In the summer of 1926, a somewhat elderly veteran pastor moved north from Colorado to Laramie, Wyoming. There he found that the only Lutheran denomination serving the town for the past forty years represented the General Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, a body which exhibited Reformed influence and some laxity in both doctrine and practice.
Determined to establish an orthodox group of Lutherans, the pastor, the Reverend Reini, began the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church. Reini, a conservative Norwegian Synod pastor and a graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, thus planted the roots of what was to become Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church.
During the first year worship services of this mission gathering were held in private homes, and these services were conducted in Norwegian and English. Some fifteen contributors gave $91 that year for the running expenses of the fledgling congregation.
Candidates for shepherd of the new flock were provided by the Mission Board of the Southern Nebraska District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LC-MS). Following Pastor Reini were Pastor Skagen and Pastoral Candidate Luebke.
Pastor Reini, although he subsequently returned to Colorado, kept an active interest in the Laramie group. In 1932, maintaining that the Norwegian Synod and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod were on in doctrine and practice, he urged all members henceforth to look to the LC-MS for religious service.
During those early years as a mission congregation, services were held in a variety of locations. Moving from private homes, the services were at first held at the North Star Hall, now Vasa Hall, on South Third Street. For a brief time St. Paul’s Evangelical Church (United Church of Christ) was rented for afternoon services. In 1933 Mrs. Andrew Johnson, 913 South Fourth Street, offered the use of her home. Larger quarters were found by renting the Seventh Day Adventist Church, 408 Fremont Avenue.
On May 2, 1934, the Laramie Lutheran Mission took an historic step forward. According to church records, Candidate Luebke called a special meeting that day, at which he “pointed out that if the group wanted to march forward and make greater progress, it would be to its advantage to organize into a congregation.” Open discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the move resulted in a resolution to organize the group as a congregation. The motion passed. In August 1939 the congregation was received into membership of the LC-MS.
On July 22, 1934, Candidate Luebke was ordained and installed as the first pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. During the five years Pastor Luebke served Zion, services were conducted mostly on the second floor of the Wyoming Creamery. In 1937 a house at the corner of 5th Street and Clark was purchased for $2,500 and remodeled into a chapel and parsonage. Zion grew to 65 souls, with 31 communicant members.
In 1950 Zion sold its property at 5th and Clark and relocated to its present site on the corner of 19th and Garfield. With the generous assistance of the Southern Nebraska District, a church and parsonage were erected. The dedication of the building to the glory of God was on October 21, 1952.
Zion served as both worship center for its congregation and as a student center for LC-MS students attending the University of Wyoming. In 1957 the Northern and Southern Nebraska Districts purchased the former Phi Delta Theta Fraternity House at 1309 Grand Avenue to serve as a center for the Gamma Chi chapter of Gamma Delta, the Lutheran Student organization of the LC-MS. Ultimately, St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church and Campus Center was formed.
During the years of 1965-71 a 520-pipe Walcker organ was purchased and installed. In addition, the parsonage was converted into classrooms, offices and a fellowship room.
As of 1999 Zion’s membership was at 336 baptized and 243 communicants. With the growth in membership, available space for worship, education and fellowship had been filled. In addition, the lack of adequate parking and handicapped accessible bathrooms began the discussion of some day constructing a new church facility. In the spring of 1999 Zion embarked on a major stewardship emphasis, and on June 15, 1999, Zion purchased 4.11 acres at the corner of 30th Street and Reynolds. The final payment for the land was made in February 2007.
In 2008, Zion embarked on its second stewardship emphasis as it began to raise money to build its new facility. A building committee and other volunteers toured new LCMS churches in the region and identified desirable features for our own facility. Zion hired architect Doug Selby to design a building for the land at 30th and Reynolds. Fundraising efforts continued, but to make the new building a reality, Zion would need to sell our existing building. Construction costs in Laramie were climbing rapidly.
In 2015, Zion purchased the house across the street (1902 Garfield St.) for additional parking spaces and rental income.
In 2018, the congregation declined an offer to purchase our existing building. The congregation requested that all options regarding our worship facilities be reviewed. A committee was formed to explore alternatives, and members were surveyed to identify needs for continuing Zion’s mission with a focus on our current facility. Needs identified in the survey were 1) expanding and modernizing space used for meetings and other activities; 2) improving handicap access; 3) expanding the Narthex; 4) expanding and modernizing the kitchen; 5) enhancing the sanctuary with improved lighting, flooring, seating, etc.; 6) enhancing Sunday School space in the basement; and 7) additional parking.
In 2019, voters approved using building funds to hire an architect to design an addition to our existing building . Doug Selby’s plans addressed the first four needs in the list above; Zion solicited bids for construction. In May 2020, voters approved accepting a bid of $799,085 to build the designed addition. They also approved borrowing $320,000 from the Lutheran Church Extension fund and dedicating the Rainy Day account and additional existing funds for the building project. Voters approved a stewardship effort to quickly retire the LCEF loans and to address other desired enhancements to the sanctuary and basement. The Care and Share Campaign was launched in January 2021.
God continues to bless Zion through His Word and His gifts of baptism, the forgiveness of sins and His Son’s body and blood in His Holy Supper. Nourished and strengthened in such a way, Zion presses forward in, with and under the grace of God.
Pastors of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church
D. F. Luebke, 1934-1938
William F. Reddel, 1938-1942
Paul Reuter, 1942-1945
Willard Hanser, 1945-1950
Henry Niermann, 1950-1951
W.H. Youssi, 1951-1955
H.F. Werling, 1955 – 1958
Edward Schmidt, 1958-1965
G. Daniel Schmidt, 1965-1971
Howard F. Kramin, 1971-1980
Robert W. Schaibley, 1981-1986
Mark A. Schroeder, 1988-1995
Shawn L. Kumm, 1996-2016
Darrell Debowey, 2017-present