Mt. Zion Congregational Methodist Church

A History of Mt. Zion
Congregational Methodist
Church

Newton County, Mississippi
2012

Compiled by Terry T. Lange

Mt. Zion Congregational Methodist Church has its roots in Monroe County, Georgia, where in 1852 the first Congregational Methodist Church was organized. 

The first Congregational Methodist Church was founded to meet the need for a Methodist church with a system of government more in harmony with the practices of early Christianity and with the principles upon which this nation was founded—government by the people, for the people.  At that time the lay members of the Methodist Episcopal Church South (the mother church of the founders) had no voice in the government of their church.  Many of them had answered God’s call to the ministry and were winning souls, but they could not serve as pastors until they met the stringent educational qualifications for ordination.  Only the ordained elders could baptize converts or receive them into the church, and there were so few elders that the people in small towns and country churches had to have preaching on a weekday by some traveling preacher.  The people wanted services on the weekend when more people were able to attend.  They also wanted to be able to own their church buildings and call the minister of their choice to serve as their pastor. 

 After efforts to obtain these goals within their own denomination failed, a group of nine laymen and three lay preachers all living in Monroe County, Georgia, were led of God to sever their relationship with the Methodist Episcopal Church South and to organize a new church where people who believed in the old-time Methodist doctrines preached by John Wesley and his followers could have services on the Lord’s Day, own their own church property, set more reasonable requirements for ministers, elect a pastor of their choice, and keep him as long as they desired. 

A deep-seated, firmly-rooted dissatisfaction with the very foundation of their ecclesiastical economy brought together twelve men who were determined to form a church government of their own1.  The organizational meeting was held on May 8, 1852, and the first Congregational Methodist church was founded in Monroe County, Georgia2.  Before the founding of the Congregational Methodist Church, no layman was entitled to a seat at Conference except at the quarterly Conference, and delegates to the quarterly Conference were chosen by the ministers serving the churches and could be put out of the Conference at the utterance of a single command, thus they had no real say.  The newly formed church ensured that laymen would henceforth hold seats in the General and inferior Conferences.  The function of the minister would be exercised in the pulpit, while the layman would labor in the pew and in the government of the Church.  Christ was to be the Head and the laity and clergy were to be co-workers, each in his proper sphere, doing the allotted work, showing that one was not to exist without the other, and that neither was independent of nor exalted above the other, but formed separate parts in the grand and glorious whole, wherein all things would work together for the glory of God and the good of his people.3

Within a short time, the Congregational Methodist faith had spread over several counties in central Georgia and had found a foothold in Alabama and Mississippi.  Most of the Congregational Methodist churches were small, country churches.

 Between 1852 and 1860, a number of families of the Congregational Methodist faith moved to Newton County.  Among them was the family of George Wilkins Todd, one of the twelve founders of Congregational Methodism in Monroe County, Georgia.  He was instrumental in founding Mt. Zion—the first Congregational Methodist Church in Newton County.

  
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George Wilkins Todd was born March 20th, 1824, near Forsyth in Monroe County, Georgia.  He received an education as was provided in the country academy of his day.  He was converted at Rehoboth Camp Ground in 1838, and soon after joined the Methodist Episcopal Church at Forsyth, where he remained a member until he became one of the twelve founding members of the Congregational Methodist Church. 

 George worked on his father’s farm in Monroe County, Georgia until he was 18, at which time he took charge of a school where he taught until his widowed sister, Mrs. McMullan, needed his protection and assistance in Mississippi.  After his sister remarried, he returned to Georgia where he continued teaching.  He bought a farm east of Forsyth and divided his time between farming and teaching. 

Dr. Lovick Pierce, a Methodist Episcopal minister in the 1840s and 50s wrote a series of very strong articles on church government, advocating the necessity of Saturday and Sabbath preaching instead of weekday services, and opposing the government of the Church being entirely in the hands of the clergy4.  After hearing Dr. Pierce and reading his articles, George W. Todd’s own views crystallized into Congregational Methodism, and he rode ten miles that notable Saturday, May 8, 1852, to cast his lot with the other eleven founders of the Congregational Methodist Church at Judge Merritt’s residence. 

