Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Prairie City, Missouri, the first church that I served after graduating from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. I was invited to preach at their kickoff celebration on April 22.
The theme of the year-long celebration is “God’s Grace From Generation to Generation.” It is based on Psalm 100:5, “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”
Prairie City is a tiny town about 65 miles south of Kansas City.
The congregation was founded in 1868 and is made up mostly of people in the agriculture industry. It was a great congregation for me to start my ministry and my wife and I still keep in touch with several members of the congregation.
From the beginning, the congregation has supported a parochial school which both of our daughters attended. As part of my duties as the pastor I taught religion classes at the school every morning for the Fifth through Eighth graders.
And most members are laid to rest in the church’s nearby cemetery when they die. When I was the pastor at Zion, the members would still dig the graves by hand.
I was taught an important lesson about being careful what you pray for while we lived in Prairie City. It was harvest time and the farmers in the congregation were having trouble bringing in their crops because of recent heavy rains.
One of the farmers asked me to have a prayer in church asking God to stop the rain so they could finish the harvest. The next week our area received over 10 more inches of rain! The church, school and parsonage were not flooded but many roads and farm lands were. There was only one road out of town that was not flooded and to top it off one of our daughters ended up needing emergency surgery. So it was a big lesson in being careful what you pray for.
In the rural setting we had lots of animals to contend with. The day before we moved into the parsonage a skunk got under the church and let fly with its spray. The members had all the windows open to air it out but there was still a distinct odor in the church when they took us through it – after we had unloaded all our things first, of course!.
Over the years we encountered snakes, wild turkeys, coyotes, and bobcats. Owls nested in the trees between the church and the parsonage and would serenade us at night. Flocks of geese used to land in the fields behind our house.
All the members insisted that we have some cats. Some members had us come to their farm and load up a couple of their cats in a burlap sack. When we got back to the parsonage and opened the sack the cats took off running and we never saw them again. But eventually some stray cats wandered up so we finally got some cats which really helped control the mice. Some of the cats were even “Lutheran” because they would occasionally wander into the church during the worship services.
1868, the year that Zion was founded, the country was still dealing with the aftereffects of the Civil War. The year started with President Andrew Johnson being impeached by the US House of Representatives. He was later acquitted by the US Senate. In November of that year Ulysses S. Grant was elected president.
The first Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30 and the 14th amendment to the US Constitution, which granted equal protection to everyone under the law, was adopted. Thomas Edison received his first of many patents and helium was discovered although at first scientists thought it was a form of sodium.
According to the internet, something that the founders of this congregation could hardly have imagined, a generation lasts for about 28 years. If you take 150 years and divide it by 28 years it comes out to almost five and a half generations. So five and a half generations of people have been blessed to hear God’s Word at Zion Evangelical Church, Prairie City, and then, by God’s grace, to pass the Good News on to the next generation.
Here are a couple of photos of Zion from the horse and buggy days.
The anniversary celebration will continue this summer with an all-school reunion and in the fall with a German heritage dinner.