keep the landmarks of our forefathers
In 1869, a group of seven or eight Christians from Lick Creek Baptist Church (near Beech Grove) and White Lick Colored Baptist Church (near Bridgeport) met to form a new congregation. These persons were probably ex-slaves or sharecroppers who resided on Fletcher's Farm (known as Fletcher's Bottom) south of Indianapolis. The church's first building was an old tool shed donated by Mr. Stoughton Fletcher the owner of the farm. The tool shed was located on the lower ground of the farm, but a group of men physically carried it up to higher ground. The new congregation was named Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
From its founding in 1869 until 1878, the church experienced a succession of pastors. During those years, the Rev. William Neal, a Rev. Baxter, Elder Andrew Simms and the Rev. William Singleton served as pastors. Elder Andrew Simms served a pastor of both White Lick Colored Baptist Church and Mt. Zion Baptist Church of a while. He preached two Sundays per month at each church.
In 1872, the congregation moved from Fletcher's Bottom to a frame house at Belt Railroad and Second Street, which later became known as 11th and Lafayette Streets. The Rev. William Singleton led the congregation from the house (known as "Little Zip") to build its first edifice at Belt Railroad and Second Street. (11th and Lafayette Streets) where it remained until 1907.
The Rev. David Slaughter became the pastor in 1878. Under his leadership the membership increased from approximately 90 to 150. The church experienced another succession of pastors during the 1880's. Between 1880 and 1889, the pastors included the Rev. Harvey Bloodworth who in three years led the congregation to a membership of 250 persons. The Rev. Edward Thomas served as pastor for a short time. The Rev. Tom Huffman was pastor for just a short time, but he led the congregation to increase its membership to 350. The Rev. James Morton followed the Rev. Huffman and pastored Mt. Zion for 18 months.
In 1889, Mt. Zion called the Rev. B. F. Farrell of Gallatin, Tennessee, as its pastor. Rev. Farrell served Mt. Zion until 1906. During that period, membership rose to 500 members. After leaving Mt. Zion, Rev. Farrell founded Mt. Paran Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Following Rev. Farrell's departure, there was a decrease in membership. Mt. Zion called a Rev. Harris from Newport News, Virginia in 1906, but he served as pastor for only a short time.
In 1907, the Reverand G. William Ward D.D., pastor of Menumental Baptist Church of Chattagnooga, Tennessee was called to pastor the Mt. Zion congregation. When Rev. Ward assumed the pastorate, Mt. Zion had a membership of 190. Rev. Ward invloved the church in National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. He was elected the first moderator of the local Union District Baptist Association in 1916.
He led the congregation to erect its second edifice at 12th and Fayette Streets near the canal. Following the completion of the new building, the membership increased to 1050. The congregation remained in this building from 1907 until October 23, 1960 when it marched into the present edifice at 3500 North Graceland Avenue.
In 1921, Mt. Zion called the Rev. S. B. Butler, a nationally recognized pastor from Wichita, Kansas. He was Treasurer and Dean of the National Baptist (USA, Inc.) Sunday School and BYPU (Baptist Youth People Union) Congress. During his pastorate at Mt. Zion, there was a period of growth and outreach to the community. Rev. Butler started a junior church, community center and a recreation program. He served as moderator of the Union District Baptist Association of Indianapolis. He pastored Mt. Zion until his death in 1931.
On July 8, 1931, the Rev. Marshall A. Talley, pastor of Clark Memorial Baptist Church of Homestead, PA, accepted the pastorate of Mt. Zion. He led the congregation to focus on youth and Christian Education. From 1933-1949, Rev. Talley served as Dean of the National Baptist (USA, Inc.) Sunday School Congress and editor for its Sunday School material. He was a recognized leader in Religious Education circles and among Negro Baptists in America. He instituted the Certificate of Progress Program (COPP) that is still used today by the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. and the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. Rev. Talley was elected to the Indiana State Legislature in 1936. Rev. Talley resigned as pastor of Mt. Zion on Dec. 15, 1937. His son, the Rev. Cornell Talley served as Iterim Pastor until late January 1938.
In 1939 the church extended a called to the Rev. Dr. E. L. Harrison, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church, Washington, D.C. Although Dr. Harrison came and preached the call-sermon, he declined the pastorate.
