Light on a hill: Mississippi church is older than the county, celebrates 200 years

Published 3:21 pm Saturday, September 23, 2023

MT ZION — Older than the Mississippi Baptist Association and six years younger than the state, Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Northwest Lincoln County was founded on October 4, 1823. Lott Smith donated 40 acres of land where Mt. Zion Road and Lott Smith Road intersect and the church will hold a celebration September 30 and October 1st of the big occasion. 

Pastor Zach Kilpatrick said there are only a handful of baptist churches that are 200 years old in Mississippi. Mt. Zion was initially a member of the Pearl River Baptist Association before joining the Union Baptist Association in 1825, Fair River Baptist Association in 1872 and Mississippi Baptist Association in 1884. A handwritten deed in the church states it was initially in Copiah County before Lincoln County was formed. Mt. Zion was a humble one room structure likely built out of logs. In 1824, 29 members made up the church.  

Over those 200 years, the church gathered in four separate buildings. The second building was erected in 1923. A third building was constructed in 1948 before being torn down in 2019. A fourth building was built in 2007 which now serves as the sanctuary. Perhaps the most welcome change over the years at Mt. Zion was the installation of air conditioning in 1963. 

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“It is just neat to think about folks gathering at different spots on this hill for 200 years,” Kilpatrick said. “I’ve read a lot of the minutes we have but they all start in the 1860s. That leaves out a forty year gap at the start. I do know that the churches were being formed in areas where communities were forming. As this community became populated there was no other church in walking distance so they started on here.”

Mt. Zion will open the festivities with a catered meal Sept. 30 at 6 p.m. in the church gym. Oct. 1 will be a time of reflecting on the history of the church during Sunday School at 9:30 a.m., corporate worship will follow at 10:30 a.m. with a church potluck lunch after church Sunday.  

Kilpatrick said he remembers when he first arrived at Mt. Zion in December of 2017. An old wooden white sign said Mt. Zion Baptist Church Est. 1823. 

“I remembered praying I would love to still be here celebrating that 200th anniversary,” Kilpatrick said. “He answered that prayer and it feels very humbling to think the Lord has led me to be a part of this. At the same time, 200 years in the grand scheme of Christian history is a drop in the bucket. But for so many people we have been significant but the kingdom is so much bigger.” 

Remaining faithful

COVID-19 was a test of faith as it shut down in person worship but the church was able to meet in the parking lot. Praise and the gospel reverberated throughout the valley below Mt. Zion Baptist Church so the wood ducks, squirrels, deer and hunter could hear God’s word. 

Kilpatrick said the time was one of the most trying times in recent memory not only at Mt. Zion but across the state. COVID was a big milestone and the church decided to be obedient to the authorities while holding church while others could not. 

“Thankfully because of the Lord’s providence we had a good area to do outside church and gather every week. We only missed maybe two or three Sundays. To be able to meet was a good way to weather 2020,” Kilpatrick said. “We came out healthier than others because we could abide by the rules of social distancing and still hold church. One thing that has changed since COVID was a significant transition in who the leaders are.” 

Cornerstone church members who led as deadons, Sunday school teachers and committee chairs died in 2020 and 2021. Kilpatrick said the Lord has added several people in the last couple of years who are younger to teach and lead. 

Reflecting on the church history, Kilpatrick said Mt. Zion appears to have been healthy for a long time but over the last 30 to 40 years the church has become less of a small country church. People drive in from Brookhaven and Wesson to attend Mt. Zion and members are not limited to the community surrounding the church. New families have joined over the past few years. 

The church voted this spring to look for and hire a second full time pastor to serve the youth and any other ministry that pastor was called to lead. Mt. Zion is still searching to fill the role. 

Kilpatrick interviewed several members for the celebration and he asked them what they would like to see God do for Mt. Zion in the future. He came to the conclusion that God’s plans are usually better than what man has planned and the church needs to be obedient and healthy. 

“Mt. Zion is always focused on being obedient to the bible. We have a couple of focuses and we  feel like it will help us to be more healthy moving forward,” Kilpatrick said. “We are trying to encourage all of our members to recognize and use their spiritual giftings. We are trying to ensure all things we do align with what the bible says the church should be doing so Mt. Zion is healthy. People would be able to look back and be grateful and in 400 years we would stand out as being faithful. Mt. Zion has always had a great reputation and we want to continue that legacy.”