History of First Mount Zion Baptist Church
The Beginning. In 1867, two years after the end of the Civil War, First Mount Zion Baptist Church was organized. At that time the church was known as Mount Zion Baptist Church. Two years after the end of slavery, the church was born from a desire to give thanks and gratitude to God who enabled many former slaves to exercise their God-given freedom to worship. The founding members faced many problems. Money was scarce and a church location and minister were needed. The members met in their homes while involved in the time-consuming process of land acquisition followed by construction of a building. After much inquiry, a site located in the Rock Hill Magisterial District of Stafford County, Virginia was chosen. The founding members worshipped in a log cabin which served as the first church edifice.
The Northern Virginia Baptist Association appointed Reverend Jacob Byrd of Rock Hill, of Stafford, VA, as the first pastor of the church. The members used the barter system to support him and subsequent ministers. Rev. Byrd was not ordained, and as a result, early members were baptized by a Reverend Madden.
Early membership included:
Nancy Butler Sally Williams
Ludwell Butler Sandy Gibson
William Wanzer Dan Reid
Ann Johnson Andrew Whitly & Family
O. Hill Marvina Whitly
Aliah Hill B. Ann Lucas
Hawkins Johnson (Mr. & Mrs.) Cynthia Burke
Isiah Johnson James Howard, Sr. (Mr. & Mrs.)
Francis Johnson Betsy Ann Willis
John Johnson Mrs. Martha Powers
Noah Grayson Ollie Williams
Della Grayson Willis Lucas
Emily Wanzer Catherine Howard
The newly established church continued to be faced with many challenges. 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 membership had to depend on farming for their livelihood, all of the business meetings and most religious services were held at night.
The Split in Membership. A storm of disagreement began to form in 1873 among members of the young church and the effects lingered for many years to come. After years of on-going arguments between church factions, the first church building was mysteriously destroyed by fire. The membership split because they could not agree on a location in Stafford County to rebuild. Court arbitration named the new church First Mount Zion Baptist Church. After the split, Reverend Jacob Byrd remained as Pastor of First Mount Zion Baptist Church. Because of the fire, it was necessary to hold 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 posts. It included benches and a place for the preacher to stand. A second frame building was constructed and services were held in it for many years because a few faithful and Christ-centered members continued to worship. On June 27, 1925, George and Annie Washington deeded a $10.00 parcel of land to the trustees (Thomas E. Williams, George E. Williams, Hugh F. Jennings, and D. O. Butler) of First Mount Zion Baptist Church to be used solely as a cemetery
Members standing outside a frame edifice are:
First Row: Samuel Bell, Beulah Grayson, Lewis Butler, Manora Grayson, Luch Grayson, Morgan Washington. Second Row: James Minor, Manora Tuell, Marion Johnson, Margaret Grayson, Nobel Hill. Third Row: Judith Toles, Lizzie Washington, Margaret Butler, Sarah Butler, Louisa Willis. Fourth Row: Anna Washington, George Williams, James Butler,
Oscar Butler, Peter Willis, Frank Grayson.
During the first 75 years, the following ministers served First Mount Zion Baptist Church faithfully:
Reverend Jacob Byrd Reverend Charles Gibson
Reverend Horace Crutcher Reverend Henry Vines
Reverend Richard Jackson Reverend William Henry Miller
Reverend William A. Gibson
Photo of Carver Cemetery on Quantico Marine Base. The red/yellow sign in the photo reads, “No new burials in this cemetery without permit issued by U.S.M.C.” The green sign reads “Carver Cemetery 2730”. Among the 43 persons buried in the cemetery is Reverend Jacob Byrd, d. 1900. No photo available. (Visit Findagrave.com, search Find a cemetery to see the names of other First Mount Zion members).
U.S. Government Acquires First Mount Zion. 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 Baptist Church had not been used for religious purposes since the 2nd day of October, 1942. On October 16, 1944, trustees (Lewis Lemuel Butler, Samuel Douglas Grayson, Henry Logan Early, and Hugh Franklin Jennings) of First Mount Zion Baptist Church 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 Baptist Church 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 Baptist Church members joined the “sister church,” Mount Zion Baptist Church, located at the time in Joplin, Virginia, —now located in Triangle, Virginia.
First Mount Zion (FMZ) Re-Establishment. In 1947, under the leadership of Deacon Lewis Butler and other deacons and members of the church, FMZ was re-established. The Reverend Oscar Jackson accepted the call as Pastor. It was under the untiring leadership and building ability of Pastor Jackson 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.