Dr. Harrison recommended the Rev. R. T. Andrews, Sr., D. D. pastor of Mt. Gilead Baptist Church Fort Worth, Texas. The Rev. Andrews was extended a call and preached his first sermon as pastor of Mt. Zion on January 1, 1939. The pastorate of Dr. Andrews lasted until 1984, a span of 45 years. Dr. Andrews distinguished himself as a visionary leader, who served as president of the Indiana General Missionary Baptist Convention, a vice president of the National Baptist Convention, USA Inc. and a board member of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. (PNBC).
He led Mt. Zion to erect its present cathedral-style edifice, a day care center, a 108-bed geriatric center and 3 senior citizen apartment complexes (4 buildings). He also led the church to organize its own federal credit uion. The church also became known for its Christian Education, Youth Ministry and community involvement. From his resting place, at Crown Hill Cemetery, can be seen Mt. Zion's tall steeple and the boulevard containing a section that bears his name in honor.
Following the death of Dr. Andrews in 1984, Mt. Zion continued under the leadership of associate ministers; the Rev. Robert King, the Rev. Urias Beverly and the Rev. Joseph H. Finnell. They serverd faithfully until 1987. In 1987, the Rev. Dr. T. DeWitt Smith, Jr. pastor of New Hope Baptist Church, Akron, Ohio, accepted the call to pastor Mt. Zion. However, he later rescinded this acceptance of the call.
The Deacons then appointed, the Rev. James W. Robinson, a son of the church, and pastor of Second Baptist Church, Shelbyville, Indiana, to serve as Interim Pastor. During his short time, he met with ministries and began an organizational structure for the church. He served until his death in 1988.
In late 1988, the church elected the Rev. Joseph H. Finnell, Ed. D. an associate minister of Mt. Zion, as pastor. He was installed on February 19, 1989. During his pastorate Dr. Finnell, continued the legacy of his mentor, Dr. R. T. Andrews, Sr. The church continued its involvement at the local, state and national levels. Emphasis was placed on youth ministry and Christian Education. The Board of Christian Education was reorganized and a Director of Christian Education was appointed. Dr. Finnell was involved in many community and religious activities. He was on the Education Board of PNBC. He was president of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Baptist State Convention of Indiana at the time of his death. Dr. Finnell died on Sunday, February 10, 1997 following a brief illness. He preached his final sermon entitled, "Don't Give Up" that Sunday at the 8:00 am worship service.
In April 1997, the Rev. M. Samuel Pinkston, Ph. D., retired American Baptist minister of San Jose, California came to serve as the Pastor for the Interim. Dr. Pinkston had pastored churches in Rhode Island, New Jersey, and California. He served Mt. Zion until February 1998. Dr. Pinkston prepared the congregation for the coming of its new pastor.
In February 1998, the Rev. Philip Karl James, D. Min. the pastor of Beautiful Plain Baptist Church, Binghamton, NY came to serve as pastor of Mt. Zion. Dr. James came with a new focus on ministry, worship and Christian Education. He has instituted a discipleship ministry, praise team ministry and health and wellness ministry. He led the church in hiring a full-time minister of music, engaging a seminary student to serve as a Youth Minister and enhancing children's church. He has invited various nationally known speakers and preachers for special services. He has involved members in American Baptist annual meetings, in addition to the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. He is a former member of the Board of American Baptist Churches of Greater Indianapolis, the National General Board of American Baptist Churches, USA and a lecturer and supervisor of Field Education at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.
Throughout most of its history, Mt. Zion has been a leading congregation in the Indianapolis community. The Indiana Negro Missionary Baptist State Association held its first meeting at Mt. Zion in 1913. When the National Baptist Convention split in 1915, the Indianapolis delegation met at Mt. Zion and decided to represent at the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. in 1916. From that time until the mid 1960's, Mt. Zion was active in the Union District Association, Indiana General Missionary Baptist State Convention and the NBC, USA, Inc. In 1967, Mt. Zion became affiliated with the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. Through 1967, the church also continued its membership in the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. Mt. Zion became affiliated with the American Baptist Churches of Greater Indianapolis in 1968.
Mt. Zion Baptist Church has a membership roster of some 500 members. It is affiliated with the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Baptist State Convention of Indiana, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. and the American Baptist Churches of Greater Indianapolis.
William F. Sims