BENEDICT — While the street view of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church appears mostly unchanged since the congregation disbanded last year, the inside is being thoughtfully transformed into a home and business for owners Tim and Kathy Johnson.
Dubbed by the Johnsons as their “chouse,” 1,600 people follow Kathy’s Facebook group, “Bless this Chouse,” for regular updates on the renovation of the former house of worship.
Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, established April 22, 1881, built the church in 1916 at the corner of Sherman and Lovena in downtown Benedict. The congregation disbanded in January 2020, and the 2,285-square-foot building was put up for sale.
The 105-year-old building's brick 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, which serves 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.
The Johnsons expect 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 — will be reserved for critters. Kathy is the owner of K9 Coach Training, which offers dog obedience classes.
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. Flooring was selected for easy cleaning, and the basement kitchen will primarily serve Kathy’s rescue animals.
Kathy is also a member of the Nebraska Game & Parks Wildlife Rescue Team Inc. and rehabilitates animals on a volunteer basis.