History of First Mount Zion Baptist Church
What is now the First Mount Zion Baptist Church began in 1867, two years after the end of slavery. A group of devoted Christians came together with a shared vision of establishing a place of worship and community for their fellow believers. These pioneers of faith faced numerous challenges during a time of great social and political upheaval in the United States. Yet, their determination and faith in God propelled them forward to establish what was called the Mount Zion Baptist Church.
While the nation was still grappling with the aftermath of the Civil War and the issues of racial inequality, the church struggled through many trials and injustices and faced constant challenges. As you can imagine, money was scarce, and a church location and minister were desperately needed. Initially, the church members met in their homes while involved in the time-consuming process of land acquisition. After much inquiry, a site located in the Rock Hill Magisterial District of Stafford County, Virginia was chosen and a log cabin is thought to be the first Mount Zion Baptist Church edifice. (A photograph of the original structure is not available.) Soon after, the Northern Virginia Baptist Association appointed Reverend Jacob Byrd of Rock Hill District, of Stafford, VA, as the first pastor of the church. The members used the barter system to support him and subsequent ministers.
While Sunday School was ongoing, there was a need to add Bible Study to the ministry. However, retaining teachers remained a problem. Since the entire church membership depended on farming for their livelihood, business meetings and most religious services were held at night.
Adding yet another challenge, in 1873, an intense dispute among the members began to consume the young church. With on-going arguments between church factions growing more aggressive, the church building was mysteriously destroyed by fire. As a result, the membership split because they were unable to reconcile and agree on the location in Stafford County in which to rebuild. Under court arbitration, the congregation was divided into two churches. The newly formed church was renamed, the First Mount Zion Baptist Church to distinguish it from its sister congregation which retained the rights to the original name, Mount Zion Baptist Church. The Reverend Jacob Byrd remained as Pastor of First Mount Zion with a membership of thirty parishioners.
After the fire and congregational split, the membership faced a tumultuous period. They struggled to exist holding services under a brush arbor or in homes until another building could be constructed. A brush arbor, typical of churches attended by slaves, was a crude shelter with a roof made of tree branches supported by wooden posts. It included benches and a place for the preacher to stand. On August 14, 1873, Mr. Enoch Grayson and his wife deeded an acre of land,
a framed building was constructed, and First Mount Zion was reconstituted. Then on June 27, 1925, in exchange for $10.00 and other valuable considerations, Mr. and Mrs. George Washington deeded a parcel of land to trustees Thomas E. Williams, George E. Williams, Hugh F. Jennings and D. O. Butler to be used solely as a cemetery.
Prior to the 1940s, church services were held once a month. Six additional pastors served First Mount Zion until 1942: Reverends Horace Crutcher, Richard Jackson, Charles Gibson, Henry J. Vines, William Henry Miller, and William A. Gibson.
In 1944, it became necessary for the United States Government to acquire land for our national defense. The church building and grounds were on a portion of the 50,000 acres being acquired for what is now a part of the Marine Corps Base Quantico. Court documents state that the land being purchased (through eminent domain) from First Mount Zion had not been used for religious purposes since October 2, 1942. On October 16, 1944, trustees Lewis Lemuel Butler, Samuel Douglas Grayson, Henry Logan Early, and Hugh Franklin Jennings of First Mount Zion entered into an agreement to convey or transfer First Mount Zion Baptist Church property (3/4 acre) to the Department of Defense for the agreed amount of $2,025.00, signed by the Judge of the Circuit Court of Stafford County, Virginia. Once again, the First Mount Zion congregation was without a church building or a place to worship.
Although the church had split many years earlier, old wounds had healed, and many First Mount Zion members joined the “sister church,” Mount Zion Baptist Church, as watch care members. Mount Zion was located at the time in Joplin, Virginia, —now located in Triangle, Virginia.
In 1947, under the leadership of Deacon Lewis Butler and other deacons and members of the church, First Mount Zion was re-established. Reverend Oscar Jackson accepted the call to pastor First Mount Zion Baptist Church. It was under his untiring leadership and building ability that the church began construction in 1947 of “the little white church by the side of the road”, located on Route 234 in Dumfries, VA. During the two-year building period, the Star of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Triangle graciously opened its doors for FMZ members to hold their religious services there.
Two years later, the construction had progressed enough for members to dedicate the edifice and began to worship in their new church. Reverend Jackson served well and faithfully until God called him from labor to his reward on August 23, 1956.
On October 5, 1957, Reverend James T. Wynne was elected as pastor; he resigned in May 1961.
