There is an old hymn in the German Service Book that fitly describes the setting of Zion Church, “Zion stands by hills surrounded; Zion kept by power divine!” For three centuries, this congregation has lived in the midst of the scenic Middletown Valley, surrounded by the hills of South and Catoctin Mountain ranges. As early as 1740 her members have gathered for worship, first in their homes and then in four successive church structures that they and their children reared to the glory of God.
The first of the four churches the congregation worshipped in was built about 1750 along an old Indian trail, two miles southwest of town that was shared with the German Reformed Congregation and used as a school. But as early as 1771 the Lutherans began to plan for their relocation in Middletown proper when the land on which the current church stands was procured. The first structure in Middletown was built of logs upon this site during the years immediately following the Revolutionary War. During these earliest years itinerant pastors, moved between Hagerstown and Frederick to serve the congregation with the majority of leadership coming from the members themselves.
By the late 1790s, the Middletown Pastorate was formed, with the home church being Zion. For the next 60 years, Zion’s pastors were responsible for as many as nine congregations at various times in Boonsboro, Jefferson, Burkittsville and Lovettsville, VA. The last of the pastoral congregations to organize on their own was Harmony Lutheran Church in the 1980s. During this time the language spoken and all records were recorded in German. A change came in 1827 when worship was conduct one week in English and the following week German. This practice continued until 1836 when the church adopted the English language as the official language spoken.
In 1814 the congregation erected its third building, the second on the current site, having outgrown the structure constructed after the Revolutionary War. Little is known of this structure other than it was built at a cost of $9,000 of brick and like the first one had an organ. It had a large steeple, built in Shepherdstown and transported to Middletown on two wagons. At the dedication of this second building is when the church took on the name “Zion.” It had not been used in the country church southwest of town or in the first church in Middletown. This structure stood until it was torn down in 1859 to make room for the stately present day edifice. It is also during this time, that Zion built the second parsonage, present day ‘More Ice Cream’ and the Lutheran Lecture Room which stood on the east side of the parsonage. Nine pastors served the members during this period of time, one of whom must be mentioned, Rev. Abraham Reck. He was very instrumental in the organization of the Maryland Synod and the founding of the Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg. Father Reck, as he was affectionately remembered, was an influence on 12 young men from the valley to enter into ministry of which two must be noted; the Rev David F. Bittle, was founder and first President of Roanoke College and the Rev. Ezra Keller the founder and first President of Wittenberg College.
The present and third church in Middletown, built in 1859, towers 225 feet above the landscape of town and the tower and spire is the most prominent landmark of the Valley, built at a cost of $16,000 and described in the Baltimore Sun as one of the most beautiful churches in the state of Maryland. Nearly 2000 people gathered for the dedication in hopes of getting a glimpse of this magnificent church. But in three short years, on September 14th, 1862, the church building was commandeered into service for our nation as a General Hospital following the Civil War battles of South Mountain and Antietam, caring for both the Union and Confederates soldiers who were wounded. The church was stripped of its pews and furniture and replace with army cots and operating tables. It was here where the most severely wounded were brought and occupation which lasted four months. In the spring of 1863, the church was awarded $2,395.00 in damages which most likely was barely enough to return the church to its grandeur before it was seized. In 1899, the church went under a major renovation which totally changed the appearance of the Sanctuary, and a new organ was purchased. The first three stained glass windows were installed in 1902 and the remained of the stained glass were installed 1925.
In 1928, a fine Sunday school building had been added to the church property and in 1954 the Sanctuary again went through a major renovation, returning to a very similar appearance that adorned the Sanctuary in 1859 with the exception of a center aisle which had been added. In 1972 the only remaining pews from the 1859 construction were located in the balcony and they were replaced with new pews that matched the others on the Nave level. The 1993, an addition was added on to make much need room for pastoral offices, a music room, conference room, library and on the lower level, adding on to the social room, vault for church archives, storage rooms and classrooms.
Since 2017, the church has made much needed repairs to the exterior of the church, the iconic columns of the front portico were replaced, repointing and repairing of the soft exterior brick, repairs and maintenance on the many stained glass windows, repaved parking lot, and many other repairs not to mention the new air conditioning system. The Memorial Garden on the west side of the church has received a new face lift and welcomes any to wander and reflect.
In our near 300 year history, we have had 44 pastors and 9 associate pastors who have been faithful in guiding the sheep of their fold. As a congregation, we are so very grateful to God for the many blessings He has bestowed on us and the devotion of those who proceeded us in their walk of faith. We have inherited this most beautiful building but the building is just a reminder that we are just a small part in God’s plan for His church. In a few years we will be entering our fourth century as a congregation, and we ask God to continue to bless our ministry in…”
Sharing Christ’s love, grow in faith and serve others.
Mary Ann Marcantonio
"I was born and raised in the beautiful Hudson Valley of New York and when my husband was transferred to Gaithersburg, I knew I wanted to be in a much smaller community than where we came from in New York. Driving over the Mountain at Braddock I immediately had a sense of home; the landscape reminded me so much of what we left behind. We raised our three children here in Middletown and all were confirmed at Zion. God has blessed us with seven wonderful grandchildren with the hopes of adding one more very soon. What I loved the most about Zion is that it is a Bible teaching church, which made the decision to join 35 years ago very simple and because of it, I have grown in faith. I have taught adult Sunday School Classes and led several Bible studies. I have been a student of history as long as I have been able to read. My interest piqued here because of the long story of Zion, not only in the faith journey of the congregation, but also the role it played in our Nation's History."
"May God continue to Bless our congregation and each member in it."
Are you Interested in Our History TOO?
Throughout Scripture God commands His children to examine their history, so we may see examples of His love and power in the past and to encourage us to serve in the present and future. Building on our spiritual history that has been given us is the foundation for our legacy. The history of Zion is a living document and new material is being added every week. These documents need to be organized and stored for preservation. Please contact our church office if you are interested in learning more about us, or have an interest in history and would love to be involved. Please know you are welcomed. There is room for you…
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.