This record of events is presented as history of the Mount Zion Baptist Church. It is the result of diligent research and has been authenticated throughout extractions from the memoirs of Indiana Gradington, mother of Mable Gradington Collins, who was spiritually motivated, for the sake of posterity, to set the records of the church in order.
In modern religious parlance, the Mount Zion Baptist Church (formally known as the Sweet Unity Baptist Church) came out of a congregation organized in 1907, by Reverend George W. Gradington.
The name was changed to the Shiloh Baptist Church after several location changes. In 1918, Reverend W.M. Green and several members of the congregation separated from Shiloh to organize “People Baptist Church.” The meetings were held in a small apartment. Later the name of this congregation was changed to the Mount Zion Baptist Church and moved to a single-family home on Durazno at Estrella Street, according to Ferdinand Ware Sr. (deceased) who at the time of this research, per the terms of membership, was Mount Zion’s oldest member having joined as candidate for baptism in 1918.
The congregation outgrew this edifice and moved to a deserted garage building on Manzana Street. This edifice is best remembered for its humble condition; dirt floor, rough-hewn benches, and a large pot bellied heater in the center of the building. Through these days of obvious struggle and poverty, Mount Zion possessed a spiritual magnitude that attracted many visitors and new citizens to the community, including many young men from the Civilian Conservation Corps. This unexplainable attraction of the church to others amplifies Isaiah 66:8,”for as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.”
More than a few of the young men from the Civilian Conservation Corp joined Mount Zion and grew to extraordinary heights in Christendom. Some that stood out were, Deacon John C. McDaniel, Deacon Willie L. Miller, and Presiding Elder Leon McNeil, of the African Methodist Episcopal church, all of whom are now deceased. These men did a considerable amount to release Mount Zion from the pangs of poverty by eagerly joining forces with the established elders of the church. Together, this union propelled Mount Zion into community prominence. These Elder Deacons were John J. Stephens, A.B. Stephens, C.S. Stephens, Henry Rose, Eugene Bogan, A.W. Perkins, George Moseley, Lorenzo Johnson, and Alex Wilborn.
The church continued to grow and in 1939 Pastor M.L. Bratcher refurbished the edifice. In 1950, Pastor J.L. Maxwell and the congregation selected a site adjacent to the building in use to erect a sanctuary and parsonage which was constructed of rock. This property was unfortunately in the path of the proposed Interstate 10 highway which meant it was forced to yield, like others, its properties to the Texas State Highway Department.
In November 1959, the church moved to 3401 Wyoming which served as both sanctuary and parsonage for a brief period. Later the parsonage area was converted to classrooms. With the inevitable growth of the church, this facility soon became inadequate and for several years a variety of expansion plans would periodically emerge which included a second story facility.
In 1976, under the pastorship of Reverend M.L. Brown, the church purchased a single vacant lot across the street and the property was converted into a parking area.
In 1976, under the pastorship of Reverend M.V. Lee, a serious effort began to save money to refurbish the church. This plan proved unfeasible and a new building structure became the goal of the membership.
The enthusiastic efforts of the Board of Trustees and Membership to reach this goal, continued through interim pastorship of Reverend J.R. Wilborn.
In July 1984, the church, well into its building program, called Reverend James L. Williams to be Pastor. Under his leadership the church was completed, and Dedication Services were held in July 1985.
In January 1986, being motivated by the deepest desire to extend its missionary work and offer more than a handout, formed and Outreach Program which helps to find employment for the unemployed, and information many Legal and Social services provided by the community.
In September 1987, a Senior Citizen Center was organized which serves as a social and recreational outlet for senior members of the church and community.
In January 1991, the “Hospitality Auxiliary” became an official auxiliary of Mount Zion.
In January 1995, the church approved of changing the term “Auxiliary” of each element of the church to the term “Ministry.”
In January 1996, the church approved of the realignment of the church ministries into groups with quarterly emphasis to better accommodate coordination and cooperation and to improve the total accomplishment of the church mission. Our Outreach Program has grown to include Evangelism and Family Enrichment.
On March 1, 1998, Reverend Beverly J. Mathis became the first female to be licensed to preach at Mount Zion Baptist church.
In January 1999, the “Pastor’s Aid” and the “Nursing Guild” became official Ministries of the church.
On July 31, 1999, a “Volunteer Recognition Committee” was added to the list of Standing Committees on the church staff.
On July 2, 2001, Reverend Vanessa E. Jenkins became the first female minister to be ordained at Mount Zion Baptist Church.
In the fall of 2005, the Sunday school and Baptist Training Union was reorganized as the Sunday school Training Union and introduced an elective course entitled Foundations. The course presents 11 core truths for the believer to build their life on. The objective of this course is to present the basic truths of the Christian faith in a simple, systematic, and life-changing way.
Below are former pastors of Mount Zion, not listed in chronological order:
W.W. Green A.W. Walsh
Reverend Caples D. Sheldon
Reverend Smith M.L. Bratcher
Noah Taylor J.L. Maxwell
R.L. Brown M.V. Lee
Reverend James Larry Williams served as the longest tenured Pastor in Mount Zion’s history, having served 32 years from September 1984 until his retirement in September 2016.
The following individuals provided significant information during research: Mable Gradington Collins, Frank Mathis, John C. McDaniel, and Ferdinand Ware, Sr.