Zion United Church of Christ of New Bedford, OhioOur History — Founded 1820 — Organized 1823
Some time before 1810, German speaking people from Westmoreland County, PA, and immigrants direct from Germany came to what is now the countryside around New Bedford, Ohio. They cleared the land and farmed the hills here. Those early settlers first conducted religious services at the Thomas Bickel farm. The original deed for this farm, recorded in Coshocton County, locates the farm three miles west of New Bedford. (R6, T7, E1/2, NE,S1, 76 acres.)
Circuit rider ministries served these early parishioners, with pastors traveling throughout the area to bring the word of God to other small hamlets and larger cities, such as Zanesville. These early services were most likely conducted by laymen who read from the Bible or perhaps a book of Martin Luther’s German sermons.
The first pastor to service this congregation of New Bedford Germans was Rev. William Reiter, who arrived in the area in 1820 or 1821. Rev. Reiter was a reformed minister who also conducted services at Saltenricht of Sugar Creek Valley.
We believe the church was formally organized with a constitution on July 15, 1823, under the leadership of Rev. Reiter. The original record book fly leaf reads:
The Church Record Book of The First Evangelical-Lutheran and German Reformed Congregations Near New Bedford, Coshocton County Ohio. Founded in the Year of Our Lord, 1823
From the beginning, the two congregations met as one church. Each group elected its own officers, and when possible, each group had its own separate pastor. The only difference in the services was which officers occupied the finest bench in the church. Whenever a Lutheran pastor occupied the pulpit, the four Lutheran members of the consistory would occupy the bench, and when a Reformed minister stood at the pulpit, four Reformed members would settle on this “telling” bench. Ladies were confined to one side of the church, and men heard services on the other side.
In 1823 the congregation built its first church, a log structure which stood in the section of land now known as the “old cemetery” of the United Church of Christ.
In 1826, Rev. Reiter passed away due to failing health. His body was laid to rest at the cemetery in Shanesville. (now known as Sugarcreek)
Rev. Reiter was succeeded by Rev. Schearer, after whose pastorate there was a long vacancy on the Reformed side. The services of Rev. D. Baer were secured for a time, followed by Rev. David Maertz. It was while under Rev. Maertz’s leadership that some trouble arose in the church – the nature of which we do not know. This culminated in a number of our members, both here and at Farmerstown (which was in the circuit of the parish) leaving. The pastor went with these people and organized a United Brethren church at New Bedford and Farerstown.
Rev. Denius was the next pastor of the Zion charge, followed by Rev. A.C. Joerge. During this time, Pastor Henry Colorado, a Lutheran circuit riding minister, arrived on the scene. He was loved and respected by all and did much to hold the Reformed congregation together while they were without a pastor. He died at the age of 41 years and is buried in the “old cemetery” along with his wife and two sons.
During the pastorate of either Denius or Joerge on June 8, 1849, the congregation was incorporated. Also at this time, the constitution of 1823 was revised and adopted. In 1852 the services of J.G. Zahner were secured, and he served the congregations for a number of years.
About 1850 dissension arose between the two congregations of the union church, leading to a complete break in 1854. Pastor Pob, who was either a circuit rider or a visiting pastor, asked the Lutherans to follow him to the school house, where worship was conducted. Thirteen of the Lutheran families went with Pastor Pob, where they decided or organize a congregation separate from the United Zion Church, to call their own pastor, and build their own church. Later there was a question raised by some of the Lutherans who remained about the division of property. It was finally decided by the Supreme Court of the State of Ohio in 1878, when Zion Reformed was given “an indisputable title.”
From here on we will discuss each church separately.
Zion Reformed Church
In 1855 Rev. Rettig became pastor, and the church showed great progress during his stay. April 5, 1856, at the annual meeting of the congregation, a discussion concerning the size and condition of the original log church building took place. The decision was made to build a new church. The size would be “forty feet by fifty feet, with twelve feet in the clear. The new church would have two doors at the gable end. It was also resolved that the new house would be a frame house, filled out with mortar and sticks.
An acre of ground was purchased from Dr. Frank Guittard across the road in Holmes County a move of 200 feet. The work went forward and in due time the corner stone was laid. The new church was consecrated into the service of the Tribune God on September 2, 1858.
On June 13, 1859, it was decided that one-third of the services should be in English and by 1918, German was dropped from the regular service. A Sunday school was organized in 1860 and Solomon Farver was the first superintendent. It is also noted that 65 years later a great-grandson, Paul R. Funk was superintendent. Rev. Rettig served until 1861. The next Pastor was Rev. J. Biery; he served from 1861 to 1865. The Rev. Henry Zink, who was blind, served during 1866 and 1897. Next was Rev. J. Hannsberg, who preached in English and served until 1870.
