Zion Lutheran Church [Google street view from *NYC-AGO website]
Zion was founded in 1908 as one of several Norwegian neighborhood parishes in Brooklyn. But as Norwegian-American families moved out of Bay Ridge, they were replaced by a multicultural inner-city neighborhood of Chinese, Italian and more recently a variety of Middle Eastern ethnicities. And, as happens with so many inner-city churches, Zion's congregation dwindled away over the years.
Several of my cousins, Pastor Ellertsen's grandchildren, accompanied by several of their children and grandchildren, were able to attend the service and to sing a chorale, "Now Rest Beneath Night's Shadow" [Nun ruhen alle Wälder] with words by Paul Gerhardt to a melody by Heinrich Isaac.
Click here to hear it sung as a congregational hymn in German by the Große Kreuzgemeinde [Greater church of the Holy Cross] choir of Hermannsburg in Lower Saxony; here as arranged by Bach and performed by the St.-Johannis-Kantorei choir in the Baltic coast city of Rostock; and here for background posted earlier to this blog about the secular song "Innsbruck, ich muß dich lassen" on which the chorale melody is based.
My cousins have given me permission to post their pictures and descriptions of the event in this space, including one of Pastor Ellertsen's descendants who were able to gather for the occasion, including grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-grandchildren, at left below, and one of his grandchildren, at right below. Four other grandchildren in Minnesota, Illinois and Norway were unable to attend.
"Yesterday was such a moving experience at Zion," my cousin Christine said in an email. "As John mentioned yesterday, our grandparents were there at the inception of the church and their family was there at its closing – like bookends. We have been given a rich legacy!"
I think the pictures hint at that legacy. I think they also show more Norwegian sweaters than I'm accustomed to seeing at the same time in the same place!
From an email my cousin Anne sent Monday (today) to family members:
We knew the church that John’s grandfather founded in Brooklyn was going to close, but the pastor gave us only a week’s notice that the final service was yesterday. John scrambled to let everyone know. Before the service folder was printed, John had corralled a choir of relatives to sing a chorale. We converged on Bay Ridge from NY, NJ, and PA in a snow squall. John found a stairwell where we could run through the music. Sounded good there!
Johan Ellertsen (John’s mother’s father) founded the church 105 years ago. I had him with me, tucked in my pocketbook – actually a picture from Cousin Peter on the tablet. Someone found a link with a living person, a woman whose parents were the second couple to be married by Rev. Ellertsen in the new church. All during the long service, I was very aware of this man none of us had ever met. Surely he would have been pleased with his living legacy. He had been a cantor in Bergen, a musical man with a beautiful voice. At the front of the church singing the anthem were three of his grandchildren with spouses, three great granddaughters, and several great greats. There were six great great grandchildren there, not all singing with our little family choir.
We were invited to stay for the buffet meal afterwards. We tucked ourselves off to the side where we could observe the family reunion going on. This was a last gathering of many people who had belonged to that church through the years. Our kinship was merely historical. We noticed many Norwegian sweaters, showing the connection to Europe in a graphic way. …
I'm not sure it has much relevance here, but a letter follows that I wrote to Pastor Diane Wildow last week. Perhaps a researcher studying the history of immigrant congregations will Google into it in future years and find something in it of interest:
Yesterday I learned that Zion will be closing at the end of the month. I wish I could attend your final worship service since my paternal grandfather, Pastor Johan Ellertsen, was a co-founder of the church, but I am unable to do so on short notice. Please know, however, that you and the members of your congregation are in our prayers at this time of sadness and transition.
While I have rarely visited New York City and don’t remember ever attending services at Zion, I feel like it is part of my heritage and in some way I am a product of its ministry – even though two generations have passed by now and I am living a thousand miles away in Illinois.
More importantly, when I joined a Lutheran church rather late in life – as my mother moved to Illinois after my father’s death – I began to recognize that some of the more important attitudes and ethical standards I grew up with had their origin in Luther’s Small Catechism. In a sense, joining a Lutheran church was like a homecoming. (In more ways than one! Several members of our congregation in Springfield are Norwegian-Americans from Iowa and the Dakotas, and at times we sound like the news from Lake Wobegon.) In the meantime, I am reacquainting myself with the rich heritage of Lutheran hymnody.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m convinced that Zion Lutheran Church has touched people’s lives in incalculable ways over the years, not only in the neighborhood you have served in Brooklyn but also very indirectly at times, as in my case. I am grateful that Zion is part of my heritage, and I am sure it will continue to enrich people’s lives in ways that none of us can even begin to imagine for many years to come.
Again, you and the congregation at Zion are in my thoughts and prayers.
According to the New York City chapter of the American Guild of Organists the organ at Zion was built in 1937 by Geo. Kilgen & Son of St. Louis. Located in the back of the sanctuary, it can be seen in the picture immediately above. Details in another picture, not included here, show a hymnboard for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany displaying Nos. 250, 7[?]3. 668, 451, 474 44[7?] and 229.
[* I obtained the Google street view photo at the top of this post, along with details about the organ, from the American Guild of Organists' website at http://www.nycago.org/Organs/Bkln/html/ZionNorEvLuth.html.]
I Googled into this Yelp review while I was looking for photos of Zion: It was posted Nov. 14, 2013, by Yelp user Bree S.: "I have volunteered here on several Saturdays when they hold the Soup Kitchen to feed the homeless and hungry. Let me tell you, you will not find more compassionate people than here in this church. Gene, Mary, the pastor, and everyone else involved are incredibly kind and caring. Returning back to volunteer after quite a while, I felt completely welcomed and like I revisited my long lost family. The staff knows the names of the people who come to eat and always welcome them with a smile. They are incredibly generous. Before everyone eats, Gene holds a prayer and asks the people if they have anyone in particular they would like to pray for. Also, the kitchen always has extra food to hand out for the more needy. Lastly, I would like to say that volunteering here has definitely changed my perspective on life and how I care for other people. Volunteering at the Zion Luthern Church has made me a more benevolent and selfless person and I thank them for that."