January 9, 2019
The Big Pond #10: Faith, and a Side of Sour Beef

Volunteers make about 4,000 dumplings for the annual Sour Beef dinner at the Zion Church of Baltimor
© MelissaGerrMedia

Within the historic walls of Zion Lutheran Church in Baltimore, Maryland, you’re just as likely to hear a rousing polka band as sacred organ music. For more than 250 years, the congregation has remained dedicated to its German immigrant heritage, faith, and ministry. Now, they’re grappling to find the right balance that will carry Zion Church into the future.

For The Big Pond, Melissa Gerr explores a surprising subculture in Baltimore, Maryland: The congregation at Zion Church, which has held fast to its German roots for more than 250 years. As a place of worship that encompasses elderly German immigrants and blended German-American families, the churchgoers struggle to define what ‘tradition’ means in a modern sense and how to preserve their community for future generations. 

A local phenomenon is the church’s annual sour beef and dumplings dinner that has been happening each October for more than 80 years – a small army of volunteers prepares hundreds of pounds of sour beef, about 4,000 dumplings and gallons of gravy in the basement of the church. The sour beef dish (‘Sauerbraten’) was brought to Baltimore by German immigrants in the early 20th century, and the event brings together descendants of those immigrants as well as food enthusiasts and fans of the church.

Music performed by Zion Church Choir, Organist and Music Director: John Heizer; and the Heidi und Heimat Echo Showband.

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