GREENVILLE – The members of East Zion Congregational Church, 6171 US 36 East, Greenville, invite the community to an open house on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2-4 p.m. to reminisce the 175 year history of this historical church and the 100th anniversary of the building itself.
“I remember when my uncle Keith Bailey used to go down to the church and start the fires in the mornings before church to warm the building for services,” said Charlotte Bailey, 93, of Greenville, who has been attending East Zion Church since she was about 10-years-old.
The current pastor, Rev. Paul Calvert, has been filling the pulpit for East Zion for nearly two years.
“The foundation of this congregation and its roots in the Reformed Church are deep and historical,” Calvert said. “They have such a rich history of people who are faithful to the inherent word of God. Today, we are staying faithful to biblical preaching and a humble worship service that we hope our predecessors would be pleased with.”
The church, which began in 1844, has weathered the usual generational changes in membership as well as many building upgrades and overhauls, but the building has a story that includes a mishap that brought down the rafters.
It all started in the early 1840s when the Rev. Jacob Kercher, a young talented “circuit riding” minister, visited Gettysburg, where he preached the gospel through the area to scattered members of the Reformed Church who had come from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland. His ministry continued for almost four years, followed by Rev. Reuben Good, who subsequently became a professor at Heidelberg College.
In 1844, the church was formally established by the Creager family in a building just south of New Harrison near Greenville Creek. It was known as the Creager church and served families throughout the Civil War.
On Sept. 19, 1864 church officials organized the church in Greenville as the St. Paul’s Congregation of the Reformed Church where the pastor of this new charge preached regularly to the Creager congregation and also preached frequently in the old school house near Bear’s Mill.
In 1875, the congregation again reorganized and in 1883, the name “Creager” was changed to Zion Reformed Church. Later, “East” was added to the name to distinguish it from a church with a similar name on the west side of town.
The original church building was erected in 1853-59 by the Lutherans, who named the building after Rev. Alexander Klefeker who had donated the land and much of the funding for the construction of the edifice. In 1883, the title to the church was transferred to the trustees of the Zion Reformed Congregation for the sum of $650. For the next 60 years the Lutherans and the East Zion congregation shared the building.
The history books tell that the growing group of members decided the building needed a basement to accommodate social activities. In February 1919, there was a unanimous vote to proceed with building upgrades and improvements.
The work was started with the digging out of the basement as the first order of the improvement project. In May 1919, while the men working on digging out the basement with horses and slip scoops had either had gone home to noon dinner or to work on their own spring planting, the old Klefeker Church groaned and collapsed never more to serve as a place of worship.
The congregation, determined to rebuild a new church on Zion’s hill, worshipped at the Concord Grange which stood on the corner of present day 571 and Culbertson Road, during construction. The cornerstone of the building that still stands today was laid 100 years ago, Sept. 28, 1919. It has a sturdy basement, along with a strong bell tower, church auditorium and several Sunday school rooms.
“We welcome anyone who wants to visit,” Calvert commented. “It is a small congregation of people who continue traditional church values. Interestingly, we are finding that some people still enjoy a traditional church service.”
With many more stories to share, if the old church walls could talk, they would tell tales of the faithful dedicating stained glass windows, serving the community during a polio epidemic, praying through two World Wars, honoring heroes, supporting missionaries and much more through all these 175 years.
The open house celebration will feature photos and memorabilia from the church’s history. Cake, cookies, and refreshments will be served.
For more information about the East Zion Congregational Church open house, please contact Shelly Calvert at 937-524-3097.