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"It has been talked about for a long time," said Charles Lauru, then the treasurer of the church, as he brought a truckload of firewood to the old parsonage for the first time since we had arrived in Astoria in October of 1942, "but I do not believe that we shall ever see a new church building here," he added.
He and many others, however, now gone to their rest, did see the day when the new building was rising slowly but surely to house Zion congregation in her third temple of worship. Many names crowd our minds of those members now gone to the eternal church who caught the vision of the new church and joined heartily to work for its fulfillment. We think of Frank Ross, John Penttilä, Matti Kemppainen, John Jääskelä, Sven and Katri Lonberg, Victor Lonberg, Richard and Ida Johnson, A. A. Anderson, Mrs. Anna Ilberg, Fabian Tolonen, Aurora Mattila, Charles and Josephine Williams, Efram Laakkonen, Mrs. Josephine Jackson, George Bakkela - so many, it seems impossible they are no longer there.
Not only did the congregation need a new building, however. The future of the congregation did not look very bright when we arrived. The seed that had been sown by faithful pastors before us had been scattered and even almost choked because of long intervals without a pastor, the language problem, and the confusion of the war. There was no Sunday School. The first Sunday after we announced the start of Sunday School only six children showed up, four of them ours. With the faithful work of the superintendent and teachers the enrollment had grown to 65 when activities were transferred to the new church on New Year's Day, 1951, and to 133 when we left Astoria in 1954. We often wonder where the over 200 children now in Zion's Sunday School would be had it not been for the prayers and hard work of such leaders as Helen Hull, Hilma Simonson Backman, Sylvia Mattson, Esther Pernu and so many others who took this vitally important work upon their shoulders. The new facilities are wonderful for the Sunday School, of course, but the message that is taught is even more important to its growth both in number and in depth.
We recall also how discouraging was the lack of response to the introduction of English and to the exhortation to regular attendance at worship services. It was not until the young men returned home after the war that this phase of the church work really took root. One greatly helpful influence was the Zion Fellowship, under the leadership of Ervin Rinell, Toivo Koski, Viljo Malen, Roy Hansen, the Simonson brothers, and others, which became a mighty force enabling the congregation to venture into such an undertaking as the building of a new church edifice. "O Zion Haste, Thy Mission High Fulfilling," theme song of the Fellowship, rang through the church as the group sang and thought of the mission in Astoria "to tell to all the world that God is Light."
What enthusiasm when the new building program got under way! Seldom can one see so much of time, effort and sacrifice on the part of such a great majority of people as was shown by Zion's members, each doing what he or she was best able to do for literally years, in the evenings and on Saturdays. Building chairman Viljo Malen and many of the men were seen night after night poring over plans in the echoing chambers of the building. At last the interior was completed and with much rejoicing the building was dedicated to the service of God.
In this building up of Zion church, both physically and spiritually, it was our joy to pray, labor and sacrifice for ten years. In order that the church could concentrate on its building program, we tried to carry the payment of a home of our own for the last three and one-half years of our stay in Astoria. How great would be our discouragement if the work of the church had come to a standstill after we left and all the preceding ten years had been in vain! But our greatest reward and joy, thanks be to God, is that Zion church has pressed forward, working toward the completion of the exterior of the building and the pointing finger to heaven, the tower, as well as the extension of the congregation in number, the advancement of the Sunday School and youth work, and the development and maturing of all the members in their Christian faith.
On this diamond anniversary of Zion Lutheran Church we bless all of you, thanking you for the rich and happy memories of you during the ten years we worked with you, and praying for God's richest blessings for your continued growth better to serve Him.
Published in Rejoice and Give Thanks. 75th Anniversary Zion Lutheran [Diamond Jubilee Publication 1883-1958. Zion Lutheran Church - Astoria, Oregon]. Astoria, Oregon 1958, p. 23-24.
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