George was married in 1847 to Mary Elizabeth Phinazee, a daughter of one of the most distinguished early leaders of the Congregational Methodists, the Rev. Hiram Phinazee.  It was in the winter of 1853 that George W. Todd moved his family to Newton County, where he continued both his teaching and farming careers. 

In 1854, Mary Elizabeth Phinazee Todd died, leaving two sons and five daughters. 

In 1856, George W. Todd married Virginia Caroline Jones, a daughter of distinguished Congregational Methodist minister Lazarus J. Jones, a brother of Rev. Henry T. Jones.

In March 1857, the first Congregational Methodist Church in Newton County, Mississippi, was organized in the home of George Wilkins Todd, located in “Chunky Bottoms” east of Decatur, by the Rev. Henry T. Jones.  Todd family records indicate this was Mt. Zion Church and it was organized in 1855.  Early records of Mt. Zion Church no longer exist, or their whereabouts are unknown, so the exact date is unknown.

George W. Todd was instrumental in the founding of Chapel Hill school in 1859 and Hickory institute in 1889.  As an educator, he believed the church should insist upon a higher standard for the ministry and believed that the people of the church should be educated.  He served in a number of civic offices, both in Georgia and Mississippi. 

George W. Todd was elected president of the Congregational Methodist Church General Conference in 1897 and was re-elected in 1901. 

After reflection of fifty years, George W. Todd stated, “I do not believe that any of the original twelve had the idea of any emoluments of pecuniary gain or sinister motive whatever in the course pursued, but actuated from purest motives, unprejudiced towards the old Methodist Episcopal church or its brotherhood; they simply wanted ecclesiastical freedom as set forth in the first preface of Discipline.  The finger of God must have been in the hearts of most of these men, and it seems that the hand of providence has been shown all along these years in disseminating the principles of Congregational Methodism through many of these grand United States of America.”

As a young man, Todd was tall and slender with raven black hair and dark eyes.  In his later years, he was a little heavier, and his hair and beard were white.5

George Wilkins Todd died 26 September 1911 and was buried in Decatur Cemetery.

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Rev. J. F. N. Huddleston was born in Monroe County, Georgia in December 1819.  He was converted as a young man at Rehoboth Camp Ground.  He joined the Methodist Episcopal Church and soon afterward became a minister.  At an early age, he married Miss Adeline Phillips, who became the mother of his nine children. 

As soon as the Congregational Methodist Church was organized in 1852, he cast his lot with it and immediately became one of its ablest exponents and most active ministers. 

He affiliated with the Congregational Methodist Church at its second meeting on the third Sunday in May, 1852.  He was one of a committee of three charged with setting down the rules and regulations for the government of the Church.  Huddleston was the author of the book of Discipline, and when it was reported by him to his fellow-committeemen, it was adopted by them with very slight alteration, if any at all, and was adopted by the Church as it came from the Committee.  The book of Discipline was published early in the month of August 1852 and contained the 25 Articles of Faith. 

The founders of the newly formed church, most of them members of the Methodist Episcopal Church South at Rehoboth, had planned to hold the meeting on the third Sunday of May 1852 at the Rehoboth church, but they were not permitted to do so.  Instead, they withdrew to the arbor of the nearby campground and held their meeting.  Rev. Allen Turner, a good man of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, who was present to forbid the new organization the use of the church house, was asked to pray.  He led in prayer, asking fervently that if the move was not of God it might come to naught; but if it was of God that it might prosper, and all the brethren answered “amen”.  The prayer was heard and answered6.  Between the 8th of May and the 1st of August, seven churches had been organized and affiliated with the Congregational Methodists, all in the same section of Georgia.

