Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Decatur, GA was established in 1870 under the leadership of the Rev. Granison Daniel. At that time, the church was located on or near Lawrenceville Highway. Its name was Rocky Knoll A.M.E. Church. Due to the population, the membership was large. Rev. Merclain followed Rev. Daniel. During Rev. Merclain’s pastoral years, great camp meetings were held, and church attendance was good. Also under Rev. Merclain’s leadership, the church was moved from its original location to its present site. The first building was an old boxcar. During those times, a conference would loan members to smaller charges in order to build them up. Judson Stokes and his family were members of Decatur A.M.E. Church and were loaned to Mt. Zion to help build it up. The present land site was given by Judson Stokes, Sr. The old boxcar building was improved for several years. It was located in back of the site that the present building is on.
Following Rev. Merclain, Rev. Alexander became the Pastor and served this charge for four years. With the leadership of Rev. Alexander, the original building was erected. The name was changed from Rocky Knoll to Mt. Zion. The population of the community and the membership of the church were large at that time. A large rock, representing a cornerstone, was placed by Carolyn Stokes at one of the front corners of the building. However, no inscription was ever placed on this stone.
Rev. Bellows followed Rev. Alexander as Pastor. Under his leadership, two men from Mt. Zion accepted their call to preach: Rev. Thomas Steele, Sr. and Rev. Burdett. The attendance was large, the spirit was high, and the accomplishments were great. Large camp meetings were held here. The next pastor was the Rev. Gholston, who was here for two years. Under Rev. Gholston’s leadership, the attendance was very good. He is the pastor who gave the bell that was in the belfry tower of the original church. Following Rev. Gholston were Rev. Fleming, Rev. Smith, Rev. T. B. Bell, Rev. Crawford, Rev. Strickland, Rev. Clark, Rev. Wilson, Rev. Atwaters, and Rev. Richardson. The attendance was good under all these pastors’ leadership.
The next pastor was the Rev. J. A. Means. During Rev. Mean’s leadership, the church was sealed on the inside, and the attendance was splendid! Following Rev. Means were Rev. Lawrence, Rev. Henderson, and Rev. J. A. Lynn. Under Rev. Lynn’s leadership, a pulpit was built onto the church and covered. Attendance continued to be good during the leadership of the above pastors.
Following in the march of time, was Rev. Muckles. During his pastoral years, the old wood shingled roof was recovered. The next Pastor was Rev. Shropshire. While he was pastor, great camp meetings were held here, and the attendance continued to be good. Pastors had very hard times trying to get to and from because of poor transportation, and bad roads. So a local preacher was called, ordained, and appointed. The local preacher was the Rev. Dallas Young, the father of the late Ansley Young, Sr. After Rev. Shropshire came Rev. Wilshire, Rev. Jackson, Rev. Wadley, Rev. Lewis, Rev. Ranger, Rev. Hill, Rev. Gaither, Rev. Jacob, Rev. Grant, and Rev. Lowe. During the leadership of these pastors, attendance continued to be good, and some of them continued to conduct the camp meetings.
The next Pastor was Rev. E. G. Clement. With his leadership, new seals were installed under the church, new windows installed, and the building was painted. He placed a timely and thought-provoking sign over the pulpit where all could see it: “IF EVERY MEMBER WERE A MEMBER LIKE ME, WHAT WOULD MY CHURCH BE?”
Next were the Rev. Jones, Rev. Lawrence Williams, Rev. W. A. Williams, and Rev. W. L. Few. With the leadership of Rev. Few, the grading for the first unit was done, the building was enlarged, the floor was repaired, and the asbestos siding was installed. The inside was also painted, and oil furnaces were installed. After Rev. Few was Rev. J. W. Sanford. With Rev. Sanford, improvements continued to be made. Bathrooms were installed; a new heating system was installed; and the inside of the building was remodeled with paneling, wallboards, and a new ceiling. A new altar was built; the floor was refinished; new carpeting was installed; new windows were installed; the yard was landscaped with walkways; and the present church furniture was installed.
