In 1814, two years before the African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized and established, a company of Negroes met at an old house at North Bend, now known as Christiana, and started a prayer meeting. In the year 1815, they moved out of the house and into a small building at the top of the hill, across from the present day church building. As they struggled for religious freedom, they contacted Bishop Richard Allen and in 1817 Bishop Allen dedicated that building as Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church.
In 1822 they purchased a tract of land in Penningtonville, now known as Atglen. This is the location of the present day church. In that building, plans were made for resisting a band of bounty hunters who were searching for runaway slaves during the Resistance at Christiana in 1851. In an effort to gain entry, those hunters shot through the door of the church building. That door is on display in the lower level of the present day sanctuary.
In 1861, just before the start of the Civil War, construction on the present day church began. Because many of the men went off to war, construction was halted until they returned and completed construction in 1866. Also, in 1866, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellow was organized in this church.
In 1870, land for the “Grove” (grassy area adjacent to the church) and land for the cemetery was purchased.
On March 4, 1934, fire destroyed the church burning it to the ground. It was rebuilt in October of that year and still stands today.
There have been a great many pastors at Mt. Zion. The first pastor came about once every three months for worship service. The church burned on March 4, 1934 and was rebuilt in October of the same year, under the leadership of Rev. H. A. Ivery. There were several ministers after that. In 1942 Rev. E. C. Lindsey was sent to Mt. Zion. He was a faithful leader, serving Mt. Zion for 34 years. Under his leadership, the church was fully remodeled and many groups were organized and are still working faithfully today. Rev. E. C. Lindsey passed away in March, 1976.
Rev. A. J. Hopkins, who was licensed to preach in July 1960, finished out Rev. Lindsey’s term. In May 1976, Rev. R. C. Keesee was sent to pastor Mt. Zion and remained with us for two years. Rev. Willard McLendon followed and pastored for two years. In 1980, Rev. John W. Anderson, Sr. was sent to Mt. Zion. With the departure of Rev. Anderson, Rev. George H. Beachum, IV was assigned to serve as our pastor and he continued to do so until 2002. From 2002 to 2009, Rev. Dr. Melvin D. Wayns, Jr. served as pastor, Since 2009 Mt. Zion has been pastored by Rev. Linwood M. Smith, Jr.
Most of the present day members of Mt. Zion are descendants of the founders. Through prayer, we will continue to keep Mt. Zion alive as we continue to serve our almighty God.
History of Mount Zion African Methodist Church Cemeteries
Going back in time, Mt. Zion AME Church has had a rich history dating back to the Civil War Era. Take for instance the two cemeteries, one which was started in the 1800’s and the current burial grounds at the extreme western portion of the church property. There are numerous members of the “Colored Troops” laid to rest in both cemeteries. In totality, there are at least 96-100 military graves including servicemen from the Civil war, WWI, WW II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
Located in the cemetery to the rear of the church you will find head stones, which were once in an upright position. Recently, work has begun to unearth these stones and bring them to surface level. Herein lays the infamous “Anne Jane Craig,” who has family ties in the Nine Points, PA area.
In the cemetery which is presently being used, are buried several men, who were instrumental in the “Christiana Riot”. They include Peter Woods and Ezekiel Thompson, who was known as the “Indian Negro”. These two men also have descendants who continue to reside in the area, with some family members who currently attend the Mt. Zion AME Church.
Over the years there have been a number of caretakers who diligently “kept the cemeteries going”. There is one who is well known by many near and far–Israel Green. He knew every grave, even those where there was no headstone or marking. Then there was Raymond Stewart and his wife, Lucy who maintained the burial records. More recently Bro. Ellsworth White has taken the helm as Cemetery Superintendent assisted by his wife, Mary. They work as a team and do an amazing job in assigning plots and recordkeeping. Currently, Bro. James Dickinson and his wife Bonnie are assisting Bro. White and his wife.
The road to the cemetery was an original dirt road. In 2007 the road was paved and the gate containing the cemetery policy was donated and installed by Bro. Clarence Nixon during the pastorship of Rev. Dr. Melvin D. Wayns, Jr.
Plans are in the making to conduct extensive research to bring more of our cemeteries’ history to light.