Growth and change seem to be the benchmark for Wauseon Zion United Methodist Church.
Over its 150-year history, the congregants have seen transformation, renovation, and mergers that Pastor Don Krieger, the pastor for 14 years, believes will benefit the church for years to come.
On Sunday, Sept. 16, the church at 4533 County Road 11 will celebrate its sesquicentennial with a 10:30 a.m. service, a celebratory dinner, and a 1:30 p.m. program of history and remembrance. Rev. Dr. Scot Ocke, the district United Methodist Church superintendent, will speak at the service, and there will be children’s activities in the afternoon.
The public is invited at no cost to share in the observance.
“You’ve got a lot of old churches but its rather unique to make it last that long,” Pastor Krieger said. “That’s what makes it most special – we’ve lasted 150 years in the same building.”
The church had its origins as the Batdorf Class at the Batdorf School in 1867. The church itself was founded a year later by charter members George Jennings, Isaac Pontius, John Batdorf, George Valentine, and Bethuel Gould. Gould donated farmland, and church construction was completed May 1, 1869.
It was named Zion Chapel, and was, at the time, a United Brethren church. That changed in the 1940s, when it became an evangelical United Brethren church.
“It was a very conservative church,” Pastor Krieger said, who has attended since 1957. “Times changed, denominations grew.”
Change came again in 1968, when the Brethren and Methodist denominations merged, and the church changed its identification to Methodist. However, it adopted some of the influences of the Brethren denomination.
“Even today, Zion retains that conservative, traditional style,” Pastor Krieger said.
The church’s history includes a merger with Taylor United Methodist Church in 1980, after that church at County Road 10 and County Road C was destroyed by a tornado. Wauseon United Methodist merged again in 2016, with North Dover United Methodist Church on State Highway 108, since that church’s membership had aged and waned.
“It was out of a true belief that it would be better to serve as one church,” said Pastor Krieger, who led both churches. He said the merger benefited Zion United Methodist, since “they needed the biblical knowledge and experience (North Dover) people possessed.”
The Wauseon Zion United Methodist Church building itself has undergone extensive change. The church purchased St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on May 18 1920, and moved it from two miles away to be connected to Wauseon Zion United Methodist’s main building. The addition created more worship space for the growing congregation in what is now known as the North Room.
In 1952, the church sanctuary and sacristy were remodeled extensively, and a new well was drilled. More remodeling in 1963 included a new kitchen and a new entrance, and in 1989 the burgeoning congregation added a conference room, classrooms, an elevator, and handicapped space.
Other improvements included a repaired belfry in 1926 for $500 – $7,214.97 in today’s money; construction of half a mile of power lines in 1928 to bring the church electricity; and removal of the last hitching posts for horses in 1930.
Currently with a congregation totaling 150, the church’s average member is younger than in the past, but “We haven’t become the temporary church that some younger people seek today,” Pastor Krieger said. To that end, each church service begins on a contemporary note, then moves to more traditional content.
“We blend that service, and everybody gets some of what they want, what they identify with,” he said.
The church is also unique in that its worshippers are not all local. Some attend from Berkey, Archbold, and Morenci, Mich.
Kevin Demaline, a life member and the church’s praise and worship leader, remembers attending services with his parents. He said he stays for the warm atmosphere.
“It’s family,” he said. “When I stand in front of the church, I can look towards the back and see my grandparents, my parents, a whole bunch of people that I grew up with.”
As for the changes over the years, Demaline added, “Things always change, and change is good. Change is the way we worship. The atmosphere is much more relaxed than it was 40 or 45 years ago. I much prefer that.”
The church has maintained attendance of about 56 members, and Pastor Krieger said he foresees a long church life left.
“I hope we’re here another 150,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.