In April 1962, Reverend Augustus T. Gaskins accepted the call to pastor First Mount Zion. Many who worshipped at the church during his tenure accepted Jesus Christ because of the services rendered by Reverend Gaskins and his wife, Mrs. Evelyn Gaskins. Church membership increased.
Since Prince William County was primarily agricultural in nature, farming was the order of the day. However, with the construction of Interstate 95 and a great influx of homebuilders, Prince William County quickly grew from a farm community to a bedroom community, and a suburb of the Washington, DC area. The changing community generated an increase in the number of worshippers and Sunday School classes became so large that classes were held in the kitchen, church office, and any other corners of space that were available.
After much prayer and study, a building program was launched in 1978 with many major fund-raising projects. The building program came to fruition on August 2, 1980, with the groundbreaking service. A construction loan was approved in October 1980, and in November 1980, the Genesis Construction Company of Baltimore, Maryland was contracted to build the new sanctuary. The cornerstone ceremony was held on July 18th, 1981, with the Rio Hondo Preparatory School of Arcadia, California as our special guests.
First Mount Zion was extremely active during Rev. Gaskins pastoral tenure. There were numerous activities including, Christmas and Easter plays, Wednesday night Bible Study, weekly church services, to name a few. Mrs. Gaskins organized the first Vacation Bible School and served as Minister of Music. Church membership now exceeded 600 members.
Reverend Gaskins retired as Pastor Emeritus in May 1995, having served the First Mount Zion congregation for 33 years. This was preceded by the death of his wife. The congregation will always be grateful to them for the important roles they played in the history of First Mount Zion Baptist Church.
A search committee was established to recruit a full-time pastor. Reverend Dr. Luke E. Torian was considered, offered the position, answered the call, and installed as pastor of First Mount Zion in June 1995.
Pastor Torian’s leadership and involved style of ministry have been instrumental in First Mount Zion’s growth from approximately 650 members to a congregation of well over 4,300 members. This growth led to the development of more than 70 ministries that operate in a multi-million-dollar, 108,000 square foot sanctuary and multi-purpose facility that are available for service to the congregation. Pastor Torian’s dedication to ministry extends beyond the walls of First Mount Zion. Through his leadership, the church’s community involvement has included:
- Coordinating and participating in youth mission trips to Nassau, Bahamas; Montego Bay, Jamaica; and Tucson, Arizona;
- Sponsoring the Mary Elizabeth Ministry, mentoring local community teen mothers and fathers;
- Providing ministry and outreach to youth incarcerated in Juvenile Detention facilities in Prince William County;
- Serving as the host site and distribution center for SHARE, providing quality groceries for substantially reduced savings to participants;
- Providing food and shelter for Prince William County victims devastated by the 2012 Tropical Storm Lee;
- Providing on-the-ground relief in support of the 2010 Haitian earthquake;
- Sponsoring the Feed My Starving Children program for three consecutive years resulting in the preparation of over 200,000 special meals each year for children living in Haiti;
- Implementation of an intramural basketball league for high school boys;
- Continuing a faith-based, long-term relationship with the Rio Hondo Preparatory School of Arcadia, CA—a relationship that has extended over 45
In early 2020 the world was threatened by a devastating global pandemic called Covid-19. With no vaccine or cure, the United States, along with most of the world countries, was affected by the spread of the deadly virus. On March 15, 2020, either under official mandatory sanctions or voluntarily, businesses, schools, and all non-essential facilities around the world shut down. With only face masks as protection, millions of people isolated themselves in their homes. Along with other churches, First Mount Zion was forced to close its doors. Yet undaunted, church services began being held via on-line platforms such as the church website, Zoom, YouTube, and Facebook. Church deacons distributed communion at the church building and other locations.
By the end of 2020, a vaccine had been developed and widely released. In April 2021, First Mount Zion became a vaccination center for the local community. Slowly, and with an abundance of caution, First Mount Zion opened its doors to limited access. By the beginning of 2022 and throughout the year, restrictions loosened more and more, and First Mount Zion reopened its doors to the congregation.
Also in 2022, First Mount Zion paid its mortgage debt on the 2001 church and burned the mortgage on October 16.
Over the years, First Mount Zion has grown both in size and influence, becoming a cornerstone of the community. The church serves not only as a place of worship but also as a center for social justice and community outreach. Its members are actively involved in advocating for civil rights and addressing the pressing issues of our time. The powerful legacy of First Mount Zion goes on and our ministry will continue to grow for years to come.
Sharing the Light: From the Promise, to Pentecost, to Points Around the World.
To connect people who have a desire to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.