Zion Lutheran Church-Middletown
Church Website: http://www.zionmiddletown.org/index.htm
After more than 260 years of ever-expanding Christian ministry in the Middletown Valley of Maryland, Zion Lutheran Church of Middletown is enthusiastically embracing the future.
The traditional date of Zion’s founding is 1740. When George Washington was about 8 years old, groups of recent German immigrants came to the valley from Pennsylvania. These were honest, hardy, God-fearing people who brought their Bibles, hymn books, catechisms, and prayer books. After constructing their long homes in the dense chestnut forests, their first thoughts were for their children. Thus, their homes became the first schools and church meeting places. However, by 1760, Philip Kefauver deeded 67 acres to the Lutheran and Reformed churches about two miles west of town. A 30' X 33' log building was constructed and served as a school and church until the Reformed church first moved to Middletown and the Lutherans shortly also moved. It is recorded in the Frederick County Courthouse that for a consideration of 1 penny sterling the owner conveys to the Lutheran trustees to build “one finished and completed - one church edifice for publick worship for the use and service of a congregation of Lutherian Augustine Confession - yielding and paying the rent of one pepper grain yearly”. This was in March 1771. The Lot No. 6 (66' X 330') was well within the laws of the time restricting non-church of England Churches from owning more than 2 acres. This was also under the reign of King George II of England.
The exact date for construction of the first church is not known but was near the revolutionary war period. Money was scarce and it is recorded that the farmers gave wheat, which was made into flour, and afterward exchanged for lumber and labor employed in construction of the church. The church was sextangular in form, surmounted by a tower which contained a bell once used on a man of war, and also contained a fine organ. This was truly an auspicious beginning in the new location.
Since most of the members were of German extraction, that language was used exclusively until 1826. The old log church was torn down in 1812 to be replaced by a fine brick building. Some members demanded that only the “mother tongue” be used in the new church but that was not to be. Times were changing and it was evident that those using the English language had an economic advantage, so it was used exclusively after 1834.
The brick church was erected on the same site as the first log church. It’s dimensions were 40' X 50', and cost about $9,000. Dedication was in September 1815 and it was at this time that the name Zion was used. The official name has been retained as “Evangelical Lutheran Church Zion”.
By 1858 church membership had grown significantly; a building committee was appointed and a Baltimore architect was selected. On February 27, 1859 services were held in the old church for the last time. On April 22, 1860 the new church was dedicated with about 2,000 people present. This beautiful structure stands today as the third on the same site. Facing the Old National Pike, the principal route westward for settlement in Ohio and beyond. The congregation of over 600 had committed itself to house of worship of grand proportions, not sparing elegant details. All of this was accomplished not for display but to provide an enduring house of worship and for proclamation of the gospel and administration of the sacrament.
Little could the people of Middletown imagine the horrors that would be visited on their small town within 3 years.
On Sunday, September 14, 1862, the bloody battle of South Mountain was fought between the forces of the Union and the Confederacy, just a few miles west of Middletown. This was followed a few days later by the terrible conflict at nearby Antietam. The wounded from both battles filled all surrounding villages. So it was in Middletown. Most buildings of sufficient size became hospitals. Zion Church being the largest building in town, and in excellent condition, was designated by the Army as a “general hospital”. This meant that this facility would receive critical patients, especially those requiring surgery. Pews were removed and were replaced by cots. The undercroft, container Sunday School rooms and the balcony were also utilized. In addition, the two-story brick building housing the Female Academy was brought into service. Hundreds of young men were brought up the beautiful columned portico into the church to be care for by Army and local physicians and ladies of the community. Many lost limbs and many died. Some were buried on church grounds.
By January 1863 the Army turned the church back to the Church Council. The church was awarded $2,395 damages for its use and was re-occupied for worship on August 30, 1863. Many years later a bronze plaque was affixed on the front of the church in recognition of its service as a general hospital with the governor of Maryland in attendance.
In 1929 the first addition to the church was added in the form of Sunday School and Chapel facility. A union Sunday School had been established at Zion in 1827 in cooperation with the Reformed and Methodist churches. The school has been an immense success and has contributed greatly to the mission of Zion Church.
A second addition was recently added which provided more office space, music practice room and music library, meeting and conference rooms, enhanced social rooms and a suitable vault for church archives.
These are some of the highlights of the physical development of Zion but the real measure of the great congregation is in the realm of spiritual and social. An impressive list of learned pastors have guided the laity in their spiritual journey, encouraged them in family life, educated the children, and comforted them in times of trouble.
An example of Zion’s outstanding leadership is that of Pastor Abraham Reck, serving from 1826 until 1836. A great spiritual awakening occurred during his pastorate and at this time he was instrumental in beginning Sunday School. During his tenure he encouraged, taught, and otherwise aided Zion sons David Bittle and Ezra Keller, and was instrumental in guiding them into the ministry. Dr. Bittle went on to become founder and first president of Wittenburg College in Springfield, Ohio. Dr. Bittle was the founder of Old Virginia Institute in Salem, Virginia. Later he returned to his old home and became the pastor of Zion. In 1853 he was called to the presidency of Roanoke College in Virginia, an outgrowth of the institute he founded. He served as the college president for 23 years until his death in 1876.
These are two outstanding personalities in a long history of Zion Church but there has been a host of absolutely devoted pastors, Sunday School teachers and superintendents, music directors, Council members, and workers of every department of the church. This dedication has produced a vibrant congregation of over 2,000 members which is a leader in the Delaware-Maryland Synod.
Location & Contact:
107 West Main Street
Phone: (301) 371-6500