Cohocton church celebrates its history

COHOCTON — In the times of our ancestors, it was important not only to find shelter for your loved ones, but find a suitable place to build a house of worship.

Often this place would be on a good patch of land owned by a prominent person within the settlement, one who had some to spare for such a momentous occasion.

In 1869 this came true for the small settlement of Cohocton with the separation of St. Paul’s German Lutheran Church to the newly formed The German Evangelical Lutheran Zion Church of Cohocton.

The earliest written records of the congregation date back to Aug. 18, 1869 with several prominent family names on the ledger. These names are George Bolster, Daniel Sick, John Pritting, David Godfrey, and John Fleischman, Henry Hinckel, John Miller, Andrew Retzicker, Nicholas Volts, John Getsinger, Jacob Strobel, Frederick Walter, Casper Rehdanz, and John Benschneider.

These men would shape the destiny of a small church that would withstand the test of time. George Bolster donated his land to be used for the church and later for the church cemetery. Before the church was built the worship services were held in Bolster’s home. Over time the church would be known as Zion Lutheran Church in Cohocton. The first major change came in 1898 with the bell and bell tower installed, organ and balcony used by the choir, and two heaters to replace the one stove in the church.

In 1917 the land adjacent and behind the church was sold by Bolster for funeral plots. Many who once worshiped in these halls are buried in the Zion Lutheran Cemetery.

It would undergo a major change in 1941 with stained glass windows to replace the clear ones, new pews to replace the flat boards once used, the chancel was remodeled and a new alter donated by St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Rochester would be placed. There were new pulpits and lecterns built as well.

In 1953 the organ was no more and replaced with two lovely paintings indicating the birth and prayer before the death of Jesus Christ.

In more recent times there has been additions and maintenance done to the church, but overall what you see standing off the beaten path is what has stood for 150 years.

On Aug. 11 the Zion Lutheran Church held its 150 Year Celebration with a special sermon by Bishop John Macholz, service by Rev. Deborah Johnson, and picnic on the hill by Charles Saxton.

Johnson gave the opening litany for the special milestone.

“The Lord God in his goodness has blessed us with 150 years of mission and ministry at Zion Lutheran Church. We are remembering people, and it is good that we remember that God has chosen us, baptized us, and brought us together as the Church of Christ in this place. As a remembering people we look back at all the saving acts of God; The Creation, the Flood, the Covenant, the Exodus, the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Church,” she said. “Our eyes look back with thanksgiving. Our eyes look forward in hope. Therefore, with thanksgiving for the past and hope for the future, let us dedicate ourselves and our lives to the mission of in which God calls us to in this place and in this broken world.”

The first reading was Kings 8:22-30 by Hollee McLean. The Psalm 84 was read by Johanna Schwingel. The New Testament reading of Peter 1:1-9 was read by Rev. Gregory Huth. The prayers were read by Rev. Steven Middernacht and Rev. Virginia Mazzarella.

Bishop Macholz gave some insight into the history of the church and a good message.

“I always find it fascinating on days like this when congregations celebrate milestones, to look back at the news that was taking place in 1869 when this church was being built. It offers an understanding and some context where we have come from as people. It is part of our history and who we are today,” he said. “We carry the saints before with us into this place. I am going to share some historic facts with you from 1869. In 1869 the 18th President of the United States (Ulysses Grant) was inaugurated. Thomas Edison patented the first electric vote recorder. The Avondale Mine Disaster in Pennsylvania occurred killing 110 miners. The first ever National Relief Fund was made for widows and children affected by that fire. Ghandi was born in India. On Dec. 10, 1869 Gov. John Campbell of the Wyoming Territory approved the first law allowing the women the right to vote. The Union Pacific workers and officials of the railroad held a ceremony in Utah Territory driving in a gold spike to join the railroads on May 10.”

“The most important thing that happened in 1869 was that Zion Lutheran Church began to serve this community as it continues to do 150 years later. To be sure there were many other things that marked that year of 1869, but suffice to say what took place that year is with us still today. I found it interesting that this congregation began on a conflict,” Bishop Macholz continued.