In 1971, the Rev. E. F. Robinson became Pastor. With his leadership, the inside of the church was completely remodeled with new walls, ceiling, and lighting. The pastor’s study, vestibule, and choir rooms were also remodeled. A new water cooler was installed; the paving was completed; and an improvement program was begun that is still underway. An addition to the first unit and the educational wing was completed. Also, under Rev. Robinson’s leadership, a deed to the property was secured after being lost for many years. More than fifty members joined the church under Rev. Robinson’s leadership and a number of preachers served or were called to preach under him:
In March 1977, the Rev. D. L. Wells and his wife, May, joined Mt. Zion. Rev. Wells and his wife were dedicated church and community workers. He organized and conducted a Bible class that met once a week and also worked with the Sunday School and the Youth Departments. He and his family later moved to Houston, Texas. Rev. Wells has since gone from labor to reward. In December of 1979, James E. Jackson, who was a student at Candler School of Theology at Emory University, joined Mt. Zion. He was later ordained and licensed to preach. Rev. Jackson began conducting Bible Class, and became active with the Sunday School and Youth Departments.
In August of 1980, Rev. George LaSure, his wife, Minnie, and their three children, joined Mt. Zion. In 1981, he was called to preach and was later ordained in 1985. He and his family worked with the choirs, Sunday School, and Youth Department.
In 1985, Adrienne “Polly” Nelms, (later Hickman) was called into the ministry. Polly grew up in Mt. Zion and served as Musical Director of the Senior Choir for many years after returning from college. She was married to Jeffrey H. Hickman, and they have two sons, Sean and Evan. Polly is our Minister of Music.
Also, in 1985, Edward Coley was called into the ministry. Earlier, he had joined Mt. Zion bringing with him his wife, Sophia, and daughter, Arissa. He worked with the choirs, and actively supported the weekly Bible Study.
In 1986, Acey Rowe Jr., another of Mt. Zion’s own, received and heeded the call to the ministry. For many years, Rev. Rowe played the organ at Mt. Zion and served on most Boards and Auxiliaries. Presently, he is an Retired Itinerant Elder. He is married to Grace Rowe, and they have three children, Ricky, Sonya and Aundrey.
In 1987, Ernest Davis was called into the ministry. He had been active at Mt. Zion in both choir and the weekly Bible Study. Rev. Davis was ordained in 1991. He later returned to his home church in Americus, Georgia.
In 1979, Rev. Robinson organized a Century Club to raise funds for a new church building. In order to help the Building Fund Program, Rev. Robinson instituted the 8:00 a.m. Services on the 2nd and 4th Sundays even though he had two churches on one charge. All the proceeds went to the Building Fund Program under which approximately $100,000 were raised. Plans and Sight Development were started for a new edifice.
In June 1993, Mt Zion became a Station Church and the Reverend Dr. McClellon D. Cox was assigned to serve Mt. Zion. He brought with him his family, which includes his lovely wife Beverly, his sons, Mario and McClellon Don, Jr. Under Dr. Cox’s leadership, the old church structure was demolished in 2000 and a new structure was erected. In July 2001, Reverend Dr. McClellon D. Cox, the 38th Pastor of Mt. Zion, and the congregation marched into the current church sanctuary. Rev. Cox was a dynamic spirit-filled leader, concerned not only with the physical growth of Mt. Zion, but with the spiritual growth of the congregation as well. He organized the New Members Orientation Class and introduced a class which teaches people how to pray. He also reorganized all Boards and Auxiliaries and brought about new and different procedures in areas of Church Business and Worship. After twenty years of love, faith and service Rev. Dr. Cox resigned as pastor of Mt. Zion in 2013 to pursue God’s leading to get licensed as a professional counselor. The Mt. Zion family will always be extremely grateful for his service, it was an amazing journey, indeed! “Service about self, to God be the glory!”
Under Rev. Dr. Cox’s leadership, Rev. Rosemary Anderson, joined Mt. Zion under watch care, and served faithfully as Elder of the church until her death in January, 2003.
