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Mars Bluff church celebrates 150 years

December 29, 2018
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Members of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Florence are celebrating 150 years of the church’s existence. Pictured from left are church members (front row) Otis Waiters, Margaret Waiters, Bertha Sellers, Flora James, Geneva Ivory, Annie L. Robinson, (back row) Rev. Dr. Reginald E. Lee, Joan R. Waiters, Richard Waiters, Stephen Sellers, Dianne McCants, Carolyn Ivory and Terry James.

FLORENCE, S.C. – Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in the Mars Bluff community started as an invisible church in the brush arbors right after the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Members of the church are now celebrating 150 years of its existence.

“This church is the anchor for the black community in Mars Bluff,” said the Rev. Dr. Reginald E. Lee, pastor at the church. “For any institution to endure for 150 years takes a lot of ingenuity, imagination and commitment from the people.”

Mabel Dickey, a member of the church, told the Morning News in 2015 that African-Americans in the Mars Bluff area would meet in the brush arbors and make decisions on whatever they needed to do. And as a result of those meetings in the brush arbors, a group decided in 1868, after the Civil War, to build a church.

Mt. Zion United Methodist Church was the first church in Mars Bluff for African-Americans, and during that time, the church was the only place they could meet.

According to Lee, the land along Liberty Chapel Road that Mt. Zion United Methodist Church now sits on was purchased for $35. Coming out of slavery, that price was similar to the value of $35,000 today, Lee said.

“We ask the question: Where did they get the money from,” Lee said. “What kind of sacrifices had to be made individually and collectively for that to happen?”

Mt. Zion United Methodist Church was open to people of any race from its onset, something Lee considers unique for a historically black church to do.

Before the initial church was built in 1968, the members built the Mt. Zion Rosenwald School. The school, which is no longer operating, sits across the street from the current church building. It was the first school for African-American children in the Mars Bluff community. Several of the church’s current members remember attending the Rosenwald School as children. During that time, ministers had dual roles, ministering and teaching, according to the church’s history.

“The Methodist movement has always used the term that Charles Wesley coined, ‘Unite the two so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety,’” Lee said.

While in its 150th year, Lee said he wants to think about the church’s future. Starting this year, the congregation has reached out to Francis Marion University for an opportunity to minister to the students there. Many of the church’s members are graduates of the university.

“We’re the closest church to Francis Marion University, so we see that as our mission field in part,” Lee said.

The church is also looking for opportunities to partner with Wallace Gregg Elementary School and even establish a tutoring ministry.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to reach not only kids in our church, but kids who attend that elementary school, just dealing with reading and arithmetic and homework assistance,” Lee said.

Members of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church celebrated its 150th anniversary Nov. 10-11. But Lee said it is appropriate for the celebration to continue.

“We’re just committed to reaching out to this community; not just the black community of Mars Bluff, but the entire community. Black, white, it doesn’t make a difference, Hispanic,” Lee said. “We want to be a church for the community.”

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