“There were some disagreements at St. Paul’s that started in 1860. Something took place that created friction in the congregation and people started Zion Lutheran Church. They didn’t like what was going on, so they picked up their hymnals and moved down the road to start this church. It is amusing to me that a congregation started out of conflict and has lasted 150 years. Let me take you back to that spike that was driven into the railroad in 1869. It connected the west and the east in the railroad world. It set the foundation and standard that allowed both sides to create transportation that would move goods and services across this country. It grew from a need at that time and allowed for more growth and development. In a sense the forming of Zion Lutheran Church in 1869 was similar. They grew from a need and it allowed further growth in this community. It is and was based on Jesus Christ, the need in which I speak.”

Bishop Macholz finished by mentioning the scripture on Jesus being the one true cornerstone.

Charles Saxton donated his land for the ceremony picnic, which overlooked much of Cohocton from atop the hillside.

“I grew up in that church. I was baptized and confirmed in that church. My parents went to that church all of their lives too. I hope we make it another 150 years of fellowship in that church,” he said.

Rev. Huth served the church from 2006 to 2010 and was honored to take part in the ceremony.

“It is great to be part of the heritage in some small way. I was honored to be asked to be part of the service. I saw some from St. Paul’s Lutheran in Dansville there as well. It started out as a dual church when I came along in 2006. I was there to help bring the two churches together. They are all wonderful people,” he said.

Jan Zimmer, George Bolster’s great-great-granddaughter, talked about the importance of family legacy.

“My great-great-grandfather George gave the land that was used to build that church. I heard they were still doing sermons in German and they wanted to break away from that. There were other reasons too, but we are not sure what they are. I know it has some connection to the Stone Cross on Acomb Road. That was the first German church built in the area. I know when they started this church, they didn’t want it in German anymore,” she said. “My grandmother Pauline Bolster-Lyons married Floyd Lyons in that church and had five children. My mom was married in that church. I was married in that church in 1972. I spent my whole life in that church along with the rest of my family. We have many fond memories of growing up there.”

Deacon Jonathan Deibler said this is one of the oldest churches in the Genesee Lutheran Conference. There are 25 churches he is in charge of in this conference.

“It is great to have a community of faith celebrate a center of worship in a rural area for 150 years. They have been in this community continuing the mission for all those years. Sometimes larger inner-city churches get all the attention since they are bigger buildings with more money, but it is great to celebrate what this church has done,” he said. “The farm heritage created the resources needed to stick to anything no matter what the problems were. They had the process at hand to fix any problem that came their way. It is clear that Zion Lutheran Church has done that in their ministry for 150 years. Whatever is needed in the community, they are there to fix the problems faced.”

Zimmer said when she was a young child the organ was a fond memory of hers. She recalled the organ being removed and the paintings being put in its place.

“It was wonderful to grow up in this church. When you had perfect attendance in Sunday School, they would give you a pin. When my dad died at the age of 57, I took my Lutheran Sunday School pin and put it on him, so he would be buried with it,” she recalled. “At Christmas time we would all be given a speech to memorize that we needed to know for Christmas Peace. We had a candle service and each of us would have to get up and talk. Some of us were scared to death that we would mess up the speech. Our parents would watch us up there and mouth the speech to us so we wouldn’t mess up. We got an animal cracker box with a shoe string that had hard candy inside. We all got mittens and an orange for Christmas too.”

History highlights 

1845: St. Peter’s German Lutheran Church of Perkinsville was organized.

1859: The growth of Cohocton led to creating the “Evangelical Lutheran St. Paul’s German Church."

1869: A group from St. Paul’s decided to break away and form Zion Lutheran Church.

1870: A church was built on the land owned by George Bolster.

1875: Zion joined the New York Ministerial Synod.

1879: The first congregation trustees were Philip Folts and Philip Zimmer.

1896: The church was remodeled and a belfry was added.

1898: The church bell was installed.

1914: The stained glass windows were installed.

1919: The church went from German to English sermons.

1928: German language was voted to be dropped from the sermons entirely.

1941: The chancel area was remodeled.

1952: The current parish hall was erected for social and educational purposes.

1962: Rev. Luther Scheehl served from 1930 to 1940 and again in 1948 to 1962 making him the longest pastorate in the church history.

1965: A processional cross was made from the old main altar cross.

1976: New York State ceded the land adjacent to Interstate 390 to Zion Lutheran Cemetery.

1982: The Lutheran Book of Worship was first used and dedicated.

Zion Lutheran Church is located at 20 S. Dansville St. in Cohocton. They have service on Sundays at 11:15 a.m. More information can be found on www.zioncohocton.net