Good Heavens

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Mount Zion Baptist Church has 130 years of history and mighty big plans for its future �

By Lisa King



What started as a little country church in Clay Village in 1880 soon will reach a level that would astound its founders.

At a ground-breaking ceremony Sunday, members of the New Mount Zion Baptist Church celebrated the coming of an impressive new facility and the planned move in 2012 from their tiny white building at 704 Washington Street to a 10-acre campus on Harrington Mill Road near the Shelbyville Bypass.

Rev. Kilen Gray said the ceremony, which was the culmination of the church’s weekend of celebrating of it 130th anniversary, was an event that brought the faith community of Shelby County even closer together.

“It was so exciting for us the way the community embraced us,” he said. “Local pastors from other churches came, and local dignitaries and officials, and showed such total support and enthusiasm for our new church building.

“It was a highlight for us as a church and just a major, significant event in the history of our church. The only thing more exciting will be when we finally get to move in our new home.”

The new home to which Gray refers is not only a new worship center for its congregation but also will include a community development and music/arts center, which will enable the church not only to continue its core mission but also to provide space for such ministries as day- and after-school care, senior care and support, the enhancement of youth education/mentoring, entrepreneurial incubation, as well as re-entry programs for those released from incarceration.

Family services will also be offered, such as counseling and therapeutic support and economic guidance.

Community conference and meeting spaces and spiritual development programs are planned.

The facility’s rendering is impressive, and the church plans to share it on a new Web site (newmt.ziononline.com), which should soon be operational.


Gray leads growth 

Gray, who was installed as senior pastor on Sept. 29, 1985, has been instrumental in taking the church to new heights.  Under his pastorate, he reorganized the youth department, outreach programs and improved the music department. Membership has grown to 340.

The church was able to purchase a bus and a van in 2005, a year after an 8 a.m. service was added to handle the growth.

The church has come a long way in 130 years, since it was founded under the leadership of a Rev. Tibbs, whose flocked dwindled so that the church moved to Benson, near Waddy.

The same thing happened there under the Revs. George and Thomas Butler, so land owner Tom Waddy gave the church an acre of land to build on, and the church was moved to Waddy, where the first service was held in a tent in 1906 near the railroad by Jeptha Creek.

The Rev. Bryant, installed in 1975, was also instrumental in taking the church to a new level.

Bryant brought new members into the church and encouraged them to tithe, and in 1977 the church moved from Waddy to its present location on Washington Street.

After a series of ministerial changes, Gray was hired in 1985, ushering in a new era for the church that led to significant changes.

On Easter Sunday, 1991, the church’s lower level renovation was completed, and a baptismal pool was elevated.

It was at that time the church purchased the 10 acres on Harrington Mill Road, which at the time members did not realize would be connected to a new bypass.

The loan was paid off on March 21, 1996, and that April, the church adopted a 5-year strategic plan that included building its new church on those 10 acres.


Expansion ongoing

The church then established a non-profit community development corporation called GGT (God’s Grace Today), through which the church carries out its community outreach and missions work.

Those ministries have developed successful programs in the areas of tutoring and mentoring, dropout prevention, summer education and arts enrichment, home ownership and finance, chemical dependency, and job skills and training.

And during the fall of 1999, NMZ purchased the historical Mulberry Building (NMZ Community Development Center) located at 701 Main Street, which is just behind the church building on Washington.

Then, in 2004, NMZ developed CRUNKfest (Christ Raising Up New Kids), a youth conference that has become recognized across the nation and that has attracted more than 500 youth annually who attend to received spiritual, health, education and motivational resources to impact family life.

In keeping with the church’s mission of community outreach, Gray emphasized that aspect of the church’s future new home.

“It will be our home, to worship, but it will also be a center for the entire community,” he said. “Our goal is to make it a community resource.”