In 1997, Bro. Ferrun Johnson was called into the ministry and is presently the pastor of St. Paul A.M.E. Church in Canton, GA. Rev. Johnson is married to Lorilei Nelms Johnson and they have three beautiful daughters, Loren, Jasmine and Joyce.
In 2001, Sis. Comfort E. Ellis accepted her call into the ministry and is an itinerant elder in the A.M.E. Church. Rev. Ellis served on the Steward Board, the Intercessory Prayer Team, Church School, Finance Committee and Ministerial Staff as well as taught Bible Study and New Members’ classes, and was Mt. Zion’s Church Business and Finance Administrator. She is a graduate of Candler School of Theology at Emory University.
In 2003, Rev. Dr. Anderson V. Sanders became an adjunct minister at Mt. Zion. He is married to Billie Sanders. They have five children, Jackie, LaNita, Michael, Kim, and Daisy.
In 2005, Sis. Dawn Price and Sis. Carmen Avery became licentiates at Mt. Zion and served on the ministerial staff; taught Church School and Bible Study. Carmen, who is now Rev. Carmen Avery Walker, is a graduate of Candler School of Theology at Emory University, and presently serves as Pastor of Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church in Opelika, Alabama.
In 2006, Rev. Tricia McClendon joined the ministerial staff of Mt. Zion, and served as a Bible Study teacher. Rev. McClendon, an elder in the A.M.E. Church, has served as a Pastor for several years in the 5th Episcopal District in Portland, Oregon has returned to Portland.
In 2007, Sister Cheryl P. Wilcox joined the ministerial staff of Mt. Zion. A licentiate from the South Florida Conference, Sister Wilcox matriculated at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. After she received her Master of Divinity degree, she returned to work at her home church, Mt. Hermon in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Since 2007, Mt. Zion has been blessed to have many talented ministry students, who, while in seminary have done contextual education here. Sister Michelle Ledder, a student at Candler, came from the Church of the Nazarene, and chose to worship and make the experience of Mt. Zion part of her spiritual formation. Rev. Ledder has now graduated from Candler, is an itinerant elder in the A.M.E. Church with a Ph.D. in Homiletics from Emory University. While at Zion, she taught Church School and served on the ministerial staff. Sister Norma Tyson, a student from Columbia Seminary and Big Bethel A.M.E. Church did her contextual education here and shared her gifts and graces with us as did Sister Karla Vogel from Candler and New Bethel A.M.E. Church. Brother Aaron M. Treadwell, a student at Candler, also served at Mt. Zion while he was a student at Candler. He came to us from Bethel A.M.E. Church in Tallahassee, Florida. Sister MarQuia Ray, came to serve from New Life A.M.E. Church, an initiative begun by her father, the Reverend Robert Ray. Sister Keri Crump, a ministry student from Candler School of Theology did her contextual education at Mt. Zion and served on the ministerial staff as a part of KHOP and Church School.
In 2008, the Reverend Robyn Green joined the ministerial staff. She came to Mt. Zion to serve while a student working on her Doctor of Ministry. Rev. Green, now Rev. O’Neal taught Bible Study and coordinated the Good Friday’s Women’s View of Christ and the Cross. She has returned home to St. Louis. Rev. Amina Thomas joined the work of ministry at Mt. Zion. Rev. Amina teaches Church School and is the coordinator of the Women’s Chat and Chew fellowship.
July 12, 2013, Reverend David F. Richards, III was appointed to Mt. Zion as the 39th Pastor with his lovely wife, Linda and four talented sons, David, IV, Micah, Aaron and Joshua. They came with a spirit of love, uplift, influence and the willingness to serve. Pastor Richards’ compassion to teach the gospel is delivered in his spirit filled sermons and Bible Study teachings. Under his leadership, he has worked to ensure repairs to the church, developed and implemented a strategic plan focused on church growth, spiritual growth, evangelism, youth and economic development. He implemented a prayer forgiveness service and distributed 16,000 tons of food and beverage to assist 22 non-profit agencies in reaching 5,000 plus persons in need of food.
