Welcome to Canada’s oldest active Lutheran congregation, known as “The Rock of Lutheranism in Canada.”
In the mid-1700s, the British government was seeking to strengthen its claim to Nova Scotia. As a number of French settlements were already in various parts of the province, the site in Lunenburg had been designated as both strategic and suitable for this enterprise. Residents of Germany were proposed as prime candidates because of their industrious nature, and their adherence to a Protestant form of Christianity; hence the moniker, “Foreign Protestants.” With unrest in Europe during that period, and with the promise of “free land” and “freedom of religion,” it was not difficult to secure a suitable number of families to establish a viable community.
In 1753, 1,453 German, Swiss and French were settled in the new community of Lunenburg. While the French settlers turned to the Anglican Church because the Anglicans were able to support worship in French, the Reformed and Lutheran settlers worked to establish their own congregations. For nineteen years, Lutheran services were held in the homes of members while they waited for a Lutheran pastor to respond to their invitation to come to Nova Scotia.
Construction on the first building began in 1770, before their first pastor arrived. They also began writing their first Constitution, which laid down all the rules for conduct and liturgy, even to the seating of attendants and the sermon texts of the minister. All of this followed the established order of Lutherans then worshipping in England and of various regions of Germany at the time. Finally, on November 1, 1772, the first pastor, the Rev. Friedrich Schultz, dedicated the church building and gave it the name “Zion.”
The first four pastors who served Zion Lutheran Church were German born and trained, although the first three had come to Nova Scotia by way of the United States.
The Reverend Charles Ernest Cossmann, affectionately known as “Father Cossmann,” was the fourth and final German pastor. His entire ministry, from 1836 to his retirement in 1888, and even to the end of his life in 1897, was spent in this parish; although its geographic limits were then quite different. Father Cossmann is particularly remembered for his weekday services throughout the county, and for his “missionary labours” among Icelandic and German people in Halifax and Ellershouse.
Early efforts to provide a German school for the children were blocked by civil authorities. Consequently the German language only persisted in the homes and in the church, while English became the predominant language of business and public conversation. During the pastorate of Father Cossmann, repeated requests were made for church services in English. Father Cossmann, however, was not fluent enough in English for this to work, which necessitated having another pastor to preach in English, as well as assume some of the load of the expanding parish.
The arrival of the first English speaking pastor in the mid-1800s, the continued expansion of the existing parish, and the need for more English speaking pastors brought on by the organization of new parishes, significantly challenged the Lutheran’s self understanding. Some felt Lutherans should only be “allowed” to teach and preach in German. In spite of this, the parishes continued to progress while maintaining strong ties with their German heritage.
The present building is actually the third structure on this site. Each of the earlier buildings were torn down to construct a larger facility. Although there is no physical description of the first building, it was presumably fairly small. The second, erected in 1842, contained a central tower over the entrance and had balconies on three sides. The present building, completed February 15, 1891, was designed to serve the needs of all Lutherans in Lunenburg County, so it included plans to provide an adjacent hall to be used as a Sunday School. This new Sunday School wing was finally constructed in 1963.
In 1913, Lutherans in First South established a separate congregation, but they are still closely connected with Zion, sharing the services of the pastor of the Lunenburg Lutheran Parish.