166 years of history: Zumbrota’s First Congregational United Church of Christ prepares for next chapter

166 Years of History in Zumbrota Comes to A Close

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(ABC 6 News) – The Congregational United Church of Christ has been apart of Zumbrota’s history since the very beginning.

It was founded in 1857, a year after Zumbrota officially as a town.

Amy Pahl is the head of the council of the church and she was looking back at some of the church’s history.

Archives contain lists of pastors and members dating back to 1857.

Pahl’s history of the church started long before becoming the head of the council.

“As a young person, I attended my Sunday school and my confirmation here, this was what I would call kind of a booming church in town,” Pahl said.

Although the church has strong ties to the history of Zumbrota, it also has its place in Minnesota history.

It’s home of the oldest pipe organ in Minnesota, purchased from a church in Winona back in 1885 and it’s been a staple ever since.

“Kids would pump this organ, this used to be a pump organ before they added electricity, the more they pumped it the more noise it would make,” organist Billy Wendt said.

The children carved their names into the instrument, marks that lasts to this day.

To Wendt, that history is still alive, he’s one of the many charged with playing the organ during Sunday mass.

With the church closing, he still hopes memories made with the community can last.

“Should they have people see it, and if they want to have a tour and they can come out and I can come give them a tour.”

Despite the history, low attendance has created challenges.

“Our active participants is below 10, we made the decision that we would have our final service the last Sunday of 2023,” Pahl said.

That last church service was on New Year’s Eve and now the remaining members are looking to see how they plan to move forward.

One option is to partner with the city, another option is to become a preservation association.

“Which sole purpose would be to preserve the history of the building and the property.”

As the church begins to enter a new chapter, members like Amy hope its legacy can live on.

“It’s always been kind of a cornerstone of the community and one of the now many churches in town.”

The church was also formally added to the United States National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

As for what’s next, the church council will meet on Jan. 21 to appoint a transition governing body to make decisions on behalf of the church.

Despite the uncertainty of where things go from here, one thing is certain, Minnesota’s oldest operating pipe organ isn’t going anywhere.