After 105 years in existence, Zion Lutheran Church has closed. The church, located on 63rd Street and Fourth Avenue, was filled as families attended Mass at Zion for the last time.
“All my siblings were baptized, married, confirmed here. Two of my kids were baptized here as well,” said a tearful Marie Tallaksen Bergfeldt, who attended the house of worship for decades. “It was a great place for families and I just hope and pray God has a purpose for it and that it doesn’t get torn down. So many other churches get torn down. It’s a shame.”
The financially strapped Zion Lutheran joins a growing list of churches in southwest Brooklyn that have shut their doors, either closing down or giving up their buildings and moving in with other congregations, victims of financial woes and sometimes dwindling congregations.
The Fort Hamilton Presbyterian Church closed in 2009 after 111 years in service. Salem Lutheran Church shortly followed. Then, in fall, 2010, the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church, known as the “Green Church” was demolished, with the small congregation moving nearby to share space at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Not long after, in 2011, Salam Arabic Lutheran Church, just down the block from the Green Church site, was demolished with the congregation moving into shared quarters at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church.
In the middle of an emotional Mass, the Pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Reverend Diane Wildow, delivered a sermon that addressed everyone’s disappointment at the closing but put the situation in perspective.
“Today is a very bittersweet day,” she said. “We are leaving behind this building. But we will always have our memories and our stories. And those memories and stories will give us joy.”
One day before the closing worship, Zion also held its final day hosting its soup kitchen, the Ecumenical Neighborhood Lunch Program (ENLP), which has been in operation for 26 years.
Despite Zion closing, ENLP will remain. On February 1, the program will hold its first soup kitchen at its new home, Saint Michael’s Church, 352 42nd Street. “We found a great new place for it,” said Jean DeGennaro, director of ENLP.
DeGennaro recalls the formation of the soup kitchen from the beginning. “In 1987, I was on the church council,” she said. “On my way to work, I would see homeless people lying on the streets. I would wave to them.” Attending a community meeting, she was inspired after hearing about a soup kitchen program being held in Hempstead.
“We wanted to try to do something,” she recalled. What once started as handing out a few sandwiches and cups of coffee soon turned into a program that now helps over 60 homeless people.
Although DeGennaro is happy to continue ENLP at St. Michael’s, she is also sad to say goodbye to Zion. “I’m sad because I’ve been here since I was a youngster,” she said. “It is very hard. I couldn’t focus. I was trying to fight back tears but just couldn’t.” The Soup Kitchen will continue to be open every Saturday.
After Mass, a reception was held downstairs, where sandwiches and dessert were served. Proudly displayed throughout the room were photos of former Zion pastors, as well as photos of events held at the church.
“Tears are okay. But our grief, tears and pain will be transformed,” said Wildow.