The Rev. J.A. Novinger came to Zion Reformed Church in 1870 and served for fourteen years until 1884. It is said that he baptized between 600 and 700 children, and that he had a confirmation class of 65 one of those years. At no time did the congregation experience such growth as during his pastorate. He was remembered well and spoken of lovingly. The next Pastor was Reverend J.C. Klar who served from 1884 to 1888.
“The walk way in the front of the church would have been the main street of Wardsville!”
It was during Reverend Novinger’s pastorate when in 1878 the Supreme Court of Ohio decision, previously mentioned, was handed down. After the secession in 1854, none but Reformed clergymen were called. Both Lutheran and Reformed signed the calls.
Rev. Klar was followed by Rev Toensmeir who served from 1888 to 1891. It was during this time that it was decided to construct a new building which was completed in 1889, and is the present church building. The total cost for the new church building was $1,500 including $80.00 for a new reed organ and $435.00 for the pews and alter. The third building, the present church, was built on an additional two acres of land purchased from Dr. Guittard, north of the second church. The present building was constructed two hundred feet north of the second church. The corner stone was laid June 29, 1889. Items placed in the cornerstone were a Bible, a hymn book, and $2.58 in coins. The building was built mostly by donated labor and dedicated November 28, 1889. Rev. L.M. Weiss was the next Pastor; serving from 1891 until 1894.
An additional bit of interesting history concerning the site of the third church building. On August 24, 1816 Jacob and Maria Blickensdorfer brought a set of plans to the Recorder’s Office in Coshocton. The plans laid out a plat and called for the formation of a new village, Wardsville. The plat called for a town laid out in the shape of an Iron Cross. The land had been surveyed, and would consist of 84 lots. The Blickensdorfer’s did not own this land, in fact it wasn’t until May 20 1824 that John Quincy Adams signed the patent granting this land to Jacob Blickensdorfer.
The sale of lots was very slow, by 1830 only two lots were sold, Three more lots were sold in 1834. The Blickensdorfers sold the majority of their holdings to Michael Row, the young son of George Row. What became of the Blickensdorfer s is not recorded, but by 1840 the state had taken over sixteen of their lots, presumably for non-payment of taxes.
Mr. Row fared little better with lot sales, he sold six lots by 1850. In the spring of 1850 Michael Row died suddenly; taxes continued to be collected through 1859. In 1860 the land was sold off and the town of Wardsville left the auditor’s record for ever. Thus forty-three years after its conception, Wardsville, town on paper only died.
Meanwhile the town of New Bedford had risen and was booming. Today if you drive through New Bedford – look to the north-west, and you will see Zion United Church of Christ. The walk way in the front of the church would have been the main street of Wardsville!
Rev. Weiss was followed by A. G. Lohman. Rev. Lohman served from 1894 to 1898. It was Rev. Lohman who carried on the fight to have the saloons voted out of New Bedford and this was accomplished during his term at New Bedford. Rev. Lohman left in 1898.
It was also during Reverend Lohman’s service that the parsonage was purchased in 1895 from Jeremiah Lower. It was remodeled and modernized at least two times and was occupied by a pastor for the last time in 1959. It became a rental property and was sold in August of 1983.
Also during the tenure of Reverend Lohman the 75th anniversary the celebration of the first church service was observed. This celebration was held in a grove near the church. Solomon Farver was the only living person at the celebration who was present at the first service in 1820. He was seated in a rocking chair or upholstered chair.
- Rev. Fred Grether served Zion Reformed Church from 1898 until 1902.
- Rev David Raisen served from 1902 until 1904.
On January 1, 1905 Reverend Frank E. Lahr came to New Bedford. During Reverend Lahr’s term the Salem congregation near Saltillo again became united with the New Bedford charge. Reverend Lahr left the charge in 1911.
On June 1, 1911 Reverend George A. Dreibelbies came to New Bedford. He served during the years of World War I; some very hard times were encountered during this period. However, there were still 335 members during his stay which lasted until 1920.
In 1918 a festival was held and the money was used to buy a Carbide light plant – $40.00 was raised. Carbide was first purchased in March, 1919 from Union Carbide for $5.43. The complete plant was bought from J. B. Colt Company for $229.91 and carbide plant was used until electric was put in the church in 1932.
- In 1920 Reverend W. H. Wyler came and served until 1922.
- During the years from 1922 to 1924 four ministers served this congregation.
- 1922 and part of 1923 – Reverend Conrad Huffman
- Part of 1923 – Reverend J.H. Poetter
- 3 months in 1924 – Reverend W. A. Wagner
- Part of 1924 – Reverend Albin Baer
In 1924 Reverend S. V. Rohrbaug came to New Bedford. He felt he was a good farmer and always showed off the large potatoes that he grew. He served New Bedford until 1929.
