Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church celebrates 125 years with prayers, song, food

Colin Boyle, Reporter

With spirits and voices as vibrant as the colorful streamers that were distributed for the day’s celebration, congregants of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church celebrated the 125th anniversary of the parish Sunday morning.

During the almost three-hour service, parishioners and local officials gathered to commemorate the church, located just east of the intersection of Ridge Avenue and Clark Street, where it has sat for over 100 years.

The church was first established as a “church plant” of the Second Baptist Church. In 1894, the congregation broke away from Second Baptist Church and established a separate ministry on the fourth Sunday in April. They first met at a local plumbers’ union hall, which is now the downtown branch of the Evanston Public Library.

On Sunday, Sherria Lois Wedlow, a lifelong parishioner who has spent over 70 years at Mount Zion, greeted guests as they walked into the church.

“I’m overwhelmed with today’s service,” she said. “I never thought I’d live to see 125 years, although I’m not that old.”

Honoring the 125 years of service and those who came before them was one of the themes of the celebration. Melody-Marion Bickhem, the granddaughter of one of the founding members — William L. Marion, Sr. — briefly spoke on the history of the church during the service.

She said Coretta Scott King, wife of the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., visited the parish in 1980. In a conversation with The Daily, Bickhem spoke about her experience as one of the original families of Mt. Zion.

Bickhem said she would share stories that fellow congregants would remember about her ancestors’ involvement in the parish.

“It’s amazing because first of all, (the congregants) are so loving,” she said. “Whenever I come to church … it’s so nice to run into somebody who says ‘I knew your dad, I knew your grandfather.’ I cherish those.”

In attendance at the morning service were Mayor Steve Hagerty and Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd), who were welcomed to the pulpit by Reverend Taurus Scurlock, senior pastor at Mount Zion. The two spoke about the historical and social significance of the church to the Evanston community. Hagerty participated in the service, at one point dancing around the pews with parishioners.

Braithwaite acknowledged the church’s service and outreach when he addressed the congregation, noting its “125 years of praying for our community and 125 years of ministering our communities.”

Braithwaite also praised Reverend Scurlock for keeping the church’s doors open to the community and helping to “facilitate a civil conversation” when issues need to be addressed.

The service continued with prayers, hymns and moments of remembrance. Afterward, parishioners gathered in a basement for a lunch of ham, string beans, mac and cheese and more, sharing stories about the past century and a quarter spent together in community, song and prayer.

“Everybody participated and took time to worship with us. The parading around the church was awesome, absolutely beautiful,” Wedlow said. “I certainly hope that we continue to have that spirit, that it gets better and better as time goes on.”

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