Mt. Zion First Baptist Church plans anniversary celebration
by Sarah Chambers
May 18, 2013 12:00 AM | 2368 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print

The Rev. John C. Hearst, right, along with other members of Mt. Zion First Baptist Church including, from left, Carrie Hammond, Ann Blount, Deacon William J. Blount and Mary Hearst are looking forward to Sunday's anniversary celebration of the 136-year-old Smyrna church. <br>Staff/Laura Moon
The Rev. John C. Hearst, right, along with other members of Mt. Zion First Baptist Church including, from left, Carrie Hammond, Ann Blount, Deacon William J. Blount and Mary Hearst are looking forward to Sunday's anniversary celebration of the 136-year-old Smyrna church.
Staff/Laura Moon
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Mount Zion First Baptist Church, the oldest African-American church in Smyrna, celebrates its 136th anniversary on Sunday. Several other churches in the community will join the celebration.

The festivities kick off Sunday at 2:30 with a dinner and a celebration at 3:30 p.m. at the church. The Rev. A.L. Zollicoffer of New Friendship Baptist Church will begin the 3:30 service.

Sitting on a bench in the empty worship room the week before the festivities, the Rev. John C. Hearst shared one of his favorite memories of the annual anniversary celebration.

“I love all of it,” Hearst said. “I enjoy every bit of it, but it’s the fellowship that we have with the other churches. It’s just a joyous occasion.”

The red brick church with its tall white steeple sits at the remote corner of Hawthorne Avenue and Davenport Street in Smyrna. The small building, with its red carpet, wooden paneled walls and six stained glass windows, is expected to host about 120 attendees this Sunday, according to Hearst.

The church was founded on Smyrna’s west side in 1877 by the Rev. George Lloyd and a few other members, according to church records. Its original location was just a few blocks away on Hawthorne Avenue, but the church relocated to its current location after the original building burned down in a fire.

The present church, completed in 1949 at Hawthorne Avenue and Davenport Street, stands a few yards down Hawthorne Avenue from its original location, which burned in a fire.

Mount Zion First Baptist Church is home to about 250 members, according to church records. This number fluctuates as younger members move away to college and new members enter the church, said Janice Merritt, the church’s financial secretary.

Merritt became a member of the church in 1992 after she moved to Marietta from Ohio. Merritt attended the church for the first time during a visit with her sister, who was a member of the church, and said she instantly felt a strong sense of community.

“It was small, loving, with an intimate feel with the congregation and God,” Merritt said. “It reminded me of my first home church back in Alabama.”

The Rev. Harper Hines was the first pastor, followed by Lloyd. The church shuffled through several pastors before Hearst became pastor in 1984.

“He’s a well-distinguished man of God,” Merritt said of Hearst. “He’s phenomenal.”

Hearst, who is originally from South Carolina, and his wife, Mary, have attended the church since 1969.

Hearst served as a Sunday school teacher for adults and then became a deacon before serving as pastor.

Annie Mae Dukes, 80, of Marietta became a member of the church in 1917 when she was 11 years old. Dukes regarded every pastor as a good teacher and described the church as a “family church.”

“We don’t look down on anybody,” Dukes said. “We are a family, and we welcome you not only into our church, but we welcome you into our homes. We are a small congregation but we have a big heart.”

Hearst said he hopes the church will continue to serve its community for many more years and continue to reach out to members of the community.

“Our vision is really the commission that’s given in the Bible and that’s to go out and make disciples for Christ and that’s what we hope to do,” Hearst said.

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