Baptists in the Charlottesville area worshipped in the County courthouse before the construction of the first Baptist Church on Park Avenue in 1820. In this church, although never regarded as equals in faith, the African American contingent of the Baptists worshipped with their white counterparts.
In 1832, Virginia passed a law that prohibited blacks to worship without a white minister present. They were not allowed to worship with the rest of the white community. The African American community, who were already suffering under slavery, had more injustices to endure. While blacks were discontent, it would take thirty years before they acted.
In 1863, the 800 African American members of the Charlottesville Baptist Church petitioned for, and were granted, approval to separate from the church and form their own congregations. From this group, two congregations were formed: The Delevan (First) Baptist Church in 1864 (that lot was the front eastern portion of the present church lot) and the Mt. Zion Baptist Church 1867.
Since some African American members were still disgruntled about the mandate for a white minister to be present, the Mt. Zion congregation had contracted to purchase before buying the old Delevan Hotel. Thus, Mt. Zion First African Baptist church was organized.
Our first pastor was nicknamed the "horseback preacher" - the Reverend Spottswood Jones. He was the first African American preacher to shepherd his congregation in Charlottesville! He served until approximately 1871. It is evident that he did his job well because we are still building upon the foundation laid by him.
The second pastor was Reverend S.W. Smith. He served the church for four years. Reverend Smith resigned to accept the pastorate of another church.
Reverend Jesse Herndon was called. He was a great preacher and the congregation grew under his leadership. While pasturing at Mt. Zion, a gallery was added in the frame building. He served for fifteen years, until his death.
Reverend J. Francis Robinson was called to Mt. Zion. He served us for two years. Little is know about our 4th pastor.
In 1875, after the purchase price had been paid, the deed stated that the lot was "now occupied and enjoyed by the Mt. Zion Church." The first building was reported to have been of frame construction. Three years later the congregation contracted to purchase the home of one of its members, Samuel White, just west of the church. Tradition says that the present church was built in 1878, but newspaper accounts at the time dispute that. While the deed states that the church did take possession of the White property immediately, the deed was not recorded until 1894 because Mr. White had died leaving minor children. The Jeffersonian chronicled the demolition of the old church building in the summer of 1883, the laying of the cornerstone in mid-September, and plans to have the roof on in December and to occupy the basement in the Spring of 1884. George W. Spooner was the architect and builder, and G.A. Sinclair did the brick work. The steeple was completed in the 1890's and stained glass windows and pipe organ were installed about the same time.
1892 was an epoch year in the history of Mt. Zion. This was the year that Reverend Royal Brown Hardy came to us. He came to us at a very difficult period in the life of our church. He took the helm and steered us safely trough the crisis. The church was almost up for sale! With is amazing insight and unflinching loyalty, he gathered around him many good and dependable workers. Under his wise counsel and hard work the indebtedness was paid. The mortgage was burned on Easter Monday in 1905. This ceremony was witnessed by an overflow crowd!!
During the struggle to pay the indebtedness, the church had run down and needed much improvement. After having paid the debt, Reverend Hardy directed attention toward improving the church. His leadership in this area will be witnessed by generations yet unborn!
The following was accomplished: the basement was completed, the steeple was built, stained glass windows ere added, pipe organ was installed and many other things were done to make the church comfortable and beautiful. Reverend Hardy has the longest record in years of service of any pastor during the history of the church. He served Mt. Zion for twenty-five years and six months. He died in October, 1917.
We can truly say that Reverend Hardy was God's man of the hour. Hardy Drive in the Westhaven housing development is named in honor of him.
Reverend S.A. Thurston came to us. He was a man with a child-like spirit and magnetic personality. Under his leadership, the church erected a monument grave of Reverend Hardy and a bronze plaque of Rev. Hardy was placed in the church. A parsonage was purchased, the church beautified, and the pulpit and choir stand were changed. The membership bulletin board was given to the church by Mrs. Sallie Truehart. Reverend Thurston served us for nine years until being called to pastor Rodman Street Baptist Church, Pittsburg Pennsylvania.
Reverend William R. Strassner accepted the pastorate on the second Sunday in June 1929. After having remained with us for one year, he was given a scholarship to do advanced studies at Andover Newton Theological Seminary. The church granted him a leave of absence for two years; Reverend W. J. Kerr served the church while Reverend Strassner was on leave. Reverend Kerr was loyal to the church and the Pastor Strassner.
Reverend Strassner returned to us full of energy and inspiration. Much work was done under his leadership. The following was done under his administration: installed storm doors, steam heat,
"Decision Day" in Sunday School, organized the Daughters of Ruth, Brotherhood Club College, Marshall, Texas to become the dean for the School of Religion.
