Mount Zion Church was birthed out of a vision and a burden that God laid on the heart of a man named Gene Ouradnik. Gene was the Bemidji city attorney during the late 1960’s and early 70’s; he was also a leader in the charismatic renewal movement that was happening in the city at that time. Gene desired to see a church that fulfilled the New Testament pattern of living in the power of the Holy Spirit, seeing the gifts of the Spirit active in all the believers. When Gene was leaving the city in 1984, he communicated his vision and burden to three other men, who became the founding elders of this assembly: Steve Thompson, Sheldon Stockdale, and Dwight Flatt.
Sheldon Stockdale was the first pastor of the church, which met in a building on Adams Avenue just outside of the city proper. Early on the church became connected with Way of the Cross church in Blaine, Minnesota, and our elders were ordained and sent forth under the auspices of Way of the Cross. Men associated with Way of the Cross provided oversight and visited on occasion to provide encouragement, instruction, and sometimes correction. Prominent among these were Don Pfotenhauer (pictured with his wife Marty), Chuck Porta, and Amos Halvorsen. Amos has since gone home with the Lord and Don is “retired” from active ministry, but Chuck still visits us from time to time.
Sheldon resigned as pastor and left in 1988. Under apostolic direction, Jim Mathis became our second pastor that year and served for seven years, until feeling led to move on to other ministries in 1995. At that time he told Steve, “I believe you’re supposed to be the next pastor.”
After much praying, consulting with his wife Candy, and also receiving confirmation from his parents, Steve Thompson resigned from teaching math in Red Lake and became our third pastor in 1995.
In 1999 the Bemidji School district was building a new elementary school in the Nymore neighborhood and looking to sell the old school building and property. One popular idea was to donate the property to the Red Cross. Steve felt impressed of the Lord to bid for the property, offering $35,000 (for insurance purposes – the building is valued at about 2 million dollars, and the property occupies an entire city block). Although at first the school board seemed set to go with the Red Cross, by the final vote several members had changed their minds and it was unanimously awarded to Mt. Zion.
After over $100,000 of renovations, including installing an elevator, the church began meeting in Nymore in September of 1999. The Lord impressed on Steve and the elders that their occupation of the building was to “steward it for My purposes.” So far that has included allowing the Community Table (“soup kitchen” ministry) to use the cafeteria for two nights a week; providing office space for Churches United, a joint ministry of Bemidji churches serving the poor; sponsoring Ruby’s Pantry, a monthly food distribution and ministry to folks in need; renting or giving meeting space to other churches and ministry groups on occasion; and providing in-town office space for a pastor of two rural parishes; along with organizing, sponsoring, and/or hosting various kinds of conferences and retreats. [We also hosted Servants of Shelter (SOS), a joint-church ministry to the homeless, for two or three weeks each winter during the several years in the 2000’s and 2010’s when that ministry was active.]
After several elders left in 2005, Steve asked John Parsons and Rocky Coffin to serve in leadership – John was an evangelist sent from Scotland to minister in America, who was making his home in Bemidji at the time; Rocky is a seasoned elder who pastored a small country church for seven years and served in various eldership, campus ministry, and Bible study leader roles previous to that. In 2010, Rocky was asked to come on staff as associate pastor. (Learn more about Rocky and our other current staff at our Staff page!)
After his wife Chris died in 2013, John Parsons remarried in 2014 to Terry Jahner, a worship leader and prophetic psalmist with a traveling ministry; they are now based in North Dakota and travel around the country ministering in churches, camps, and conferences. We greatly appreciate the decade’s worth of calm leadership, wise counsel, and zeal for the gospel that John brought during his sojourn here.
Beginning in 2018, Gary Gilbertson was asked to share messages on a regular basis, alternating with Steve and Rocky. Gary has a long history in Bemidji as an elder of the church at large, an active leader on campus and in the Friday Night Fellowship in the early 1970s, co-founding and leading Christian Life Fellowship from 1979 to 1990, and later serving on the board of the Bemidji Evangelical Covenant Church for many years.
In addition to Don Pfotenhauer, over the years we have developed significant relationships with several gifted men who provide a warm, mentoring role with hints of apostolic/prophetic oversight, among them the following gentlemen:
Chuck Porta, proprietor of Ram’s Horn Ministries, Eden Prairie, MN. Chuck was at one time a pastor of Way of the Cross church in Blaine, MN. He has well over 40 years of experience in pastoring, teaching, leading conferences, and mentoring. As an itinerant Bible teacher he has ministered in churches across the country and internationally as well.
Keith Miners is a former school headmaster from England who followed the Lord into ministry in Canada, and spent many years as a pastor, Christian school principal, and prophet in Winnipeg, Manitoba; most notably serving with Gateway Church and later Catch The Fire Winnipeg. Currently he lives in Nova Scotia.
Jay Bunker was a Native American from the Cass Lake area who served as a pastor for many years in Elk River, MN. Jay brought a great sense of our freedom in Christ, to throw off the shackles of legalism and live in the Spirit. Jay’s body passed away and his spirit went to glory in 2018.
In 2009 the church began hosting an annual Prophetic Conference, often featuring these three gentlemen, with other guest speakers as well.
One of Pastor Steve’s burdens over the years has been to see the Church at large come together as the body of Christ, particularly to remember the “feasts of the Lord” – Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Mt. Zion has therefore sought to commemorate these events on its own or through joint events with other churches, hosting or participating in Passover seder meals, conferences, and concerts of prayer.
Mount Zion is also privileged to have a couple of members who have lived in Israel for a time, and several others who have visited Israel more than once. This has led to opportunities for Pastor Steve and others to minister to local believers there, bringing both encouragement and various practical helps to bear in various circumstances.
Our worship service seeks to be contemporary in flavor, with a team of musicians on stage, leading the congregation in singing many current standards, as well as occasional hymns and choruses from past traditions. Worship leaders have included Steve Thompson, Jim Mathis, and currently the very talented Bob McKeown.
Typically a good half-hour is given to singing and praising in each meeting, as we believe God is worthy of our praise, and worship is the atmosphere in which the Spirit feels at home. Bob often provides interludes between songs for people to “sing in the Spirit,” whether in known or unknown tongues – these are times “unto the Lord,” not directed to our edification but to His. As in all things, participation is not forced, and each person should respond to the Lord as they feel is appropriate.
Believing that ministry gifts of the Spirit do not reside only in the pastors, but also in each member of the body of Christ, we sometimes allow congregational sharing in the Sunday service. This sometimes lengthens our meetings a little, but we believe God is pleased when members receive encouragement from one another. We also encourage members to participate in small group activities where they can receive more personal ministry and practice ministering to one another.
As we continue to grow in our understanding and practice of how to “do church,” we are guided by a simple mission statement the Lord gave Steve from early on: “rescue, restore, release.” We see ourselves as called to be involved in rescuing lost souls, restoring them in the truths of scripture and led-by-the-Spirit living, and releasing them to be God’s ministering agents in the spheres of life where He calls them to express His love through His various giftings. We hope to continue doing this until He comes, or He calls us to our heavenly home.