Southwestern Pennsylvania was first opened to settlement in 1769. Those who took up land in the area around Harrold Zion were primarily Germans. Most were either Lutheran or German Reformed. One of the first things that the Lutherans did was set aside 158 acres of land to be used solely for schools and churches. The land was named "Good Purpose" and much of it is still used for schools and churches including where our church now stands. The community which grew around this land was known as Herold which later became Harrold.
The recorded history of Harrold Zion dates back to August 2, 1772, with the documentation of the first baptisms in this area of John Peter Walter, Susanna Elizabeth Stroh and John Michael Altman. These are the oldest Pennsylvania church records west of the Allegheny Mountains.
These baptisms were performed by Baltzer Meyer, a Lutheran schoolmaster and lay minister. His school, which started in 1770, was the earliest school in Western Pennsylvania. A schoolhouse was built in 1772 that was located within about 200 yards of the present day church. The schoolhouse was a log structure which was also used to hold worship services. The services were attended by both Lutheran and the German Reformed with the style of service alternating between the two.
Baltzer Meyer was never ordained but was very active in the spiritual life of a large part of Westmoreland County. He eventually held services and aided in starting new Lutheran congregations in areas such as Brush Creek, Mount Pleasant and Donegal.
Around 1772, a log church building was started but construction was only partially completed for 10 years due to difficulty with Indian attacks and other concerns. The building was finished in 1782 in a large part due to the arrival in the area of another Lutheran minister, Anton Ulrich Luetge.
Anton Luetge was highly educated man who was said to practice medicine along with his pastoral work. He was also a lay minister but was "ordained" by Baltzer Meyer. This ordination was declared invalid by Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium in 1788 but he was granted a license to minister shortly thereafter. In 1789, Anton Luetge moved to Schippensburg, PA.
While Anton Luetge served at Harrold 100 acres of "Good Purpose" was granted to him. In 1793, an agreement was made to sell half of the remaining 58 acres to the Reformed church.
In 1791, John Michael Steck was called to serve. He was a licensed minister who served until 1806 when he was ordained and became the first ordained Lutheran minister to serve at Harrold. He continued to serve the church faithfully and in 1830 he saw the dedication of a new two story stone church building. Reverend Steck passed away shortly after the dedication of the new church.
As with the old log church, the new stone church continued to be used by both the Lutherans and the German Reformed.
All went well until the 1870s when two things occurred that began to cause problems. The first was the introduction of a new hymnal by the Synod to which Harrold belonged. Not everyone in the congregation was happy with the new Hymn Book. A few years later the congregation was chartered and a constitution was adopted. Again, not everyone was pleased with this new concept.
Trouble continued to brew and in 1880 the disgruntled members organized into an independent congregation many of whom did not want to be associated with "the tyranny of Synod." Both Lutheran congregations continued to hold services in the stone church, Litigation followed and the church was divided.
Those who had broken away were granted ownership of church properties and records by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. They built a new brick church less than a mile from the stone church on land donated by Daniel Altman. On July 8, 1884, the new Lutheran church was dedicated.
The other portion of the divided congregation purchased property from the Reformed church and built a new brick church which was dedicated July 14, 1885.
The church remained divided until 1955. At that time, The Reverend Reinhold K. Weber had been called to serve both congregations and under his Spiritual guidance the churches were reunited. The congregation voted to call the renewed church Harrold Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. Under the leadership of Pastor Weber plans were made for a new church to be built to accommodate what had been two congregations. Two overlapping crosses were designed to be placed on the front of the church building to commemorate the reuniting of the two congregations.
The present day sanctuary was dedicated on September 12, 1965 under the leadership of a new minister, The Reverend Victor A. Carlson, who had been called to Harrold in 1963.
Many changes came about while Reverend Carlson was here. There was already a new name for the congregation. There was a new church and education building. Then, in the 1960s, the community around the church began to grow with the first major housing development being built. This development was named after a protective structure built by those early German settlers. Fort Allen.
More and more homes were built. Many families came to the area. This meant a greater number of worshipers and in early 1981, an addition was completed to the education building to accommodate the influx of new people.
Soon the area began to transform from mostly agricultural to residential. Before long, this community was no longer referred to as Harrold's but as Fort Allen. As the years went by, the congregation became more diversified with a richness of people from numerous nationalities and backgrounds. While there is still a hint of the old German agricultural family, we are evolving into a diverse suburban congregation. But always a family of God.
Reverend Carlson adapted well and worked hard through all of these changes. It probably helped that he was one of the few ministers at Harrold Zion who was not of German background. He had a Swedish heritage. Pastor Carlson served faithfully until 1983 when he retired.
In January of 1984, The Reverend Robert A. Free became the first of our two current ministers to come to Harrold Zion. Much has been accomplished under Pastor Free's guidance. The church continued to grow. A second service was added to give flexibility and to relieve the feeling of overcrowding. Pastor Free implemented participation in the intern program for seminary students. In 2008, improvements to the current building were built. Energy efficient windows were put in the sanctuary and heat pumps were installed throughout the building to provide air conditioning and energy efficient heat. An elevator is planned for 2009.
In 2001, we called an Associate in Ministry, Linda Brigaman, to bring a more consistent ministry than interns could provide. Linda served until her retirement in 2008.
A decision was made in 2007 by the congregation to call a second minister to Harrold Zion and in October of 2008, this came to fruition when The Reverend John M. Smaligo began his call at Harrold Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church as the Senior Pastor. Then, in November of 2008, Pastor Free went to serving the congregation on a part-time basis as the Associate Minister. In May of 2011, Pastor Free retired and was named Pastor Emeritus of Harrold Zion. In October of 2011, Pastor Nordby began service as Associate Pastor.
We look forward to many more years of continued service to Christ and this community.