Reverend R.M. McKinney, Professor at Virginia University served in a most acceptable manner as the supply Pastor. Reverend McKinney served until God called Reverend Lloyd E. Jemison to become our 9th pastor.
One of Reverend Jemison's chief interests was the youth of the church. He organized a large youth choir. Under his administration the debt of the parsonage and church was paid, the basement was re-decorated, new lighting system installed a pastor's study and kitchen was built and paid for upon completion. Under his leadership, for the first time in history of the church a young man was licensed to the gospel ministry, brother Eugene Watts. Reverend Jemison served us for about ten years. He was called a pastor a church in Des Moines, Iowa in January 1949.
Reverend Herman A. Watts began his ministry with us on the first Sunday in July 1949. During his brief pastorate, he organized the Deaconess ministry, the Young Men's Ushers, the Social Club and designated the first Sunday in each month as Young People's Day. Reverend Carter Wicks, another son of the church, was licensed and ordained for the ministry.
Reverend Emmett L. Green began his ministry with us on the second Sunday in June 1952. Under his leadership, the church grew spiritually, numerically and financially. Many vital needs were met because of his vision, patient planning and effective use of many resources. There is evidence of this in the improvements that have been made, such as, the church was covered with a new roof, the basement was removed at a cost of $12,000, which included a central office. A new system was developed whereby every member of the church as accounted for and statistics kept.
Reverend Green ended his pastorate with us on May 24, 1959 to become the pastor of the first Baptist Church in Roanoke, Virginia. He served Mt. Zion for seven years.
Reverend James B. Hamilton was called by God to pastor Mt. Zion on January 20, 1960. Under his guidance many things wee accomplished. Our church reached new dimensions in the areas of Christian Education, membership, finance and social outreach. A major contribution of Reverend Hamilton's was the first established church Credit Union in Charlottesville. Reverend Hamilton pastored our church for twenty years.
During our search to find the Psalm 1 Pastor. Reverend Warren Dawkins served as interim. His willingness, teaching style, commitment and leadership helped to continue the legacy of Mt. Zion Reverend Dawkins served as interim pastor for one year.
Dr. Alvin Edwards came to us on July 1, 1981 wearing dashiki, sandals and jeans to church meeting. The Deacons were looker rather "distinguished" Pastor Edwards told the members that he was sorry they came dressed that way but he was NOT apologizing for the way he was dressed. He was looking for a place to live. He found out quickly that Charlottesville was mighty expensive.
Not much has changed with our Pastor!!
He is a native of Joliet Illinois. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, his Master of Divinity degree from Virginia Union. School of Theology on May 21, 2001, he received his Ph.D. in Education from George Mason University in Fairfax Virginia.
Previously, he served as Pastor of the Second Mt. Olive Baptist Church, in Little Plymouth, Virginia and as Minister of Evangelism at the Fifth Street Baptist Church, in Richmond, Virginia. While attending Wheaton College, he served as Youth Minister and as an associate Minister of the Mount Zion Baptist Church, in Joliet, Illinois, under Dr. Isaac Singleton, Sr., Pastor.
Reverend Edwards has served on many boards including the Monticello Area Community Action Agency, Alliance for Interfaith Ministries, Charlottesville Redevelopment Housing Authority, Charlottesville Albemarle Boys and Girls Club, Planning Coordinating Council, Charlottesville City Council, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee, and the African American Summit Committee. In addition, he has served as the teacher for the National Baptist Congress for Christian Education, and he served as the Lecturer in the Youth Division.
Dr. Edwards has been the keynote speaker for association meeting and state conventions. He has served Christian Education Consultant for Progressive National Baptist Convention, under the auspices of David C. Cook Publishing Company. As a result of this, he has performed workshops and seminars on leadership development throughout the United States.
He is married to Sister Barbara Singleton Edwards. His family has grown since pastoring at Mt. Zion. There were only two children. Alvin Cahlief and Brianna. Soon there were two more blessings, Isaac and Brittany...that wasn't enough...he also has three wards. He is the proud grandfather of Little Miss Kaydin Edwards and a surrogate father to many.
Pastor Edwards is the Psalm I man. He is truly a man of God. He has the desire to be like Christ.
We have been blessed since 1981. Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church and the community will never be the same! To God be the Glory!!
For many years, the church has been centrally located between the City's principal black neighborhoods, but when it was and its predecessor were first build, a different situation existed. Segregation has not yet become entrenched and blacks and whites live side by side. Mt. Zion's location at the entrance to Ridge Street seemed symbolic of the integrated nature of that most prestigious residential street. "Let Mt. Zion Rejoice"
8:00am Worship Services
9:45am Church School
11:00am Worship Services
11:15am Children’s Church
(1st, 2nd, and 3rd)
6:00am Prayer Service
10:00am Bible Study
7:00pm Prayer/Bible Study