BENEDICT – Following the closure and disbandment of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Benedict, questions surrounding the 105-year-old building’s fate hung in the air; after the site stayed in limbo on the real estate market for some time it was purchased by Tim and Kathy Johnson.
The church-home, dubbed by the Johnsons as their “chouse” has acquired am impressive number of Facebook followers on Kathy’s Facebook group “Bless this Chouse.” Updates on converting the former house of worship regularly appear on the page, which has 1,600 followers.
The chouse’s street view is deceiving; the brick structure’s front has been largely untouched thus far. A wide stretch of stairs is behind the glass doors – the doors remaining from when the chouse was a church. Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church’s front, as well as a fair portion of its interior, will remain true to its origin. Stained-glass windows have been left intact, including a backlit large depiction of Jesus on the main floor. Some of the pews have been moved and repurposed, and woodwork has been left in its original form when possible.
The kitchen sits slightly elevated next to the main floor serving as a living room. Black-and-white tiles of slightly varied motifs make up the backsplash. Behind the kitchen and a large slatted “breadbox-style” wood screen original to the building are a bathroom and other rooms. Some of the church’s original doors have been saved to keep an authentic feel.
The chouse is still being readied for the Johnsons to move in, but work is progressing quickly, the Johnsons expecting to move in soon – even before all of the ambitious project’s renovations are completed.
While the upper floors are for humans, the basement – once the church’s fellowship hall – is reserved for critters. Kathy is the owner of and instructor for K9 Coach Training. Pillars original to the basement are decorated with paw prints. A wall of several dozen furry graduates and a vintage chalkboard occupy the space. Repurposed pews from the ground level line the perimeter of the basement. Flooring was selected for easy cleaning, and the basement kitchen will primarily serve Kathy’s rescue animals. In addition to teaching dog obedience classes, Kathy is a member of the Nebraska Game & Parks Wildlife Rescue Team, Inc. and rehabilitates animals in need on a volunteer basis.
Elements of the building’s long history have been kept in shape and largely untouched. The sturdy brick building housing Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, established April 22, 1881, was built in 1916. It sits on the corner of Sherman and Lovena in downtown Benedict. Following its closure and the congregation’s disbandment in January 2020, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Nebraska Synod took possession of the 2,285 square foot building.