One of the milestones in Reverend Jackson’s administration was the ordination of Reverend Hobart Williams, who later became the Assistant Pastor of the 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 by more than ¾ vote. A number of current FMZ members worshipped under his leadership. Reverend Wynne (photo below) resigned in May 1961.
In April 1962, Reverend Augustus T. Gaskins accepted the call to pastor the 39 members at First Mount Zion. He was one of twelve children, born on July 26, 1915 in Greenville, VA. Baptized at age 10, Reverend Gaskins attended Little Zion Baptist Church in Greenville. He received the call to ministry in 1938 and was licensed to preach by
the First Baptist Church in Manassas in 1939. He furthered his education in the ministry by attending the Washington Baptist Seminary College, the Storer College of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and received his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1948. Many who worshipped at the church during his tenure accepted Jesus Christ as a result of the services rendered by Reverend Gaskins and his wife, Mrs. Evelyn Gaskins. Church membership increased to 500 members by 1990.
Need for More Space. Traditionally, Prince William County was primarily agricultural in nature. Farmland was the order of the day. However, with the construction of Interstate 95 and a great influx of homebuilders, Prince William County grew from a farm community to a bedroom community, 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 of $300,000 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 18, 1981, with the Rio Hondo Preparatory School of Arcadia, CA as our special guests.
On December 12, 1981, after receiving a temporary occupancy permit from Prince William County, the dedication of the new house of worship took place.
Reverend Matthew J. Pearson, Pastor of Warner Baptist Church, presided in the dedication service. The service consisted of a ribbon cutting ceremony led by the late Deaconess Martha Bell who was the oldest member and Charles L. Perkins, Jr. who was the youngest member present. The keys of the new building were presented by Brother Raymond Ritter of the Genesis Construction Company. They were accepted by Brother Henry Gerald, Trustee Chairman, and Trustee Fred Fortune, Church Representative for Construction.
Because of limited funds, the church steeple, air conditioning, pews, and additional parking spaces were deleted from the original construction contract. As a committed congregation, believing no mountain was too high to climb/no river too wide to cross, another building program began during the 1982-1985 time frame and resulted in the following:
The total construction costs were nearly $400,000.
First Mount Zion Baptist Church was extremely active during the pastoral tenure of Rev. Gaskins. There were numerous fund-raising activities: weight rallies, Rally Day in June, doorknob rally, fish fries, car washes, the Mighty Might Penny Club, the Courtesy Chorus Tea, Christmas and Easter plays, Wednesday night Bible Study, weekly church services, etc. 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. He was preceded in death by his wife, Mrs. Evelyn I. Gaskins. The congregation will always be grateful to them for the important roles they played in the history of First Mount Zion.
A search committee was established to recruit a full-time pastor. Rev. Dr. Luke E. Torian was considered, offered the position, and installed as Pastor of First Mount Zion Baptist Church in June 1995. Dr. Torian came equipped to serve. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Winston-Salem State University; pursued graduate studies at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; earned a Masters of Divinity degree from the School of Theology at Virginia Union University; and in 1987, earned a Doctorate of Ministry Degree from the School of Divinity at Howard University.
With membership growing at the rate of 200 members per year, the need clearly existed for a facility to support the ministries at the time and for planned minis
tries. In a church meeting on June 3, 1995, Pastor Torian was given permission to form a committee to look at the ministry needs of the day and for the future. The committee held focus group meetings with all church auxiliaries and the membership at large to get input on the desires of the membership as to what features/activities they wanted in a new facility. The Committee visited churches from Richmond to Baltimore to gain insight and "Lessons Learned" from the visits on what features/activities were needed in the proposed facility. Pastor Torian designated this effort as "VISION '98". The church embarked on vigorous fundraising and sacrificial giving campaigns to build a larger church facility to accommodate the growing ministry. A groundbreaking service was held on September 7, 1996 for the fifth and current church facility-- Phase I (main sanctuary) completed in 2001 and Phase II (Multipurpose Facility) completed in 2004.
Dr. 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 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. Dr. 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 and Montego Bay, Jamaica;
- 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 a founding member of VOICE- Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement. The goals are advocating for affordable housing, strengthening public education, and combating intolerance and injustices against immigrants;
- 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, Arcadia, CA—a relationship that has extended over 40 years;
- Serving as active participant in Prince William County Ministerial Association participating in ecumenical services and bringing together pastors of all faiths to fellowship, support and pray for each other; and
- Participating in the Taste of Heaven at the Hylton Chapel with an estimated 45 churches and over 5,000 persons in attendance.
In November 2009, Dr. Torian was elected Delegate to the Virginia General Assembly representing the 52nd District—a position that he still holds today. This has enabled the mission and history of the church to become widely known throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The legacy of our church goes on and our vision will continue for years to come.