893, Pastor Hofmann began the compilation of a new hymnal. Shortly after the death of Schcib the work was ready to go to the printer. The hymn book committee, under George Bunneckc, John Hinrichs and Robert M. Rother, advised the pastor during the six years' work of preparation, and Zion's own hymnal was introduced on the occasion of the Christmas service in 1899. It was largely based on the Gesangbuch for Alsace and Lorraine and contained about 200 hymns. In 1902, a second edition was published, which to the present day has remained in use in the German services.
The Klrchcnmusik'ucrem, founded by Hofmann in 1894, furthered choral and folk music and helped greatly to embellish special services. It found most of its members among the youth of the congregation. Also in 1894, the Deutsches Liederbuch was published by the Sunday School, truly a pioneer work, as the publication of non-religious songbooks was just in its initial stage in this country at that time.
The Sunday School, of which we have spoken in the preceding chapter, widened its influence upon the youth of Zion Church, and now the first adult class was founded. Many families who had left Zion Church or simply lost interest in their membership were approached by the pastor and a group of members in an evangelization program. By 1908, Zion Church had 650 members on its roll, many of them young people who took part in the manifold activities which the renewed congregation provided. With the creation of the Geme'mde abend, a monthly fellowship meeting of the families, the pastor successfully countered the tendency of a great number of people to limit their social life to one of the many German societies in the city, instead of participating in church endeavors.
The holidays of the church year were observed by beautiful special services. Communion was no longer offered to the men and women separately, as had been the tradition for so long, but the family now went together to the altar of the Lord. Reformation Day was observed annually. To honor the memory of Pastor Scheib, the annual Kirchtagr was celebrated on October 18. From 1904 on, outdoor services were held once a year, the well-known Zion Waldandacht, an observance which was extremely popular in Germany at that time.
Zion Church Library was founded and developed into a remarkable collection of valuable works on the history of the church, on the German element in the United States, and on German and English literature.
Under Pastor Scheib, Zion Church had been viewed by the other German Protestant Churches of Baltimore with indifference, suspicion, even hostility. A gradual change of the church's position was brought about with much patience and in the spirit of neighborliness. Pastor Hofmann sought the fellowship of his colleagues and soon won their respect. When Zion Church celebrated its 150th anniversary in October 1905, for the first time in several generations the ministers of its sister churches took part in the memorial service.
Amidst this revival of Zion Church, one question became more acute from year to year: most of the families had moved away from the old part of the city into the outlying districts. New churches were founded in those sections, a circumstance which made it tempting for many German families to join them instead of going downtown every Sunday morning for the services at Zion. Time and again the floor was open for debate on the question of whether the church should be located in some other part of the city. Even Pastor Hofmann, for a while, was in favor of choosing a new, permanent location for Zion.
The Great Fire of February 7, 1904, threatened to spread to the church. The roof of the school house caught fire during the Sunday morning service, and the congregation had to be dismissed. In the evening the roof of the church itself caught fire and burned in two spots, but the precautions which had been taken prevented any considerable damage. The Church of the Messiah on Fayette
and Gay Streets was completely destroyed, as were many other edifices in the neighborhood. When the Messiah congregation began to rebuild their church on the same location, Pastor Hofmann wrote in the Gemeindeblatt in March 1905 : "Not a few of our members are now wavering in their conviction that we should move, since Messiah Church is being rebuilt on the same spot where it was destroyed by the fire of February 1904. Well, but the fact that they are building there does not mean they are not committing a mistake. If they make a mistake it is not necessary for us to make one."
In February 1903, he had submitted suggestions for fundamental changes in the interior of the church, but when the question of a possible removal came up, he withdrew them, hoping for an entirely new building. Five years later his original plans were taken up again and realized within a few months.
But the decade between the opening of the Ge-meindehaus and the liquidation of the final debt was the most trying period In the history of Zion Church: World War I.
After the end of the war, the life of the church went on. The attendance at the services often was small. The stress on the members was too great. Racial hatred did not stop at the doors of the churches and schools. But when the pastor sent out an appeal to all members to return to the church for the Christmas service of 1918, he preached on Christmas Day to a church which could not have been fuller in the easy years before the war. What was most important, the youth remained faithful to Zion.
Expressed in numbers, Zion had lost some of its strength. Spiritually the church emerged stronger from the ordeal. The congregation had grown together in the face of hostility. It had also survived as a German church, soon remaining the only church in Baltimore where German was preached every Sunday. In the Gemeindeblatt Pastor Hofmann laid down his attitude toward the language question: "No prejudice, no refusal, and above all no hatred for the English language. Use it for your communication as you use money. The language is the medium to reach people: the more you master, the better it is. Therefore the Hebrew New Testament was lost, but the Greek which appealed to the world was preserved. But as we do not fight the English language we must demand that we be left alone, too. We should try to preserve our German way of looking at things and attempt to improve it by foreign factors. We are and we remain an American church of the German tradition. The German Gospel as interpreted by Martin Luther is and remains ours. We live on the impulses which it conveys."
