Southern Nebraska church celebrates 140 years

Pure Nebraska
Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 10:19 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 1, 2023 at 10:31 AM CDT
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GLADSTONE, Neb. (KOLN) - There’s plenty of history at Zion Countryside Church, and the congregation is thrilled to be marking a big milestone.

We caught up with Marsha Schwan, who is a member of the church. Her family has been a part of the congregation for a long time. “My kids are sixth generation members of the church,” Schwan said. “They don’t live around here anymore. But our families emigrated from Germany in the 1880′s. What the people did was meet in a nearby schoolhouse first.” Schwan says the congregation then built a new structure that was the first church. She says they tore down that building, and built the current church. The current church was built in 1902. “Back then, the men sat on the right side, and the women sat on the left,” Schwan said. “German was spoken here. As the wars came, they started learning English. They would learn English during the summer months, and they would learn it during confirmation classes.”

The bell in the bell tower of the church can be heard for miles around. The church is near the village of Gladstone, or about 7 miles west of Fairbury. Zion Countryside Church has been several denominations, but now it’s a non-denominational community church. “We do a contemporary service, and a traditional service where we still have hymnals and Bibles in the pews.”

Church members like Marsha Schwan say it’s always meaningful to see the old white church sitting on the corner. “It’s a part of our life,” Schwan said. The congregation varies between 40 to 60 people. Not bad for a country church. “A church like this is important to a rural area like this, because it gives you structure, and it gives you love,” Schwan said. “You don’t see a whole lot of these country churches that have survived. It’s getting to be less and less.”

The church will have a worship service at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, June 4. Then, there will be a catered meal. At 1:30 p.m., there will be a special program to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the church.

There are challenges to keeping a country church going. Some of the challenges involve competing with all of the other activities that take place on weekends. “Parents are involved, and kids are involved in many different things,” Schwan said. The church is still making an effort to attract people. A recent church bazaar went over very well, and they church is involved in a Bible camp every summer. “We are still working to be involved in the community and here,” Schwan said.