In 1869, only four years after the end of the American Civil War, a war waged in large part because of controversies surrounding the slavery of black people, a little church in Cuero began to organize.

Beginning with 15 founders, Mt. Zion Baptist Church launched July 18, 1869, on Taylor Hill, founded by the historic African-American church’s first pastor, the Rev. Mitchell Harrison Sr.

“God gave him a vision to accomplish what he did, and he stuck to it. He was being obedient to what God was showing him to do,” said Mt. Zion’s pastor, the Rev. George Franklin, 53, noting the founding pastor’s strength and bravery to begin Mt. Zion 150 years ago. “When I first came here 14 years ago, I didn’t think about the history too much, but as the years went on, I realized the value of the history and what Mitchell accomplished. What a blessing it is to pastor one of the oldest churches on this side of heaven.”

Harrison’s vision to deliver the Gospel to fellow black Christians in Cuero in 1869 began under a brush arbor. As the church grew, a log home was built, followed by a plank house, both of which were eventually damaged. But years later, church officials purchased five acres in Edgar Community Cuero, along Old Yoakum Road in 1890, that would become Mt. Zion’s permanent home.

Assisted by three of Harrison’s white friends, known in the church’s historical accounts as the Rev. Holland, the Rev. Covey and Dr. O.D. Coppedge, the church discovered a collaborative operation in its early days, which even allowed the African-American church members to meet in a “white church” on Sunday evenings.

Allen Harvey, 71, who serves as one of Mt. Zion’s deacons, is a fifth-generation descendant of the early founders of the church.

“Growing up, my whole family was raised in the church and all of their descendants,” he said, mentioning he also raised his children up at Mt. Zion. “There was never any pressure to continue going here. I chose this church, and God kept me here for a purpose.”

Harvey said there continues to be a pride that runs deep in his family, knowing his bloodline contributed to a bit of Texas’ church history.

“It’s so special. When you love something, you just love it, and there’s no explanation,” he said. “I love all the people here.”

Mt. Zion celebrated 150 years of continuous worship Sunday, which was standing-room-only as past and present members,and those from area churches filled the sanctuary to praise God for growing and sustaining their church for more than a century.

“It was a hallelujah Sunday, and I’m still praising God,” Franklin said. “It was all about thanking God for bringing this church family from 1869 to 2019, and that’s something to celebrate because nothing lasts that long.”

Sunday’s celebration service included an over-the-top worship service with special guest pastor the Rev. Joe W. Theus, of Canaan Missionary First Baptist of San Antonio; guest soloist Dorothy Cunningham, of Bethlehem Baptist; guest musicians Alonzo Henderson, of Mt. Nebo; and Deacon A.J. Henderson, of Antioch Baptist.

“From beginning to end, every bit of it was my favorite,” Franklin said. “If you would have been here you would have felt the spirit of the Lord.”

As Franklin forecasts the church’s future, knowing he won’t be alive to witness another 150 years of Mt. Zion’s progress, he only hopes he follows the founding pastor’s vision – to spread the Gospel and pass the baton.

“It’s up to the future members to carry forth what we have done. I’ve done my job if I’ve passed the baton, but it’s up to the one who receives it to keep it going,” he said.

Jennifer Preyss-Mathlouthi writes about religion and faith for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at jenniferpreyss.com, or on Twitter @jenniferpreyss.

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Jennifer Preyss-Mathlouthi is an award-winning faith writer and columnist.

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