"Mount Zion Methodist Church and Her People"
The Written History Volumes
Merdyth McCullers Lane, the author of both volumes of Mount Zion History, was a descendant of James Thomas Leach, one of Mount Zion's charter members. She was a retired public school teacher and in the late 1950's became aglow with the idea of preparing a Mount Zion History Book. Her enthusiasm generated interest from others who helped as she gathered the necessary information. Among her sources were Mount Zion Church records, books, magazines, journals, conference records, court records, newspaper articles, library records, archive records, and family records. Barbara Taylor Ennis, the typist for the first volume of history, also has ancestry ties back to Mount Zion's very first pre-Civil War members as handed down from generation to generation. John Thomas Leach and wife, Susan Parham Leach were her great, great, great grandparents. She typed, edited, proofed, and retyped as the wording passed back and forth between her and Mrs. Lane until the finished product was published in the late l960's.
In volume I Mrs. Lane writes, "I am confident that I will be able to do this [work] for God, who has given me the urge, will also give me the mind and recollection, and likewise will help others to recall incidents that should be recorded and to pass them on to me. He will also guide my pen and give me the strength; and to Him be all the praise and the glory'"
In the mid 1970's, Mrs. Lane launched yet another writing venture of Mount Zion's History. She radiated with such enthusiasm and drive that again others cooperated to help in this effort. The second volume addressed some open areas in the first volume and chronicled years 1967 - 1978. She gathered and wrote and Clara Powell Raynor typed, edited, passing the wording to and from Mrs. Lane until Volume II was published in the late 1970's.
Both volumes are preserved here electronically and can be accessed by clicking on the links. Images of the hardcover bindings are included below.
Mount Zion is the oldest Methodist Church in Johnston County, North Carolina. It was founded in 1809. The following information was written in the 1977 Smithfield Bicentennial Record on the Johnston County churches, and was reported in the "Smithfield Herald" by Editor Tom J. Lassiter on April 26, 1977.
John and Susan Leach gave the land and built Mount Zion. Susan was from Virginia and was a member of the Methodist Society there. She was unhappy here where there were no Methodist churches; so her husband set aside a two-acre plot of his plantation known as Leachburg, built the church, and dedicated it to her comfort and to the glory of God.
The first meeting house was small and made of logs. After a few years, as the congregation increased in number, a more elaborate building was built. This was a frame building constructed of hand-hewn planks. Before 1840, this church burned and was replaced by a larger building. This new church was 50x30 feet, the walls were plastered, and the windows were treated with some substance that resembled stained glass. For more than a hundred years this house of the Lord was in His continuous service, and it was the old Mount Zion Church which was attended and loved by the people until 1948.
The earliest roll of church membership found up to this time is dated in the late 1830s. The first name listed is Elizabeth Sanders Leach, wife of Dr. James Leach. She and Dr. Leach were married in 1833, and it is assumed she moved her membership from Elizabeth Church.
During the reconstruction years after the Civil War and in the early 1900s, the church became very dilapidated. In 1914, the members pooled their resources, and with the leadership of Neil B. Johnson, who later became a Methodist minister, made the necessary renovations.
In 1939, William Edward McCullers, who was the great-grandson of John Leach, started a drive to raise money to remodel or rebuild the old church. The first money was raised by the sale of the old Johnston Academy building, established on the church grounds in the late 1800s. Several hundred dollars was raised, but World War II was declared and the building plans had to be postponed.
In 1948, under the pastorate of Rev. N.P. Edens, the building plans were again taken up. The plans were drawn up and approved by the Duke Foundation, and Herbert Wrenn was hired as contractor.
The second sanctuary was fashioned along the Ancient Gothic Cathedrals, which were in the form of a cross. The old part of the church was brick veneered leaving the original structure intact. The new part was built of cement blocks and brick veneer. The stained glass windows are of gothic style and depict the symbols of the Methodist church. The new church was dedicated to the glory of God on June 24, 1951. Many friends and former members attended this dedication, and following the service a fellowship dinner was served on the grounds under the big oak trees.
Information taken from "Mount Zion Methodist Church and Her People 1809-1966," Vol. 1, Merdyth McCullers Lane.
Since the article above was published in 1977, Mount Zion parishioners have continued to do God's work by expanding our missions and facilities.
The members soon realized that the enlarged Sanctuary and the use of the east side of the old church for classrooms was not adequate for the growing membership. Some means of expansion needed to be made. In order to make room for this expansion of the Church plant, more land was needed. The Rev. J.D. Autry and wife Clara offered two acres adjoining the church property. Instead of selling the land, they deeded it to the Trustees of Mount Zion Church (2.4 acres) "for and in consideration of $1.00 and other valuable considerations" as was recorded on February 20, 1956, in the Johnston CountyBook of Deeds. The church men built an annex which was adjoined joined to the Sanctuary by a breezeway containing three Gothic Arches. It was dedicated to Tom L. McCullers in 1960. The Annex was divided into Sunday School classrooms using folding partitions. During fellowship events the partitions were retracted to accommodate larger groups.
Another three decades passed and the growth of the church continued. In the late 1980s a long-range planning committee was charged to assess the current and future facility needs of Mount Zion. The committee's work yielded a multi-phase construction plan with the next phase being the addition of a Sunday School wing. This project consisted of a two-story brick addition on the east side of the existing sanctuary. It included over eleven Sunday School classrooms and staff office space. It was consecrated in 1991. The Annex partitions and a hallway were removed to create what is now known as the Fellowship Hall. The kitchen was also remodeled.
The 1990s brought with it tremendous growth for the Cleveland Community and with this growth Mount Zion's attendance steadily increased. A second Sunday morning worship service was added at 8:30. By the end of the decade, the then current sanctuary's capacity of 117 was often exceeded for both the 8:30 and 11:00 Sunday morning services. In 1998 the Long Range Planning Committee was re-cast.
The committee proposed the construction of a new brick 8,600 square foot, 416 seat sanctuary on the south side of the existing sanctuary. The new building would include new offices for the pastor and church secretary, freeing up space for more classrooms in the Sunday School wing. The church approved the project in February of 2000. Additional land to the south of the property was acquired. A rural churches grant was received from The Duke Endowment, and a major fundraising effort commenced.
Ground was broken on the new sanctuary on September 9, 2001. Two massive oak trees had to be removed to make way for the site. These trees shaded Mount Zion members for decades as they shared in fellowship during homecoming and fellowship picnics. Wood from these trees was used to build the cross that hangs in front of the round stained-glass window above the pulpit in the new sanctuary.
Thanks to God and the generous support of many Mount Zion parishioners and supporters, the new sanctuary was consecrated in front of a full sanctuary of worshipers on August 25, 2002, by the Reverend Rose Conner and District Superintendent Hope Morgan Ward.
Since 2004 the church has expanded in different areas to meet the needs of the growing community. Currently we have five committees, and twenty-six teams that oversee the ministries of Mount Zion. As of 2020 church staff has grown to include a Lead Pastor, Associate Minister, Care and Connections Minister, Next Generation Minister, Director of Music Ministry, E519 Praise Band Leader, Treasurer and a Office Manager.
There are several traditions that have been in place over the years, one of them is the Annual Harvest Sale. Mrs. Lou Johnson shares her memories of this event in a short video below.