ZION LUTHERAN CHURCH
As recorded by Marguerite Tise
Zion Lutheran Church is located one mile north of the town o Floyd, within sight of
Christiansburg Pike (Rt. 615). The white frame church stands in a grove of oak trees, separated from the cemetery by a growth of pines.
In 1791 the first wave of German-American pioneer settlers moved into the area; they came from Frederick County, Maryland. This group, followed by other settlers of like nationality and religion who settled within an approximate five-mile radius of the present town of Floyd, formed the nucleus of the German Lutheran congregation, which was formally organized in 1813.
At first they were without a spiritual leader. In 1805, the first Lutheran preacher came to this county, then part of Montgomery County. The Rev. John George Butler, a resident preacher in Botetourt County who had charge of Botetourt and Montgomery counties, preached to an assembled congregation on April 30, 1805, and baptized 18 children. After that date, the traveling preachers heard the call and included the Little River Congregation in their itineraries. They came periodically to preach, baptize the children, give communion and administer the rites of the church. Services were held in cabin homes, under trees, or wherever they could find a gathering place.
With true German thoroughness, the preachers recorded the baptisms, confirmations and communicants in a book of record. Thought it has not survived intact, the Register has been preserved for the most part, due the efforts of George Phlegar, his son, Benjamin Phlegar, and by succeeding generations of the Phlegar family. This comprised the earliest and only written record of the first German pioneer settlers in Floyd County. The records were kept in German until 1835.
In 1809, the congregation was formally registered with the Virginia conference of the Pennsylvania Ministerium as the Little River Church in Montgomery County, with elected officers: George Epperly, Henry Cronk, and John Zentmeyer.
In 1813, two visiting preachers, Rev. Jacob Scherer and Rev. R. J. Miller, who were on a missionary journey from North Carolina through the Valley of Virginia, visited the “Little River Church.” They held services on two days, Sunday and Monday. The Rev. Scherer preached in German and the Rev. Miller preached in English. On May 19, 1813, they formally organized the Lutheran congregation under the North Carolina Synod. The charter was signed by 24 members:
John Zentmeyer, Elder: George Frederick Phlegar Deacon: Jacob Epperly
Christian Epperly George Epperly Daniel Welsh
Phillip Stigleman Abraham Phlegar Michael Phlegar
Henry Sowers George Sowers William Morricle, Sr
William Morricle, Jr. Jacob Morricle Samuel Ridinger
Peter Meival John Weaver John Maurer
William Rutrough John Rutrough Jacob Tise
Christopher Slusher John Kitterman Henry Cronk.
The 24 signers and their families represent 195 members. This was not the total congregation as all members were not present that day, which gives an idea of the size and vitality of the German Lutheran community. The Rev. Miller in his diary gives an account of their visit to the Little River Church in Montgomery County.
The first house of worship was a log schoolhouse, also used as a church which stood in the center of the present cemetery. It was built at some time prior to 1810. George Phlegar and George Sowers gave the land for the church and cemetery. In 1838, the log schoolhouse was replaced by a new and larger log building erected near the site of the first building. At that time, the road went past the church.
Up until 1841, Zion Lutheran Church and all of Southwestern Virginia was in the North Carolina Synod. The members from Southwestern Virginia asked to be allowed to withdraw from the North Carolina Synod and form their congregations into a separate Synod. Their petition was granted and the first meeting was held at Zion Lutheran Church on May 21, 1842, when the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Southwestern Virginia was organized.
In 1861, a new brick church was build and was relocated several hundred feet away from the cemetery near the site of the present building. It is likely that the road had been changed and the church was moved to the new site for more convenient access.
The fast growing congregation outgrew this building and in 1898 the fourth and present church was erected beside the old one, which was then torn down. The present church is a simple building of good proportions, white frame with green shutters, without spire, and surrounded by the oak trees, which have stood for more than 100 years. In 1979, during the pastorate of the Rev. Gary Kelly, a fellowship hall was added to the church.
The first Sunday school at Zion was organized in 1857 and Benjamin Phlegar was the first superintendent. It may be of interest to into that the Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans, USN, attended this Sunday school when a boy.
In 1879, a parsonage was built in the town of Floyd for the pastor of the church. This stood until 1952, when it was replaced by the present parsonage.
Zion Lutheran Church as been served by a long list of able and dedicated pastors. One may be mentioned here, Rev. Martin Walter, who was the first resident pastor of Zion congregation. Rev. Walter lived in the Stonewall community and was buried in the Zion Cemetery. He was born at Fort Powell, Shenandoah County, Virginia, in 1776, and was ordained in 1821. He served as a visiting preacher before he became resident in 1826. Some of his descendants were members of Zion until recent years. The Blackwells and some of the Bower families in the County now are direct descendants of Rev. Walter through his daughters Rebekah who married Moses Blackwell and Catherine who married Christian Bower and Walter Richards.
Zion congregation has furnished six men and one woman who have become ministers in the Lutheran Church.
The present pastor, The Rev. Paul Pingel, was installed as pastor in July, 1993. He has served the church faithfully and has worked to build up the membership. There are now 188 members on the roll of the church.
Phlegar family history of the Zion Cemetery.