As the Spirit Moves Me: 'Yoked' churches offer service in the land of 'OZ'

First Congregational United Church of Christ in Zumbrota.jpg
First Congregational United Church of Christ in Zumbrota

They've served Zumbrota with God's word for more than 156 years.

What a story about the First Congregational United Church of Christ. It hasn't been easy. It never is. From that first pastor, the Rev. Charles Shedd, to the present pastor, the Rev. Lisa Johnson, their history of growth in both the Zumbrota Community and the church has been steady.

Some of you recall my article from a few months ago introducing Pastor Lisa. That article was all about the First Presbyterian Church in Oronoco. She serves both, following the "yoke" of both churches in 1967. A half-dozen years ago, in 2007, the churches celebrated the 40th anniversary of this "yoke" referred to as OZ (Oronoco and Zumbrota.)

Like a city on a hill, the First Congregational United Church of Christ steeple can be clearly seen from both U.S. 52 and Highway 58 as you approach Zumbrota from the north. Earlier years' parishioners depended on a large weathervane on the tall spire.

The church was founded June 28, 1857. Twenty-five years later, Pastor Shedd returned for a message with many historical facts. Shedd is credited with helping found Carleton College in Northfield. And the church's sixth pastor, the Rev. Charles Secombe, left Zumbrota to become the first president of Carleton College.


On the 75th anniversary, in 1932, the May 21 program included a procession to the cemetery, where a service of commemoration of Shedd was held. A wreath was placed on his grave by Gale Freeman, youngest member of the church.

On their 90th anniversary, in 1947, no large observance was held, due to the recent ending of World War II. Their centennial celebration coincided with the city's 1957 event.

Since 1957 there have been many accomplishments, including a self-supporting private weekday kindergarten, the Friendly Service being formed to strengthen outreach needs, and the start of the great chicken dinner, now called The Country Store. A new parsonage was built on East 5th Street, right behind the church.

Growth has made it possible for the church to have its first full-time pastor. In 1962, the Congregational Church officially joined the United Church of Christ to become First Congregational United Church of Christ.

Members of the Plymouth Guild Women's Fellowship continued to support a Korean orphan. The Friendly Service collected clothing for Church World Service and sent it to Delmo, Mo., and to a church in West Chicago.

During the period of 1965 to 1968, the church was without a full-time pastor, but they were served by the Rev. Joel Tibbets (UCC) who brought several Carleton College students. On June 11, 1967, the Rev. Joel Tibbets said "Our situation looks grim … and then God opened the door to yoke with the Oronoco Presbyterian church, and a new chapter in the lives of both churches has begun, a true testament to the success of working together when 'God is Our Guide.'"

Following the efforts of Laura Schlasner's crusade in 1978 to have the church listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a dozen years later, in 1990, that dream was realized.

Rev. Katherine Burbo, who served this church for 16 years (1989 to 2005) brought three churches together in an Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service in 1991. The other two were St. Paul's Catholic Church and United Redeemer Lutheran. Pastor Burbo resigned to work in the chaplaincy at Mayo Clinic.


As churches in transition, Oronoco and Zumbrota truly became the OZ that Burbo had dubbed them years earlier. For new pastor Lisa Johnson, serving both churches for several months – life is full. She gave birth to twin sons Ian and Luke a few months ago to increase the load in this "land of OZ."

The church is at 455 East Ave., Zumbrota.

Next week: another look at that Stone Church south of Houston, Minnesota.

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