In 2014, Elder Jessica James Alston, a Candler Seminary Graduate, was appointed by Pastor David F. Richards, III as Youth Associate Minister over YPD to assist the YPD Director, Bro. Jamey Culbreath. The youth have undertaken an array of educational and spiritual activities. The events have included: spiritual lock in family/game nights, ice skating, educational trips to the Atlanta Civil Rights Museum, Martin L. King Jr. Center. Additionally, Austin McKinney and Phil Lindsey represented Mt. Zion at The Atlanta North District Youth Gospel Explosion.
In 2015, Pastor Richards was appointed to the Atlanta North Georgia Conference Board of Examiners, Board of Trustees and as Co-Commissioner of the Christian Debutante Master Commission along with First Lady Linda.
Under Pastor Richards’ leadership, Mt. Zion continued to expand its ministries by providing meals to seniors with the Senior Meals Ministry led by Bro. Robert and Sis. Alice Brown and Sis. Mamie Lockette along with a team of volunteers. Become a Witness to Fitness, was initiated to provide weekly aerobic classes for Mt. Zion members and the community by Certified Aerobics Fitness Instructor and Mt. Zion member, Sis. Lonetta Johnson.
In 2016, Mt. Zion received a Resolution from the House of Representatives of the State of Georgia, recognizing the rich history and contribution to the community. Mt. Zion open its doors to share a walking museum of 146 years of service as the oldest A.M.E. Church in Decatur, Georgia. DeKalb County Commissioner, Jeff Radar, also presented a resolution to Mt. Zion for community involvement and support of civic improvements.
February 2017, DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond and Commissioner Jeff Radar recognized the Mt. Zion family members, Stokes, Nelms and Rowe for their continued contributions and support of civic, social and political advocates since the 1800’s in DeKalb County. Through Pastor Richards’ vision and the Steward and Trustee Board’s teamwork, Mt. Zion secured grant funds from Jack Radar Vanguard Charitable Funds to support the Senior Meals Ministry. Mt. Zion partnered with Mother’s Voices Inc. to provide financial management workshop focused on youth, young adults and seniors. Pastor Richards’ spiritual insight continued to lead Mt. Zion on “R.O.U.T.E. 66”; following God’s Righteousness, being Obedient, which Undergirds the Truth that leads to Eternity until he reassigned to another different church in June 2017.
Rev. Lemora B. Dobbs, the 40th Pastor of Mt. Zion and the first female Pastor in the church’s history, was appointed in June 2017. Prior to coming to Mt. Zion, Rev. Dobbs served as Pastor of St. Paul AME Church in Canton, GA for 11 years. A graduate of Candler School of Theology, Rev. Dobbs is a visionary leader, an engaging preacher, a gifted teacher, an astute business woman, a prayer warrior, and a Holy Spirit filled believer with a heart of compassion that reaches beyond the confines of church structures to meet the felt needs of persons in both the church and the community. Pastor Dobbs hit the ground running when she arrived at Mt. Zion. Within the first few months, she engaged parishioners in vision casting, began fostering relationships with people in the community, developed new vision and mission statements for the church, balanced the proposed fiscal budget, and planned a strategy by which to grow Mt. Zion into the church God has ordained for it to be. Pastor Dobbs is a humble servant of God who never meets a stranger and who does not take credit for all of her accomplishments and accolades. Instead, she says, “To God be the Glory!”
Throughout the exhaustive history of Mt. Zion, there have been many officers, former pastors, and ministerial staff not been mentioned here as well as many members and friends who have played important roles in the church and have contributed with their time, talents, and gifts. To all who are still with us and to those who have passed from labor to reward, we say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you” for all you have done.
** This church history was originally compiled by: Sis. Myrtis Rowe and updated by Sis. Willie Maude Nelms, Sis. Frenchy Hodges, Sis. Sybil Nelms and a host of others.