J.F.N. Huddleston was a member of the Convention of 1855.  This was the first District Conference ever held by any Methodist body which was composed more largely of laymen than of ministers, and the first body of Methodists which was purely a representative body whose members all held their seats as delegates elected by their brethren and where all seats held the same authority.7

In 1856, Huddleston sold his store at High Falls, Georgia, and moved to Newton County.  The remainder of his life was spent in that county and in the adjoining county of Scott.  In Mississippi, he entered the practice of law and was at once recognized as one of the most brilliant advocates at the bar.  Remarkable revivals usually accompanied his ministry, and churches always prospered under his pastorate.  In the pulpit, he was the embodiment of his theme and of Divine power.  Many of his sermons would, had they been written, have been lingered over as samples of brilliant and sacred eloquence, yet no sermon that he ever preached could have done him justice on paper.  He stood more than six feet tall, was slender with raven black hair and beard and had black eyes as penetrating as the eagle’s.8

 A. J. Brown in his HISTORY OF NEWTON COUNTY, described the Rev. J. F. N. Huddleston as a man of fine mind, an able and fearless speaker, bold and fearless, and in the prime of life. With a commanding personal appearance, and warmed by an ardent zeal, he took well with the masses.  Backed in his labors by an ardent membership, the doctrine he advocated was received by many, and soon there were several churches of the Congregational faith in Newton County and adjacent counties.9

Rev. Huddleston went from Harpersville, Mississippi to Heaven, in November 1889.10  He is buried in the Mt. Zion Cemetery.

A. J. Brown named the constituent members of Mt. Zion Congregational Methodist Church as William Mapp, W. A. McCune, A. J. Smith, J. A. Mapp, Susan McCune, Mrs. Mapp, and J.F.N. Huddleston.  The organizing Presbytery were Revs. Henry T. Jones, B. M. Huddleston and J. F. N. Huddleston.11

The McCune family (William A. and Susan) were members of the Congregational Methodist Church before they moved to Newton County from Monroe County, Georgia.  William A. McCune had been appointed delegate to the third Conference of the Congregational Methodist Church, which was held in May 1853, and had represented the Georgia churches as a member of the Committee on Revisions at the Convention of 1855.  Descendants of William A. McCune have said that the reason the McCunes moved to Newton County was to help organize a Congregational Methodist Church.

As a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, Rev. Henry T. Jones had never been fully satisfied with the government of the Church to which he belonged.  He had been waiting and watching for some Church to make its appearance whose doctrines he could fully endorse, and in the fall of 1852 he accidentally overheard a conversation about a number of individuals who had withdrawn from the Church and gone into a separate organization.  He felt a strong desire to know more about it, but he knew nothing of what the organization was called or who the members were except for one individual referred to as Ogletree in the conversation he overheard.  Shortly thereafter, he read a piece in the Southern Christian Advocate penned by Dr. Lovick Pierce that gave the name of the newly formed Church.

Later that fall Jones removed to Jasper County, Mississippi, and while passing through Georgia made diligent inquiry along the way as to the address of Ogletree and finally was given his address.  In the spring of 1853, he wrote to Rev. Ogletree at Forsyth, Georgia asking for information about the Congregational Methodist Church, and Ogletree sent him several copies of the book of Discipline and other materials.  After studying the materials, Jones and some of his neighbors who held similar beliefs, met at the home of his brother, Rev. Lazarus J. Jones in Jasper County, on the 19th of July 1853, and organized with eight members the first Congregational Methodist Church in the State of Mississippi. 

As stated previously, Henry T. Jones was also instrumental in the founding of Mt. Zion Congregational Methodist Church in Newton County.

At the Convention of 1855, a committee of nine was appointed to consider revisions to the book of Discipline.  There were three members from each of the three states were Churches were located.  Representing churches located in Georgia were: J. F. N. Huddleston, Absalom Ogletree and William A. McCune.  Representing churches located in Alabama were: John A. Hurst, James M. Adams and Robert D. Kennedy.  Representing the only church in Mississippi were:  Lazarus J. Jones, Henry T. Jones and Willis Windham.  The committee, after patient, earnest, laborious effort, reported to the Conference seven paragraphs embodying the founding principles of the Congregational Methodist Church as a distinctive denomination of Christians.  The report, penned by Rev. Lazarus J. Jones of Mississippi, the substance having been agreed on by the Committee, was adopted by the Convention without a single change.

