holiday homecoming with jewel

This is the September 2018 “View from the Pew” column for the Mt. Zion Baptist Church newsletter. In honor of this year’s September church homecoming, I thought it would be interesting to gather some Mt. Zion memories from some of those who formerly attended Mt. Zion who now live outside of Haywood County. Here are some memory gems (in alphabetical order). Enjoy!

Robin Brookshire Schoditsch: Baltimore, Maryland
Mt. Zion is my favorite place in the world! Those front steps hold so many memories of summer visits and the sermons that I have heard from within those walls are the best I have ever heard. To this day, I still hold every pastor I have ever heard to the standard that Jimmy Burress set many years ago. God blessed him with the gift of preaching!

Mary Lou Kuykendall Singleton: Killen, Alabama
I have some wonderful memories there as that is where I grew up and was there every time there was anything. I got saved there and my best memories are in the old building that is no longer there…Vacation Bible School and so many older people who were such an influence in my life. I guess if I had to pick an absolute favorite it would be Martha Grooms. Great church and I cherish every memory!

Alicia Heim Stanford: Mobile, Alabama
My current hometown is Mobile, Alabama but Mt Zion will always be my home… so many incredible people and incredible memories there! One of my favorite memories was every Sunday my Nana Arvida McDougle giving me a quarter for my offering in Sunday School and walking upstairs to Linda Singleton’s class. She made such an impact on my life in ways I never thought possible until last week when God confirmed what I had been praying about and that was to enter the ministry full-time specifically women’s ministry. I currently work at my current church in the music ministry but I remember in class one particular Sunday she said how being called by God was such a special gift. I also loved when we had dinner on the grounds and the amazing fellowship we would have, and I loved being in choir and being a part of plays. Even when I moved and would come visit, I always felt like I was back home and had never left. Caswell retreat was a blast!! My most vivid memory was the Sunday night Dr. Paul Lack passed out in the pulpit and everyone rushed to his aid and came to together for their brother in Christ and the others gathered together to pray right there in the pews. I will always love Mt Zion!!! holiday homecoming with jewel

Phillip Charles Williams: Fort Bliss, Texas
“There’s a church in the valley by the wildwood
No lovelier place in the dale
No spot is so dear to my childhood
As the little brown church in the dell.”
(from “The Church in the Wildwood” by Dr. William S. Pitts, 1857)

Ms. Julianne Kuykendall asked me for a few thoughts and memories of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church the other day, and, although I won’t get to make it to this year’s Homecoming, I am happy to comply.

But where, oh where, to begin? This tour of duty at Fort Bliss, Texas has been a solitary one. No family down here, and I am the sole member of my command here. People are friendly and helpful and good to me in all ways, but they have their lives and families outside the gates, while I sleep, eat and work within a small area that easily fits within a square mile. One good thing comes from being alone a lot of the time – I have a lot of time to think things over and remember. And, in this time of my life – the past 10 years or so – I have sure done a lot of remembering.

I reckon Mt. Zion forms a part of my earliest memories. I still remember when the old white church building was still standing and we used it for Sunday School…the sound of the creek, the smell of the large boxwood hedges that used to grow in front of the old building, a big tree just outside the door of the actual church itself, where some of the men used to gather and talk and the cemetery overlooking it all. I can see the interior of the church – how the light filtered in thru the unusual stained-glass windows, feel the hard pews, see the baptismal tank with its painting of the Jordan River, smell the scents of Wrigley’s spearmint and Juicy Fruit gum that emanated from the purses of the ladies, and Tussy deodorant, Chantilly or White Shoulders coming from the ladies themselves and the smells of tobacco, Old Spice and starched shirts that came from the men.

I can still hear the hymns in my mind – as they were sung then, from the old green-backed Broadman Hymnals. I remember reading the little notes that were printed along with the songs – Identifying “Jesus Loves Me’ as “The favourite hymn of China,” or “I’ve Been a-Waitin’” – as “The last words of Granny Solomon, the Oldest Old Woman on Earth.” And so many that I will forever associate with various parts of the service; “Stand Up For Jesus” before the sermon or “Are You Washed in the Blood?” or “Kneel at the Cross” for the invitation.

And there where so many lessons learned from observing and talking to the all of those friends and neighbors and kinfolks around me, and seeing daily examples of unconditional love of family, neighbors, church and country, friendship, loyalty, humility, selflessness, piety, quiet courage. There were many teachers like Henry Bumgarner, Nicie Deaver, Effie Metcalf and Charles Blaylock, all of whom are gone now – and there are a few who are still around. I haven’t attended church at Mt. Zion for many years except for Homecomings or Christmas plays, but it left its brand on me for life.

I remember one verse of “The Church in the Wildwood” that went:
“Oh there by the Church in the wildwood
As the day slips away into night
I would fain from that spot of my childhood
Wing my way to those mansions of light.”

That verse has long inspired one of my most comforting thoughts – the certainty that, when my hour is come to leave this life, the memories of that place and time, and of God’s gentle people are what will surely abide with me in my final moments. God bless you all – and I hope to see you next year!