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Chinook's Zion Lutheran celebrates completed revitalization of church building


August 22, 2018

Fred Miller, a member of the Zion Lutheran congregation, explains why two ropes go from the sanctuary entrance to the bell tower above. One rope rings the church bell and the other is for the 'clapper.' The clapper is a hammer-like device that hits the rim of the church bell to make a single 'gong.' Miller said the clapper was damaged a few years ago but plans are to make it operational again.

The first Lutheran service ever held in Chinook occurred in June, 1904 and was held in the Methodist church building. Ten years later the current Zion Lutheran Church building, at the corner of Illinois and 8th Street, was dedicated. Last Saturday Zion congregants and guests celebrated a Service of Thanksgiving for the Finished Revitalization of the church building. The service capped a year-long major renovation involving a new roof, an expanded narthex, a reconfigured access to the basement and shoring up of some parts of the building sagging after a century plus of service. The thanksgiving service was followed with a barbeque held in the street north of the church.

Over the years there have been several modifications and upgrades to the building. In the mid-1940's the church built a parsonage just west of the church. In 1946, after burning the mortgage the year before, some remodeling and repairs were made on the church building, including a new floor in the basement. In 1950 there was a successful effort to acquire and install a pipe organ from a defunct movie theatre in Havre. Other major changes and upgrades were made to the building, especially improvements to the basement, in 1963. There were other significant improvements to both the building and the basement from 1989-1993.

There were other changes over the years that didn't necessarily pertain to the building. In 1956, mainly due to a scarcity of candidates to serve as pastor, Chinook's Zion formed a joint parish with Malta. The church's current pastor, Reverend Marcus Williams, is shared with the congregation in Havre. The Chinook church was instrumental in organizing St. Paul's in Havre, St. John's in Rudyard and Mt. Olive in Malta and had a large role in the organizing of the Glasgow and Fort Benton congregations.

Among several scriptures in his message of thanksgiving Pastor Williams used an Old Testament reading from the book of Ezra. That book described the return of the exiled Jews to a leveled city and temple and their efforts to rebuild the temple and recommit to serving God. Williams pointed out that when the new foundation for the temple was laid some of the Jews cried for happiness at a new start and some mourned that the old glory days of King Solomon were gone. The pastor used the story to say it was good to celebrate a 'new' building but the real purpose of the church, to spread the Gospel, could not be overlooked.

Some new features of the remodel and one remaining clapper-problem

Members showing the changes in the Zion Church building said the major change was in the narthex (entrance area inside the front of the building) where the stairs to the basement were moved to allow more room in the entrance way. There was also a 'kitchenette' added and a bathroom on the level with the sanctuary. Downstairs a 'self-leveling' floor had been added to the basement with expanded storage space. "And," one congregant said, "there was a lot of structural work to shore up the building. You can't see that work but it was significant."

At the request of the congregation an effort was made to stabilize the bell tower and keep the church bell. Many churches of that era have removed the church bell and mounted the bell on the ground. Fred Miller, a long-time member of Zion Lutheran, said, "The church bell weighs a ton, literally." The bell tower has been strengthened so the bell can still be used-it was rung at the start of the thanksgiving service on Saturday.

Fred Miller explained the two ropes going into the ceiling above the entrance way. Pointing to the area where the two ropes entered the ceiling he said, "We had some leaks in this area and the contractor did a nice job taking care of that problem." Then he explained why there are two ropes-one rope is pulled to ring the church bell, the other is for the 'clapper,' a hammer-like device that hits the lower rim of the bell to make a single 'gong' each time the rope is pulled.

Miller walked into the sanctuary and opened a hymnal to several pages of liturgy. At certain parts in the liturgy, for example where the congregation says the Apostles' Creed, there was a small symbol of a cross in the text. Miller said, "At that symbol a boy would pull the rope on the clapper to make a

A break in the hot weather made for a nice late afternoon barbeque at the Zion Lutheran Church in Chinook. The 'dinner in the street' was part of the celebration for the completion of major repairs and upgrade work on the congregation's century old church building.

'gong.'" Another congregant told that he recalled the clapper would be sounded after the Lord's Prayer was said. He added, "That was so the folks not in church would know that church had begun." Fred Miller laughed and said, "That gong was maybe a way to put a little guilt trip on the folks who weren't in church."

Fixing the clapper is another part of the current upgrade. "Several years ago," Miller said, "the church bell was being rung to 'ring in the the new year.' Some kid pulled the rope on the clapper at the same time and the huge bell broke the clapper mechanism. There's a guy in the congregation who says he thinks he can fix it. It would be nice to have it working again."

The thanksgiving service was well attended by both current and former parishioners. As folks walked around looking at the changes and, especially, looking at some of the old photos that had been posted for the service, there were a few teary eyes. It was not only a time to be thankful for an improved facility and look to the future but also a time to remember the faithful people who made up the congregation over the century it has served in Chinook.


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