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James. A. Mapp and Mary Ann (Reeves) Mapp, constituent members
of Mt. Zion Congregational Methodist Church

The Mapps mentioned as constituent members of Mt. Zion Church were William Fincher Mapp and his wife, Bethiah, and their son James A. Mapp and wife Mary Ann (Reeves) Mapp, all recently relocated to Newton County from Georgia.  Descendants of the Mapp family are found in the membership rolls from the 1920s and 30s.

 Pastors who have served Mt. Zion include:  Revs. J. F. N. Huddleston, John C. Portis, John Maxey, Thomas H. Rivers, Commodore Vandevender, J. M. Belew, W. A. Hays, W. P. Massey, G. C. French, Huff McBride, John Allen Cook, R. E. Collins, Johnny J. Mullinax, David Carroll, Ray Bates, Phil Kitchens, Siebert Killens, Russell L. Akers, O. A. Robbins, and Todd Thompson. 

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Rev. John C. Portis

Rev. W. P. Massey

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Rev. John Allen Cook

By 1894, Newton County was home to four Congregational Methodist Churches—Mt. Zion, Mt. Hebron, Blue Springs, and Pleasant Valley, and had a combined membership of 200.12

In addition to the Todds, Mapps and McCunes, the Daniels, McMullans, Smiths, McElhenneys, Quattlebaums, Hoyes, Freemans, Carletons, Terrells, Hansfords, Clevelands, Russells, Addys, Reeves, Lopers, Thorntons, James, and Hunters were among the early families who worshiped at Mt. Zion, and many of these family members are interred in the cemetery at Mt. Zion. 

There have been at least three Mt. Zion church buildings.  There was a church/school building, located approximately where the parsonage exists today.  Sometime later, probably after 1900, another structure was built, which burned November 1, 1931.  The fourth and current building was completed in 1932.

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Rev. Portis is the man behind the table with the white beard; George Wilkins Todd is the man to the right of the table with his hand on the book.  Andrew Jackson Smith is seated on the far right.  This photograph was probably taken at the Conference in 1897 when Todd was elected president.  The building was identified as the Mt. Zion Church/School and is probably the first structure that housed the Mt. Zion congregation.

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Built around the turn of the century, this church burned in 1931

Church minutes state that at the November 2, 1929 business meeting it was moved and seconded that a stove flue be built and a committee of four was appointed.  The minutes of March 1, 1930, indicate that the matter of a stove flue was still not resolved and a new committee was appointed to see to the project.

Minutes recorded that a fire destroyed the church on November 1, 1931:  “Mt. Zion Church burned Sunday morning, November 1st, 1931, at 10:30 a.m.”  The fire was first noticed by a group of men outside the church.  It was a small fire where the flue of the wood heater exited the roof.  There was no way to extinguish the fire—no ladder to gain access to the roof and no water to fight it with.  Those who had gathered for services that morning immediately began to remove the furnishings of the church, and as they watched, the flame grew larger and larger.  The pulpit, the pews, the piano and even the windows were saved, but the structure burned to the ground.13

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Cemetery cleaning at the church that burned

In the midst of the Great Depression, it must have seemed an impossible task the congregation faced.  How could they possibly raise enough money to build a new church?  An appeal for help was sent throughout the county requesting that every family donate one hen.  Very few turned the church down.  When the building was completed on February 7, 1932, only $18 was owed.  The dedication service was held the first Sunday in May, 1932. 

The building was constructed by the same plan used by the Hazel Baptist Church, located in southwestern Newton County.  The Building Committee, composed of Paul D. Measell, Robert Loper, and Dwight L. James, purchased the lumber in Laurel, Mississippi.  The original tongue-and-groove, varnished pine boards still grace the interior of the sanctuary.  New pews, pulpit, carpet and central heat and air, stained-glass windows, a steeple, and a covered entry have been added over the years. 

Four men are known to have given land to Mt. Zion.  Andrew Jackson Smith and Benjamin Hansford donated the land for the church and cemetery.14  John William Aaron Terrell donated land to expand the cemetery; and Andrew Vardaman Terrell donated land to build the present-day parsonage.

