Life for Mt. Zion began in 1865 in the hearts of a group of settlers from various parts of the state.
In 1867, a little wood-framed church was built on Ferrell Street near the King’s Wood Elementary school off Academy Street in Cary, NC. The early members named this modest structure Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church. It became a charter organization of the Cary community.
The Early Years
The church was a community effort, not large in size, but strong in purpose and commitment. In 1918, Reverend Elmo Jones, a man of prayer, was called upon to become the church’s first pastor, serving the community and preaching one Sunday each month.
Reverend Jones and the church members soon saw a need to move the church to a site on Academy Street. Another small wood-framed church, with backless benches, was built facing Academy Street. Reverend Jones led the little church for twelve years, preaching and teaching and encouraging them onward in faith and service. The Academy Street location gained the address 8500 Chapel Hill Road, Cary, NC.
In 1930, Reverend Will Smith became the second pastor. A potbelly stove heated the church, and there were no inside bathrooms. Pastor Smith left the church after a short stay; Reverend William Spencer succeeded him. Reverend Spencer’s tenure was brief, and Reverend Will Smith returned as pastor for a second time at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church. Under the leadership of Reverend Will Smith, the church built a new structure facing Durham Highway. There were only outside bathrooms. Again, the church was wood framed, with a steeple that rang on Sunday mornings for Sunday Church School and church services once a month.
In 1956, Mt. Zion installed Reverend Isaac Lee as the fifth pastor. During his tenure, the church constructed a concrete block building with inside bathrooms attached to the outside. Members installed an oil furnace, new pulpit furniture, and pews. Reverend Isaac Lee served as pastor for many years until illness forced him to resign.
In 1969, Reverend Eugene Mason became the sixth elected pastor. Under his leadership, Mt. Zion chartered a Cub Scout Troop. The church planned for a new annex, installed cathedral lights, and purchased a new piano. Mrs. Viola Barnett organized the Young Adult Gospel Choir. Reverend Mason remained pastor until his sudden death on June 5, 1979.
Pastor J. Allen Lewis
In October of 1979, Pastor J. Allen Lewis became Mt. Zion’s seventh pastor. He came to Mt. Zion with a young family: wife, Phyllis, and sons, Linwood, Timothy, and Demetris; and his cherished nephew, Jessie. He had an exuberant passion for God’s word. Pastor Lewis instituted unity and family devotion with love for your fellow man, dedication, and commitment to God and religion worldwide. Pastor Lewis started his ministry at Mt. Zion with a drawing force for young people and the old to return to God and the church with faith and hope.
With this growth came several renovations. These included cushioned pews with hymn book racks and new hymnals. Existing windows replaced with stained glass. Central air conditioning installed with gas heat. The church introduced the first telephone associated with the church and constructed an altar. It rolled out new carpeting and purchased the church’s first organ and P. A. system. Also, they built a new entrance to the sanctuary.
Due to rapid growth in 1982, the church erected a new Annex. It housed Sunday School classrooms, three bathrooms, a multi-purpose room, a secretary’s office, a pastor’s study, a full kitchen, and a fellowship hall. The first dinner was served in the new annex on September 11, 1983, during the annual homecoming service. Since that time, the church’s sanctuary has received a complete renovation with a new church organ and sound equipment. Mt. Zion also installed a steeple and baptismal pool.
During Pastor Lewis’ tenure, the membership grew to more than 350 members. Other ministers became members and served on the Ministerial Board until they moved or answered the call to serve as pastors at other churches.
In August of 1983, Mt. Zion organized a Male Chorus, Junior Choir, Everready Choir, and Mass Choir. The choirs and the church body traveled extensively with Pastor Lewis on speaking engagements, participated in local television specials, a prison ministry, and many other community-related activities.
In 1985, Mt. Zion purchased the old James Barnett property on Chapel Hill Road on the church’s southwest side. The church sanctuary annex extends from Academy Street West along Chapel Hill Road. The church represented a strong community influence with much love and understanding for its fellowmen.
In the late 80’s God led Pastor Lewis to restructure Mt. Zion. For years, the church belonged to one of the largest African-American Baptist denominations. This association influenced pastor assignments, church organization, and theological practices. Pastor Lewis had a desire to lead Mt. Zion to a biblically-based structure. He removed the trustee board that ran the church and replaced it with elders who would oversee the church, including the pastor. Also, Pastor Lewis introduced female ministers into the pulpit but didn’t support women becoming elders or pastors; a move reflective of biblical teaching about the church structure. These organizational changes signified the break from the Baptist denomination. Still, Mt. Zion didn’t officially become non-denominational until years later.
In 1990, Mt. Zion launched a child and senior daycare facility. Within this period, the missions ministry served assisted living facilities within the surrounding area.
In 1998, God gave Pastor Lewis the vision that it was time to build and prepare God’s people for another level. With that vision, Pastor Lewis led Mt. Zion to purchase 24 acres of land in Cary. God was preparing us for the beginning of a new era.
After a prolonged illness, the Lord called Pastor Lewis home on October 18, 2001. Like the good shepherd he was, he had not left his flock unprotected and had been grooming one who would follow and take up the banner for years prior. That one was Willie Harris Jr.
Pastor Willie Harris, Jr.
