Our Beginnings

The Beginnings of Zion

The beginnings of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church go back to 1957.  Because of the increase in population, both military and civilian, the Northwest District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod investigated the possibilities of starting a new mission in Fairbanks the fall of 1957.  The conclusion was positive, and by early 1958 land had been purchased, an architect was hired (Floyd Ohlson/Alaska Architectural) and a call was extended to the Rev. Omar Stuenkel of Portland, Oregon to become the mission developer.

Rev. Omar and Elaine Stuenkel and family arrived in Fairbanks in June of 1958 and began the work that led, a short time later, to the establishment of a permanent congregation in the Fairbanks area.  Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church held its first worship service on July 20, 1958 at the Seventh Day Adventist church on Seventh Avenue.  The historical service was led by Rev. Stuenkel with fifty people attending the worship service and twelve enrolled in Sunday School.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church building was used until construction of Zion's new structure had reached a point where the congregation could use the basement of the building for their services.  On Thanksgiving Day 1958, the move became possible, and the  congregation celebrated God's special gift to them.  The basement was one big room which was used for all of the church activities, i.e., Worship Services, Sunday School classes, Vacation Bible School (with 125 in attendance), social gatherings, meetings, etc.  The area was divided with curtains that were sewn by ladies of the congregation at a sewing party, which was held in the new basement.  Later that year, the congregation, with the help of the Northwest District, was able to purchase a parsonage in the Westgate Subdivision.

While work on the church building continued, the congregation grew.  On Easter Sunday, 1959, the attendance broke the 100 mark for the first time.  On Sunday, August 2, 1959 the original structure was dedicated to the glory of God and the ministry of His people.


Early Chronology of Zion Lutheran

1957 - Northwest District investigates the possibility of starting a mission in Fairbanks.  Report was that mission potential was good with permanent military base and population growing.  Land was purchased on Airport Way, architect hired, call extended to Rev. Omar Stuenkel as mission developer and first pastor of Zion.

1958 - July 20 - With the arrival of the Stuenkel family in June, services began in the 7th Day Adventist Church.  50 attended worship and 12 were in Sunday School.  November - On Thanksgiving Day the first services were held on the new site, in the basement of the new church under construction.  A parsonage was purchased in Westgate Subdivision.

1959 - Easter Sunday, the attendance exceeded 100 for the first time.  August 2 - Original structure was dedicated.  Total cost:  $175,000.

1961 - May 21 - Pastor Stuenkel preached farewell sermon.  Communicant number had reached 83.  Outreach to Ft. Greeley/Delta Junction began.  Interim Pastor:  Harry Young from Portland.  July - Pastor Raymond Ernst installed as second pastor of Zion.

1966 - Continued growth caused space concern.  Second portion of property excavated to make room for additional basement classrooms.

1967 - July - New addition to basement completed.  Flood strikes Fairbanks, inundating the basement of the new church and the parsonage.  Church service was held in married student housing at the University of Alaska campus on the hill.  Restoration from flooding to both church and parsonage completed with financial help from "Lower 48".  Pastor Ernst bids "farewell" to congregation.  Outreach now includes Fairbanks Jail and Pioneers Home.

1968 - May - Pastors O.H. Moeller and Victor Meyer serve as interim Pastors at Zion.  Outreach now includes Clear/Anderson.