‘God has blessed us’

Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church celebrates 145 years

The Rev. Keith R. Moore, lead pastor, and his wife, the Rev. Ruth S. Moore, associate pastor and First Lady of the church, discuss the program for the church’s 145th anniversary celebration. Mirror photo by Holly Claycomb

Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church will observe its 145 years of service to God and the Altoona community this weekend.

“God has blessed us tremendously,” said the Rev. Keith R. Moore, lead pastor of the church that was established in 1873. He attributes the longevity of the church to its “faithful people who love the Lord.”

The current membership of about 90 people includes families that span four generations from great-grandchildren to great-grandparents, said the Rev. Ruth S. Moore, associate minister and First Lady of the church.

The Moores have been a part of Mount Zion at 2121 Fifth Ave. for more than four years, ever since Keith Moore answered the call to fill the pulpit there. His wife, Ruth, is also a pastor, having received a ministerial license in 2014 and becoming ordained in 2016.

The celebration began Thursday with the Rev. Dr. Melvin R. Baber of Friendship Baptist Church, York, speaking on the theme: “Working Together for God’s Purpose.”

Revival services will continue at 7 p.m. today with Baber as the guest speaker.

On Sunday, Mayor Matthew Pacifico will give an opening address at the

10:45 a.m. service, and Pastor Keith will deliver the morning message. A luncheon will be served at 2 p.m. in the church hall. The observance will culminate with guest speaker, the Rev. Hernan Burks of Mount Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Mount Union, delivering a message at 4 p.m., and Mount Hope’s choir will sing.

While the anniversary theme is the heart of the church, a different Scripture verse is selected for each anniversary year. Ruth Moore said this year’s verse is 1 Kings 8:61, which says: “And may you be completely faithful to the Lord our God. May you always obey his decrees and commands, just as you are doing today.”

Ruth said she and Keith choose several Scriptures that reflect the congregation’s service to the community and the church. “And our commitment to God,” Keith added.

They pray over those selections and “ask God what one he wants us to go with,” Keith said.

Within the church, the people of Mount Zion offer involvement for all ages, including Sunday school, a youth fellowship and an adult and youth choir.

“The people enjoy hearing the young people sing,” Keith said.

Outside of church-related activities, the people of Mount Zion also have a concern for the youth of the Altoona community.

Last year, the church began offering a program called Taking Control. It is open to youth ages 11 to 18 throughout the Altoona area. They do not have to be affiliated with Mount Zion Church, nor do they have to be of the Christian faith to attend, Ruth said.

Its purpose is to provide strategies to assist the youth in making positive and healthy lifestyle choices. Ruth said some of the topics covered in the course are wellness behavior, communication, bullying and substance abuse. Students who successfully complete the course are eligible for a scholarship to be used toward higher education. Classes were held last year and are expected to start again in January.

In addition to this outreach, Keith said the church hopes to work with other churches who feed the homeless and provide meals on a day of the week when other churches are not serving one.

Church part of Underground Railroad

A booklet is available that contains the history of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, Blair County’s oldest African-American Baptist church in continuous operation. The church is also one of the oldest in Pennsylvania.

Some highlights include:

In 1839, the African-American citizens of Altoona were given a school house as a place of worship, marking the start of the Mount Zion Second Baptist Church.

Unfortunately, there are no records of the progress of the church until 1873, when the Rev. William Codville was pastor of the (white) First Baptist Church. Under his leadership, the Second Baptist Church (Mount Zion) was organized by the African American members who were given letters expressly for the purpose of establishing a church.

The humble beginning of Mount Zion was a store front building located along 17th Street between 10th and 11th avenues. In 1889, property on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 22nd Street was purchased at the cost of $1,200. The property at that time included 2121 Fifth Ave. which contained a home to be used as a parsonage. There was also a double house fronting on 22nd Street which was included in the sale.

The congregation met in one side of the double house while the main church was being built. The first pastor of the church was the Rev. Jacob Roberson.

Mount Zion was one of the stations along the Underground Railroad. The church helped slaves escape to freedom by offering a shelter in the room adjacent to the choir loft. The door was hidden behind a large dresser.

The church was also the location of the initial Head Start of Blair County, which was started by the Rev. Charles Hickerson and his wife, Delores.

Through the years, Mount Zion has been actively participating in the community and today includes a mix of members and visitors from all walks of life.

Mount Zion sponsors a thrift shop, supports Meals on Wheels, Community Action, the Food Bank and the Salvation Army. The church not only helps out financially, but its members volunteer their time to better the community.

In addition, the church is involved with the NAACP and prison and addiction ministries.