MOSSVILLE — Mount Zion Baptist Church, the oldest, continuously-operated church in Calcasieu Parish, will celebrate its 150th anniversary Nov. 6.
The festivities will begin Saturday, Nov. 5, with a Family & Friends Fun Day from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Rigmaiden Recreation Center on Old Spanish Trail.
On Nov. 6, morning worship will begin at 11 a.m. at Mount Zion. The memorial celebration will begin at 3 p.m. with the Rev. Lionel James presiding. The Rev. Desmond Wallace is pastor of Mount Zion.
Mount Zion was founded in 1866 by newly-freed slaves. The land was donated for the church, at East Burton and Church, by James Webster Moss, a freeman before the Civil War.
Moss had homesteaded 81 acres in Section 30 of the parish. He would homestead an additional 81 acres and his claim to the lands was confirmed by President Grover Cleveland on Aug. 13, 1894.
Moss was a deacon at Mount Zion as were Isam Perkins and Tolbert Lyons.
The first pastor was the Rev. Griffin Braxton. Braxton founded the first subdivision in Mossville, Braxton Subdivision, in 1897.
Mossville, known originally as Choates Prairie, was settled by former slaves, many of them owned by Henry Moss. Moss, a large land owner as a result of Spanish land grants, freed his 57 slaves following the Civil War and gave the heads of each household 40 acres.
Many of them moved north from Moss’ holdings at Bayou D’Inde and formed what would become Mossville, a never-incorporated, African-American village, between Sulphur and Westlake.
The first church at Mount Zion was a Brush Arbor, a construction of natural materials which were indigenous to 19th century Central Louisiana religious sites.
An area was chosen with as many saplings in a row as possible. The saplings were bent over, tied together, and brush was hung atop the overhang.
The dirt floor was then hoed clearly of all vegetation and swept cleanly before every service. The pulpit was a fourfoot tall stump in the centerfront of the arbor with split logs on either side for seating.
From a brush arbor, Mount Zion used a tent then built a log cabin. The Storm of 1918 demolished the cabin and communicants met in a tent until their church was rebuilt with a frame building that same year.
That frame church house served Mount Zion until 1957 when the present church was built under the tutelage of Rev. R.L. White.
The pastors at Mount Zion have been: Braxton, the Reverends James Glynn, S.J. Mitchell, H.H.Williams, M.M. Cuby, O.J. Simmons, B.C. Garrett, R.L. White, A.L. Taylor, and Arthur Etienne.
Over the years since Mount Zion was formed, the church has spawned several Baptist churches in Southwest Louisiana including Willow Springs, Good Hope in Westlake, Old Emanuel and Mount Olive, which is Mount Zion’s sister church.
In his book, “The History of Slavery in Louisiana,” the late Dr. Joe Gray Taylor said more than anything other than faith, freed slaves wanted land and education.
They needed education so that they could read the Bible, something slaves wanted to accomplish before they died. To slaves, said Taylor, “Heaven meant freedom, that their suffering would be rewarded and they would find solace and comfort,” in the afterlife.
The actual Mount Zion is a hill on the western section of Jerusalem. It is just east of the Old City and is revered because it is thought to be the site of the palace of King David.
It is representative of the entire land of Israel and there is a theory that King David brought the Arc of the Covenant to Mount Zion.
The local Mount Zion is located on a 22-acre site with an extensive graveyard on the northern border. Many of the grave markers date to the late nineteenth century.