Reverend A. J. Levengood followed and came to New Bedford in 1929. It was during his term that hard times really hit this area. Reverend Levengood was paid in butter, meat, potatoes, or other farm products. Part of the time not enough money came in to pay him; one week he only got $1.23! Reverend Levengood served four churches: New Bedford, Trail, Salem and Amity. In 1938 Reverend Levengood left New Bedford to start the Tennessee Mountain Mission.
Another milestone in the history of the church occurred on June 26, 1934. On this date the Reformed Church merged with the Evangelical Church, and then the church was know as the Zion Evangelical and Reformed Church. They were two denominations with much in common.
The next minister, Reverend H. W. Wiesman came to New Bedford in 1938 and left in 1940. Reverend Conrad Springer followed Reverend Weisman and was here from 1940 to 1942. One of the supply ministers for Reverend Springer was Reverend Harold Kaser, son of Harry and Sadie Kaser, and brother to Ralph Kaser. Harold Kaser is a Presbyterian minister.
The years from 1942 to 1945 saw various ministers. Reverend Charles H. Schory was the minister during part of 1942 and 1943. Reverend H. C. Trover was a young man from Canton, Ohio who served part of 1944. Reverend H. C. Voss, the E. and R. minister of Baltic served as supply pastor and also instructed the confirmation class during one of these years. Reverend H. N. Dorries also supplied during 1944 and 1945.
In 1945 Reverend Ivan Immel came to New Bedford. He was here until 1947. Ministers that supplied under Reverend Immel were Reverend E. D.
Forger, Reverend Charles H. Shory, Reverend Milton Petzold. (Reverend Petzold was the Baltic E. and R minister, he also taught a confirmation class.) and Reverend Harold Kaser.
Next came Reverend L. A. Sigrist. He came in 1948 and was here until 1954. During Reverend Sigrist’s time we had a Homecoming Service. Paul Levengood and Reverend Owen Lower gave the sermons that day. Reverend Owen Lower started the Fresno Bible Church. Reverend Sigrist was a tall portly man who had snow white hair.
Following Reverend Sigrist came Reverend Hartwig. It was during his ministry that the basement of the church was dug out, and kitchen facilities and rest rooms were put in. In 1957 the church went through another merger; this time the Evangelical and Reformed denominations merged with the Congregational Christians. Thus the name of the church was changed to Zion United Church of Christ. Reverend Hartwig was minister from July 1954 to October 1959.
Following Reverend Hartwig was Reverend Otto Zechiel. He was a retired minister who lived in Dover, Ohio. He supplied the church from 1959 until 1967. During this time many ministers filled in for Reverend Zechiel. These included Reverend Paul Levengood, Reverend Stauffer, Reverend Swenki, Reverend Hoerneman, Reverend Tom Shelbrook, Reverend George Holt, John Dechant, Reverend Bluemel, Reverend Merle Marker, Reverend W. D. Fisher, Reverend Lester Hostetler, John Zechiel, Reverend Sam Sheffield, Reverend Wesley Sears and Lay Minister Welton Stein.
In 1967 the church joined the Welcome Hills Parish along with two other churches in Clark and Fresno. This parish called Reverend David Williams to minister. He served from 1968 to 1969. The associate ministers were Reverend Eric Stanton, Reverend Arthur Villvooch, L.H. Beach and Willis Infield. After three years and amid conflict of the churches, the parish was disbanded in 1970.
In 1969 Welton Stein was asked if he would preach until a minister was found. After six Sundays he was asked if he would like to have the job of supplying for the church on a full time basis. He accepted. Welton went to school and took courses and became a licensed Lay Minister. He had the power to conduct funerals, weddings, give communion and any other matters a regular minister can do. After accepting a call to preach six sermons, he was the minister until 1995.
On June 7, 1973 Zion United Church of Christ was incorporated. Also in 1973, a dropped ceiling was put in the sanctuary, walls were paneled, and new carpet was installed on the floor.
On October 21, 1973, the congregation celebrated the 150th anniversary of the organization of the Zion Reformed congregation.
Over the years the congregation has had a very active women’s group – first known as the Ladies’ Aid Society. It too has gone through name-change and is now known as the Women’s Guild or simply the Guild. This group meets monthly.
Ministers after 1995:
- Cheryl Ward served from February to August 1996
- Reverend Shedlock served from September 1990 to November 2008
- Reverend Peter Schultz – supply
- Ned Horsefall – supply
- Lindsey Dingus – February 2010 to October 2010
- Darcy Miller – supply one month
- Patrick Ragon November 28, 2010 —-
Thanks to Nancy Scheetz, Dennis Fender, Adrian E. Hummel, Grace Kaser, Marcelle Shutt and Welton Stein for their contributions for the compilation of this article.
“History of Saint John’s Classis,” Bolliger, Theodore Rev., Blosser, Henry C. Rev., Foust, Wallace W. Rev, and others, Central Publishing House, Cleveland, Ohio, 1921
“In the Beginning,” compiled by Maxine Renner Eberle, Gordon Printing, Strasburg, Ohio