From left, Pastor Don Stults, Head Elder Richard Hellman and Congregation President Marvin Lauterbach stand in the balcony of Zion Lutheran Church on Monday, April 1, 2024, in Snohomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

From left, Pastor Don Stults, Head Elder Richard Hellman and Congregation President Marvin Lauterbach stand in the balcony of Zion Lutheran Church on Monday, April 1, 2024, in Snohomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

100 years later, bell still tolls at Snohomish church

For a century, congregants have gathered at the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. For Marvin Lauterbach, the church is home.

SNOHOMISH — The church bell echoed through the Snohomish River valley.

Farmers heard the sound and knew. The service was starting soon. Time to get going.

A hundred years ago, locals gathered at the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Snohomish on Sunday mornings. Today, congregants worship within the same walls as those farmers.

Saturday marked a century since the church building on 4th Street and Avenue A first opened its doors. Church leaders celebrated with a special anniversary service that evening.

The Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1926. (Photo provided)

The Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1926. (Photo provided)

The Zion community predates the building. The original church, founded in 1892, was across the street at 4th Street and Union Avenue. A church office stands there now.

Below the newer building’s main level are classrooms once used by a school associated with the church. The Academy of Snohomish, a private K-12 Christian school, uses those rooms now, while the Zion Lutheran School moved to Lake Stevens after outgrowing the site.

As of this month, the church had 159 members.

Many elements of the building are modern, like a new elevator that opened last week. The pews are new, too.

The sanctuary of Zion Lutheran Church is seen on Monday, April 1, 2024, in Snohomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

The sanctuary of Zion Lutheran Church is seen on Monday, April 1, 2024, in Snohomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Upstairs near the balcony, the church has preserved two of the original chairs, with seats that flip up, reminiscent of theater seating. Some congregants jokingly called them “child eater” seats because the mechanism is easily triggered.

For Marvin Lauterbach, the church is home.

Lauterbach has spent most of his life attending services there. He was baptized there shortly after he was born in 1970. He remembers Easter Sundays in his teens and 20s when the church was so packed, extra chairs were needed so everyone could sit down. At the time, the church had capacity for 500.

It’s not just his own history Lauterbach sees in the historic church building. It’s his family history, too.

His great-uncle, Oswald, built the church’s original altar, lectern and pulpit.

The altar features a statue of Jesus, cradling a lamb in one hand and holding a shepherd’s crook in the other. On either side, statues of angels clutch what look like electric candelabras.

A plaster statue of Jesus looks over the sanctuary at Zion Lutheran Church on Monday, April 1, 2024, in Snohomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A plaster statue of Jesus looks over the sanctuary at Zion Lutheran Church on Monday, April 1, 2024, in Snohomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Both Lauterbach’s parents and grandparents have been members of the congregation. The same is true for his wife. Both his sons were baptized in the church.

He and his wife left the church for about six years to attend services closer to their home in Mukilteo.

Zion “just kind of drew us back,” Lauterbach said. Something told them, “you need to be home with your family.”

He now oversees church operations as president of the congregation.

Pastor Don Stults is a newer addition to the church. He came to the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in 2021, after helming Lutheran churches in Colorado and Minnesota.

A stained glass window depicting Jesus and a golden cross beneath both look over the street outside Zion Lutheran Church on Monday, April 1, 2024, in Snohomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A stained glass window depicting Jesus and a golden cross beneath both look over the street outside Zion Lutheran Church on Monday, April 1, 2024, in Snohomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

When he was a child, Stults’ family moved frequently for his dad’s job. They moved around the country and abroad, with stints in Australia and Saudi Arabia.

His travels have given him an “understanding of a bigger world,” Stults said. Now settled in Washington, he sees “a lot of different people and different cultures that are coming to Snohomish.”

High above street level lies the historic, 1,600-pound church bell. It is operated by a pulley system. A thick cord is threaded through a large wheel next to it. Early 20th century speakers point in four directions, amplifying the sound.

Pulling the rope vigorously enough forces the bell to roll all the way over, meaning the rope to comes loose from the wheel and needs to be rethreaded. As a kid, Lauterbach would try to roll the bell with his youth group at midnight every New Year’s.

“They always loved us for doing that,” he said, laughing.

Today, the bell is rung as the service starts and tolled — a more controlled, quieter sound — during the Lord’s Prayer and at the end of funeral services.

A giant 50-inch bell still rings out from the bell tower at Zion Lutheran Church on Monday, April 1, 2024, in Snohomish, Washington. The speakers above used to amplify the bell and play Christmas records during December. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A giant 50-inch bell still rings out from the bell tower at Zion Lutheran Church on Monday, April 1, 2024, in Snohomish, Washington. The speakers above used to amplify the bell and play Christmas records during December. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Head Elder Richard Hellman believes in the church’s early days, they rang the bell a half-hour before the service to alert people it was almost time.

Back then, the bell could also serve not just as an acknowledgement someone had died, but as a death announcement. It would be tolled once for every 10 years of life and rung for every year in between, Hellman said.

Hellman rings the bell at the start of every Sunday service.

He remembers visiting his grandfather in Minnesota as a little kid. At church there, his grandfather would have Hellman hang off the bell’s rope, lifting him up and setting him back down.

Last week, Hellman did the same with his great-granddaughter.

Sophia Gates: 425-339-3035; sophia.gates@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @SophiaSGates.

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