The first steps forward, when peace was again established, was the building of a new parsonage to conform with the old world style of the Parish House. Immediately after the armistice, Zion Church began to raise funds for the relief of thousands of destitute Germans—strangers as well as friends and relatives. Through the Lutheran church relief, Zion was drawn closer to the entire church. The Lutheran Inner Mission accepted the hospitality of the congregation and for many years held its annual lenten services in the Parish House, services in which many renowned Lutheran pastors preached.
The founding of the Church Club in 1920-21 was another proof of the reviving life in the congregation. Increased attendance, the liquidation of all debts through the willingness to help of all members from the richest to the poorer ones, and manifold activities around the church forged Zion's people together. Amidst all these efforts stood Pastor Hofmann, his hair grey now, but his spirit seemingly unaffected by the trials through which he led his people.
To mention the whole scope of his work in the church, in the city, but also in the state and well beyond its borders, would require more space than this history can devote to him. The generation whom he baptized, confirmed and led on to life is present today in every endeavor of Zion Church. In their faith and in their actions his ministry is still evident. The buildings, the garden, the books, which his great mind devised and placed at the heart of Zion, bespeak the achievements of the man who served Zion for almost forty years. There is hardly one nook or corner at Zion where the touches of his hand cannot be sensed even today.
He continued the proud independence of Zion Church, of the Freiklrche, but gently led his congregation toward a closer fellowship with the Lutheran Church at large. He banished rationalism from the pulpit and substituted for it an almost romantic, childlike faith which filled the hearts of his people with charity and kindness. When he rose to preach, his figure had something of the stature of the Reformer Martin Luther, whose picture above the altar gave Zion a rare distinction among the Lutheran Churches. Pastor Hermann's liturgy—his own creation, like so many other things— instilled a longing for the mystery of Christ which remained ever alive among the congregation.
For many new immigrants after the First World War, Zion provided a spiritual home and a harmonious introduction to the new American homeland. Bund Neuland, for many young Germans who came to Baltimore, was the first anchor they set in the unknown sea of America.
In spring 1927, the pastor went to Germany to recover from a serious illness. At the University of Giessen, which had conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Theology, he lectured and was enthusiastically received by the students. After his return from his old homeland he resumed his duties, which had been taken care of by the Candidate of Theology Helnrich Falk during his illness and absence. A few weeks later he collapsed at the altar of the church while instructing his confirmation class. On the next morning, May 19, 1928, he closed his eyes forever.
The congregation buried him under the linden tree amidst the works which he created. His grave is marked by the beautiful and simple monument from the hands of his friend Hans Schuler.
After a brief interregnum which was filled by Pastor August Bauer of Thuringia, Germany, the congregation called the pastor of Zion Church in Philadelphia, Fritz Otto Evers, to Baltimore. On January 27, 1929, he was installed as the regular pastor of Zion.
LINK TO PASTOR EVERS
Pastor and Mrs. Evers filled the parsonage with the exemplary life of a German Pastorenfamilie. Fifteen years ago when a newspaper correspondent visited Pastor Evers, he drew a sketch of the man whose work has meant so much to Zion: "The pastor is a gentle, kindly man with a sweep of long gray hair that distinguishes him in the midst of any company. Alone in his Sakristei, in a velvet housecoat, a long cigar in his fingers, he is definitely a part of Zion Church."
Not only were the institutions which he found when he arrived in Baltimore continued, expanded and enlarged, but he ventured to create anew much that had been lost—and this during a time when many voices predicted the final doom of the German church in America. In 1929 the German Language School opened with a broadened scope, restoring the scholastic tradition of Zion Church, which dates back to the first schoolmaster, Moritz Worschler. The school met with an unexpectedly large response. In the thirties it reached an enrollment of over 220 pupils. Miss Elsa Conradi, who was the principal of the school for many years, aiso wrote a delightful textbook, which was introduced in German schools in many countries. Never in the twenty-six years of its existence has the school lacked voluntary teachers; among these was the pastor's wife.
The Julius Hofmann Memorial Foundation, a memorial to his predecessor, was created to further the interest in German Instruction in the public schools. Each year the foundation awards books and medals to outstanding students of the German language in Baltimore.
The peaceful development of the church was once again interrupted when the Second World War drew near.
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