OUR HISTORY

Celebrating over 200 years as a gathering place for all God’s people.

Founded 1821.

The Early Days

 

Many of our area’s earliest families were Lutherans. At first these Lutherans attended church in Hackensack, River Edge and Mahwah, then known as Ramapough. The increased settlements in the Saddle River area of Lutherans lead to organizing a local congregation.

 

In 1818, Reverend Frederick Schaffer began preaching to area Lutherans every fourth Sunday at the Old Stone Church in Upper Saddle River. Shortly after, services were held in Saddle River in Thomas Van Buskirk's barn in the summer and in winter, in the attic of his house. 

 

In December 1819, these Lutherans decided to build their own church. Members of some of Saddle River's earliest families; the Achenbachs, Van Buskirk's, Esler's, Berdan's and Ackerman's were major contributors to the building fund and the land for the church and cemetery was donated by the Van Buskirk's and Ackerman's. Andrew Esler was chairman of the building committee and is credited with being the designer of the church building. The building's cornerstone was placed on October 20, 1820, and the original name of the congregation was "The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saddle River and Ramapough". A bottle of wine, a loaf of bread, a bible and a hymn book were placed within the Church cornerstone. According to Church records, the building was dedicated October 14th, 1821. The Reverend Schaeffer preached the sermon, taking his text from 1 Corinthians 3 verse 11: For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.​

Zion c. 1905

Zion c. 1905

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Zion c. 1936

The Properties

 

The Church building is one of only ten Federal style churches remaining in Bergen County, NJ, and the second oldest of two that are of frame construction. The church building as it stands today is essentially the same as it was at the one hundredth anniversary in 1921 although there have been some changes with the passing years. The exterior has had no major alterations except for the addition of a chancel and a porch on the east front. For the 175th anniversary, major alterations were completed to restore the interior to the turn of the century design, which included moving the choir to the rear gallery and including earlier style railings (now protected with tempered glass). In 1940, the present Hammond electric organ was installed, replacing the pipe organ which had then served approximately forty-five years. New stained-glass windows and the carillon attached to the organ were also installed. The church building has been continually used by its congregation since 1821 with periodic remodeling efforts to preserve the building’s historical façade while ensuring its functional use for the changing times.


The present parish house was greatly enlarged from the original building. On this site, the original building was known as the “Ladies Hall,” so named as it was the property of the Ladies Social Union, which was the Ladies Aid Society in those days. That building consisted of one room and stage on the main floor, with the basement used for church suppers. Both were much smaller than the present main floor and basement, and here all the Sunday School activities, church suppers, fairs and entertainments were held. In 1930, due to the growth of the Sunday School, and the need in the community of an adquate place for meetings, church suppers, etc., it was decided to remodel and enlarge the building. Since this was done as an activity of the church as a whole, title to the property was transferred to the church and the name adopted for the building was “Parish House”. This was completed at the beginning of the depression, but in spite of the economic upheaval, there was no delay in raising the necessary funds. This was done partly by contributions from individuals and the two church societies of the time and partly by means of loans without interest from individuals. In a relatively few years, all loans were repaid, and the property has since been entirely free of debt.


The old parsonage was sold March 16, 1922, eighty years after it was built in 1842. The contract was awarded for building the new parsonage June 5, 1922. In 1925, the garage in the rear of the parsonage was built. 


The Fellowship Hall, otherwise known as Korn Hall after one of our dedicated congregational members, was erected in 1960. Rev William Fredericks Behrens lead the effort during the late 1950’s to purchas land to expand the footprint of Zion in order to build Korn Hall. This building contains a stage, a commercial kitchen and offices. The original plan was to extend this building to be a facility for congregational members to live in during their older years, but this plan was never executed. Today, Fellowship Hall is used in a variety of ways: most of Zion’s celebrations and events, many organizations in the area such as Girl Scouts and Girls on the Run, and the field in the back of the building is used by Soccer groups.

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Historic American Building Survey 1936 - U.S. Department of the Interior - National Park Service

Our Pastors

 

In the 200 years, Zion has had 35 Pastors. Zion’s first pastor as mentioned above was Rev. H. N. Pohlman, who was quickly followed by Rev. D. Hendricks. Overall, in the early days, the pastors were on a general rotation of 2-4 year assignments as was the custom in those days. Rev. Martin Snyder broke this tradition, and stayed with Zion from 1900 to 1911. During the depression, Rev Emanuel Dreibelbis stayed with Zion for 17 years, and managed to make significant changes to our Parish House and Parsonage home during this time period. The Rev. William Frederick Behrens, who stayed with Zion for 21 years, is known for his active involvement with the New Jersey Synod, expansion of Zion by erecting Fellowship Hall, amending Zion’s constitution to enable women to serve on the church council, and an enlarged benevolence program. Rev. Roy George Almqist may be Zion’s most famous pastor, as after 11 years with Zion, he became a member of the New Jersey Synod Council. In 1984, Pastor Almquist accepted a call to be Pastor at Calvary Lutheran in West Chester, PA. In 1994, he was elected Bishop of the Southeast Pennsylvania Synod, serving two terms, a total of 12 years.

Below is our long lineage of Pastors, who we honor for their years of service and dedication to Zion:

 

  1. 1818 – 1821 Rev. Frederick Christian Schaeffer

  2. 1821 – 1822 Rev. H. N. Pohlman

  3. 1822 – 1830 Rev. D. Hendricks

  4. 1830 – 1833 Rev. H. J. Smith

  5. 1833 – 1835 Rev. W. L. Gibson

  6. 1835 – 1838 Rev. J. Eisenlord

  7. 1838 – 1847 Rev. Jacob Christian Duy

  8. 1847 – 1850 Rev. George Neff

  9. 1850 – 1853 Rev. Matthew Waldenmeyer

  10. 1853 – 1856 Rev. N. Wert

  11. 1858 – 1867 Rev. Ephraim De Yoe

  12. 1868 – 1870 Rev. Laurent D. Wells

  13. 1870 – 1873 Rev. William A. Julian

  14. 1874 – 1881 Rev. John Switzer

  15. 1881 – 1882 Rev. P. M. Rightmeyer

  16. 1882 – 1886 Rev. D. A. Shelter

  17. 1886 – 1889 Rev. J. V. Bodine

  18. 1889 – 1897 Rev. E. Hughes

  19. 1897 – 1900 Rev. Charles A. Hutton

  20. 1900 – 1911 Rev. M. L. Snyder

  21. 1912 – 1914 Rev. J. K. Efird

  22. 1914 – 1915 Rev. W. H. Minicke

  23. 1915 – 1917 Rev. Carl H. Yettru

  24. 1917 – 1922 Rev. G. D. Strail

  25. 1922 – 1925 Rev. Albert Massey

  26. 1925 – 1942 Rev. Emanuel Dreibelbis

  27. 1942 – 1944 Rev. John H. Sardeson

  28. 1944 – 1951 Rev. George W. De Lawter

  29. 1951 – 1972 Rev. William Frederick Behrens

  30. 1973 – 1984 Rev. Roy George Almquist

  31. 1985 – 1997 Rev. Jack R. Behlendorf

  32. 1998 – 2001 Rev. Albert H. Heusmann

  33. 2004 – 2018 Rev. Wesley W. Smith II

  34. 2019 – 2019 Rev. Amy Hotter

  35. 2021 – pres. Rev. Dr. Jisun Kwak