Places in Time

Mount Zion Church: 140 years and counting

By Terri Jo Ryan, Tribune-Herald staff writer

May 22, 2006


The first black Methodist "church" in Waco was a large oak tree on the banks of the Brazos River, where slaves gathered in worship on Sundays.

In the months following the Civil War, the newly emancipated blacks — Methodists and Baptists — were also allowed to worship in the balcony of First Baptist Church of Waco.

However, they wanted to form their own congregations. So on May 29, 1866, they requested formal "letters of dismissal" from the white congregation of First Baptist. With the help of First Baptist's pastor, the Rev. S.G. O'Bryan, and Baylor University's president at the time, Rufus Burleson, a black congregation was formed with 18 charter members the following month.

The first church home, which was used on alternating Sundays by the Baptists and Methodists, was a foundry at Jefferson Avenue and Sixth Street that rented for $2 per month.

That first church group — which later split to form Mount Zion United Methodist and New Hope Baptist churches — will be celebrated with the dedication of a Texas Historical Commission plaque at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Mount Zion church, 1212 N. Fifth St. in Waco.

The first church home no longer exists. Black leaders in the Reconstruction era decided that site would be the best place for the Howard Institute, a school for former slaves. The Freedman's Aid Society and church leaders tore down the building around 1873 and divided the lumber, nails and other items among the two groups that formerly met there.

Mount Zion's congregation moved to North Sixth and Marlborough (now Bosque Boulevard). The first church was built and dedicated there in April 1873. Another church was built and dedicated nearby in 1894. That structure underwent renovations in 1951.

During the federal urban renewal programs of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Mount Zion land and building were sold in 1971. The congregation worshipped in the Friendship Center on Earl Street in East Waco for two years, until its new church was completed and dedicated at 1212 N. Fifth St. in December 1973.

Mount Zion United Methodist Church of Waco continues to play a vital role in the life of the greater community, the Rev. Robert Campbell said. Besides numerous denominational groups members are active in, the congregation also supports literacy and GED programs, Meals on Wheels, Laura Edwards Day Care Ministry, Family Abuse Center, Caritas of Waco and Mission Waco.

Doyle Allen, assistant to the bishop of the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, will officiate Sunday's ceremony.

The event also will feature a choir of singers from the churches that sprang from the first congregation, including vocalists from New Hope Baptist and Wesley, St. James and Bracks United Methodist churches. The Tone Chime Choir of J.H. Hines Elementary will also perform, added Louise People, Mount Zion's organist.

The dedication service is especially significant to Campbell, Mount Zion's pastor for 14 years, as he is retiring next month at age 63. His last service will be June 11. The new pastor, the Rev. Denise Blakely, takes over June 18




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For more information, contact: John Young • Waco Tribune-Herald •