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Deed for Land Donated by W. A. Terrell to Mt. Zion Church in 1899

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Robert C. “Bob” Hansford

Earliest known minutes of the church indicate that Robert C. Hansford served as deacon as early as 1921, having joined the church as a young man, soon after the church was organized.  He served as Deacon until November of 1939, when he was made honorary deacon, a position he held until his death in 1944.  Paul D. Measell was elected Deacon in November 1939 and was followed by Jackson Eliot Smith.

 Before 1960, church services were held on the first Sunday of each month, with business meetings taking place on the Saturday before the first Sunday.  Revival time was traditionally the first week in August and was well attended.  In 1960, Mt. Zion began holding service on two Sundays a month—the first and third.  During the 1970s, the church went to fulltime services.

 The annual revivals held at Mt. Zion were always well attended by the membership, as well as members of other denominations in the community.  Many times the church was filled to capacity, but with the doors and windows open, those who could not find seats inside could still hear the speaker.  Early church minutes record that many came forward at these revivals to open their hearts and minds to God and be baptized—sometimes twenty or more in the weeklong service.  After the nightly service was over, the congregation would linger to visit and fellowship with each other and catch up on the news of the day.

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Mt. Zion C. M. Church Revival, circa 1908
Standing:  Rev. W. C. Swope, Lewis Massey, Rev. W. P. Massey and Melton Massey.
Seated is Slendra Fowler Brooks.

By August of 1945, the Church had electricity.  In 1955, the first addition was made to the church.  It consisted of three Sunday School rooms and a fellowship hall.  In 1959, a parsonage was built, and in 1975 three additional Sunday School rooms, a pastor’s study and an addition to the fellowship hall were completed.

Katrina came in 2005 and took down the old oak trees where once the “dinners on the ground” were served, as well as the ancient oak that stood sentinel over the parking lot and the North cemetery.

In 2010 a multipurpose Family Life Building was completed.

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Completed in 1932, this is the Mt. Zion C. M. Church as it appeared  in 2005

Our church is well-attended and continues to grow in the twenty-first century.  It calls its pastor, owns its property, and sets its budget, in accordance with the founding principles of the denomination.  It has an active Sunday School, conducts a Bible School during the summer and holds an annual revival.  It has an active Missionary Society and sends support to foreign missionaries.

Since May 1930, Mt. Zion has hosted on the first Sunday of every May a “Homecoming”, featuring a morning service followed by a potluck meal, once served as “dinner on the ground” but now served in the Family Life Building.  Since May is the month in which Mother’s Day is celebrated, the Homecoming day has incorporated the honoring of all mothers during the service.

References:

  1. THE ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE CONGREGATIONAL METHODIST CHURCH, by Rev. S. C. McDaniel, 1881
  2. MONROE COUNTY, GEORGIA, a History, published by Monroe County, Georgia, Historical Society.
  3. THE ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE CONGREGATIONAL METHODIST CHURCH, by Rev. S. C. McDaniel, 1881
  4. THE ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE CONGREGATIONAL METHODIST CHURCH, by Rev. S. C. McDaniel, 1881.
  5. FOUNDERS OF THE CONGREGATIONAL METHODIST CHURCH, by Rolf Hunt, 1902
  6. THE ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE CONGREGATIONAL METHODIST CHURCH, by Rev. S. C. McDaniel, 1881
  7. THE ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE CONGREGATIONAL METHODIST CHURCH, by Rev. S. C. McDaniel, 1881
  8. FOUNDERS OF THE CONGREGATIONAL METHODIST CHURCH, by Rolf Hunt, 1902
  9. HISTORY OF NEWTON COUNTY,  by A. J. Brown, 1894
  10. THE FOUNDERS OF THE CONGREGATIONAL METHODIST CHURCH, by Rolf Hunt, 1902
  11. HISTORY OF NEWTON COUNTY, by A. J. Brown, 1894
  12. HISTORY OF NEWTON COUNTY, by A. J. Brown, 1894
  13. Account of Robert “Bob Terrell as related to Terry Lange.
  14. WPA MANUSCRIPT, compiled by Jean Strickland & Patricia Nicholson Edwards, 1998.

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