Before Pastor Lewis became sick, he informed the church that there would be no need for a pastoral search committee upon his passing. There wouldn’t be a pastor assignment from an outside organization since the church left the Baptist denomination. Pastor Lewis informed the church that its next pastor would be Elder Willie Harris. Pastor Lewis would frequently call upon Elder Harris to preach on short notice during his illness, and Elder Harris was always prepared. After the passing of Pastor Lewis, Elder Harris accepted God’s call to feed His sheep. On April 6, 2002, Mt. Zion installed Elder Harris installed as its eighth pastor.
Pastor Harris’ primary spiritual gifts include teaching, wisdom, knowledge, and shepherding. His passion is to transform the lives of people by helping them to discover their God-given purpose. The vision that God has given Pastor Harris for Mt. Zion is to be worshiping church that spreads the gospel and serves the community.
Under Pastor Harris’ leadership, the church made steady progress in moving forward Pastor Lewis’s vision. By 2006, the elders actively planned and drew up plans with the Bobbitt architectural firm to begin construction! God was bringing the little white church into a new era.
Mt. Zion held a special Homecoming celebration on October 1, 2006, with the focus theme being “It’s Time to Build the Lord’s House.” Phase 1 of the sacrificial giving campaign had ended, and the elders introduced Phase II. The next sacrificial giving campaign ran from November 2006 to November 2007.
Mt. Zion held a street dedication & groundbreaking ceremony on February 10, 2007. In 2007, construction on phase 1, the new building, serving as both sanctuary and fellowship hall, was completed. Mt. Zion’s last service at 8500 Chapel Hill Road, Cary, NC, was held on Sunday, September 30, 2007.
On Saturday, October 6, 2007, Mt. Zion excitedly held an open house at the new facility located on 316 Allen Lewis Drive – Cary, NC. Oh, the joy as the church made their way to that first Sunday morning service on October 7, 2007!
For the first time, Mt. Zion closed its doors for Sunday worship services in 2009. Church members rolled up their sleeves as they put their faith into action. It went out to several locations within the community as it participated in the Convoy of Hope.
In 2010 Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church changed its name and denomination to reflect the work initiated by Pastor Lewis. The new name became Mt. Zion Church, and it officially became a non-denominational church. However, it stuck to its Baptist theology, and what was preached or taught at the church did not change. Within the same year, the church began broadcasting its services online. Additional projects included adopting West Cary Middle School, located across the street from the church. They partnered with another local church, sponsored Ugandan orphans, and participated in the Aids Caregiver Assembly project. They also helped earthquake victims in Haiti.
The following year, 2011, Mt. Zion joined other local churches to travel to Guayaquil, Ecuador. Pastor Harris and several other members partnered in the work of sharing the gospel overseas. The church would participate in this week-long activity for five straight years. The church would also expand to mission trips to Haiti.
Since it was a momentous occasion, Mt. Zion held a year-long celebration for its 150th church anniversary in 2015. Mt. Zion also celebrated Pastor Harris’ 13th anniversary serving as pastor. Events included an old-time revival and a play based on the church’s history, Upon This Rock. Members also celebrated with a church gala and submitting their personal stories for future generations. Because of its significance, local politicians and media also acknowledged the anniversary. Finally, Mt. Zion buried a time-capsule outside of the church office with a marker, so that future generations would see what life was like in 2015.
On March 22, 2020, Mt. Zion live-streamed its first Sunday worship service from Pastor Harris’s home via BoxCast. The coronavirus COVID-19 interrupted all activity around the world. State laws prohibited large gatherings, and the church entered into a new era of worship. The church had already been streaming its services via the church website and Facebook. Mt. Zion branched out to YouTube, Periscope, and WebEx during the lockdowns. By the summer, a limited staff returned to the church sanctuary to stream worship services. During the fall, the church held small outdoor worship services from the front of Mt. Zion until it got cold.
To celebrate the 155th church anniversary, members recorded videos to commemorate the event. Even though members were no longer gathering in person, the creativity from the church thrived.
God's Purpose and Vision for Mt. Zion
God has purposed Mt. Zion to be a church that freely worships, glorifies, praises, and honors God. It is a serving church that comforts the congregation and community. Mt. Zion is a growing church that, with intention and purpose, promotes discipleship. And the church reaches out to spread the message of the gospel – both in word and indeed. In short, God’s vision for Mt. Zion is to worship Christ by spreading the gospel and serving the community.
In keeping with this vision, the focal themes and some of the activities Mt. Zion participated in throughout the years are as follows:
2006 – “It’s Time to Build the Lord’s House”
2007 – “Going to the Next Level”
2008 – “Making Disciples of All People”
2009 – “Growing to Spiritual Maturity”
2010 – “Impact the World”
2011 – “Radical”
2012 – “Missional: Sent by God on the Mission of God”
2013 – “Multiply: Making Disciples Who Make Disciples”
2014 – “The Church on Mission”
2015 – “150 Years: Build Upon the Rock”
2016 – “Abide in Christ and Bear Much Fruit”
2017 – “Make Disciples: Helping Others Follow Jesus”
2018 – “Maturing in Christ: Growing & Producing Spiritually”
2019 – “Suffering Well Through Faith in Christ”
2020 – “Being a House of Prayer”
2021 – “Run with Endurance”
God truly blessed Mt. Zion during 155 years and more of existence!
Mt. Zion continues to be a Bible-based church committed to teaching, training, making disciples, and showing the love of Christ to all people. To be a church that reaches out and seeks to spread the gospel both in word and deed.