Old Zion Lutheran Church

“For wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” Matthew 18:20 (KJV)
“Denn wo zwei oder drei in meinem Namen zusammenkommen, bin ich in ihrer Mitte” Matthäus 18:20 (Hoffnung für alle)

Historic Old Zion Lutheran Church

Proclaiming Christ since 1742

You will have to dig deep to find our roots.  The beginnings of Old Zion are in the German immigration to the American colonies along the East Coast from as early as 1690.  Many of those immigrants settled in the area of Philadelphia, and some of them formed a Lutheran congregation which grew along with the city.

It proved to be very difficult at first to find a German pastor who would stay to serve the congregation for any length of time.  Therefore these German Lutherans depended on the Swedish Lutheran pastors of the former New Sweden (Nya Sverige) colony to minister to them.  Thus the still existing Swedish Gloria Dei church (Old Swedes’ church), built in 1699-1700, served also as “our” first church building.

A dramatic change occurred in 1742, when at long last there was found a German pastor willing to serve the German Lutherans in Philadelphia on a permanent basis.  He was Heinrich Melchior Muehlenberg, sent out from Halle/Saale, at that time a center for Lutheran outreach and missionary activity.  Pastor Muehlenberg turned out to be the right man in the right place at the right time.  Under his energetic and capable leadership, the congregation flourished.

Two churches were built—St. Michael (1743) and Zion (1766), as well a schoolhouse (1761, still existing).  The churches gave name to the congregation, “St. Michael-and-Zion,” but in the course of time it became known popularly as “Old Zion.”  That has been our official name since 1984.  From the early 1800s on, a number of daughter congregations were established throughout the Philadelphia area, a reflection of the growth of the city and a proof of the ongoing influence of Muehlenberg, whose guiding maxim was always ecclesia plantanda—“the Church must be planted.”  In addition, of course, these younger congregations also reflected the gradual change from German to English as the language of worship.

“Mother” Old Zion, however, did and does retain German as one of her official service languages, which, for a church founded in pre-Revolution times, is unique in American Lutheranism.  Not even the two World Wars were able to muzzle our preachers.  And for all her history, Old Zion has never become a mere museum of the past.  Rather, we remain a living link to those who came to these shores to confess and to practice their Lutheran faith, because it is that faith which we continue to proclaim today and which we hope to carry forward into the future.  We now worship in a beautiful sanctuary built in 1891/92—our fifth church building, but the same joyful Gospel!  

For more in-depth history topics, please visit our history blog by clicking

Historical List of the Pastors at Old Zion
* Note that the original name of the congregation was St. Michaels, then St. Michaels and Zion, and then - after the merger with daughter congregation St. Matthew's - Old Zion Lutheran Church. The list below is a consolidated list only for this congregation. For a full list, including daughter congregations and various assistant Pastors in the early years, please refer to our history blog or Facebook page!

St. Michaels and Zion Chuches
Dr. Heinrich Melchior Mühlenberg (1742-1769) - started at St. Michaels, then at Zion, then returned to St. Michaels
Pastor Peter Brunholtz (1745-1757)
Pastor John Dietrich Henzleman (1753-1756)
Pastor John Frederick Handschuch (1756-1764)
Rev. John Christopher Kunze (1769-1784) - Lead Pastor of St. Michaels
Dr. Justus Christian Helmuth (1784-1820) - Lead Pastor of St. Michaels
Pastor Henry Mühlenburg (son of Dr. Mühlenburg, 1773-1779) - Lead Pastor of Zion
Dr. Justus Christian Helmuth (1779-1784) - Lead Pastor of Zion
Rev. John F. Scmidt (1784-1812) - Lead Pastor of Zion
Pastor Frederick D. Schaefer (1812-1820) - Lead Pastor of Zion

St. Michaels-and-Zion (unified congregation after 1820)
Pastor Frederick D. Schaefer (1820-1822)
Pastor Karl Rudolf Demme (1822-1850)
Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Julius Mann (1850-1883)
Rev. Johann Emanuel Nidecker (1883-1914)
Rev. Dr. Fritz Otto Evers (1914-1928)
Rev. Kurt E.B. Molzahn (1928-1942)
Rev. Martin O. Dietrich (1943-1947)
Rev. John Hamester (1947-1969)
Rev. Juhan Suurkivi (1969-1984) - also Pastor of St. Matthews Lutheran (daughter congregation) and stayed throughout the merger into Old Zion Lutheran Church

Old Zion Lutheran Church (Merging of St. Matthews and St. Michael-and-Zion congregations in 1984)
Rev. Juhan Suurkivi (1984-1986)*
Rev. Arthur Terfa (~1987-1988) - Note that Rev. Grün served as an interim both before and after this Pastorship.
Rev. Dr. Carl H.A. Schmutzler (1989 - 2005)
Rev. Jenkins (as Interim 2005-2006)
Rev. Dr. Peter Krey (2007-2008)
Rev. Dr. Daniel Metzger (2009 - 2022)

* Pastor Suurkivi was also the Pastor of an Estonian Congregation that worshipped bi-monthly at St. Matthews/Old Zion for a number of years. Church documents from the Estonian congregation are available at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.