HAMMOND — Besides teaching the word of God, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church has a slogan: “We are the friendly place of worship and the place to be.”
“We hold dear to that slogan,” said the Rev. William Collins, pastor of a faith community that is marking its centennial this weekend.
A public dedication ceremony Saturday included the posting of only the 11th Indiana state historical marker in Lake County. The marker celebrates Mt. Zion’s place in the community as both a religious and civic leader and comes as the church celebrates its centennial anniversary.
“The marker shows that we have been involved in community areas down through the years, even to now,” Collins said. “That’s been the focus and vision of the church. It’s not just about educating people religiously, but working hard to enhance our community, politically, socially and economically. That’s been our trademark.”
The state marker includes the following text:
“Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church became a center for religious, political, social, and civil life for Hammond’s African-American community. Established by black members ca. 1919, the small congregation grew under long-serving pastor the Rev. William Davis. After years of fundraising, Mt. Zion dedicated the church here in 1949 and it continues to serve the community. TheRev. Albert R. Burns served from 1945-1998 and worked to challenge racial injustice. Under his leadership, the congregation advocated for civil rights, housing, and job opportunities for Hammond’s black residents. In 1983, the Mt. Zion Housing Authority, a subsidiary of the church, helped open Mt. Zion Pleasant View Plaza to provide affordable senior housing.”
The Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library, oversees the state historical marker program. These historical markers commemorate significant individuals, organizations, places and events in Indiana history.
Mt. Zion’s history dates back to August 1919, when some people, dissatisfied with no black Baptist church in Hammond, pooled their resources and rented a storefront building at 1122 Merrill St. for Mt. Zion’s first home. The church eventually moved to 1040 Conkey St. before members purchased a lot at 940 Kenwood St.
In 1945, Burns, then a young minister, arrived for a tenure that would nearly take the church into the next century. Under his ministry, lots for the new — and current — Mt. Zion were purchased at 1047 Kenwood St.
Among Burns’ dreams was quality housing for the elderly. That dream became reality in 1983 when the first tenants moved into the $7 million, 128-unit Mt. Zion Pleasant View Plaza.
Collins, who followed Burns as Mt. Zion’s pastor, served with his predecessor for one year.
“He was a man of faith,” Collins said. “He really sought to improve housing. He was deeply involved in what he could do to improve community life.”
Burns’ vision, Collins said, was “the church was God’s instrument for improving society.”
That vision continues today, Collins said, through various church ministries. Besides the senior living complex, Mt. Zion is involved in community development. The church sponsors a food pantry. Its outreach ministries have included voter registration.
Mt. Zion’s other ministries include hospice and the School City of Hammond Foundation. The church also promotes equality through its involvement in local interfaith organizations.
Collins marks 21 years at Mt. Zion in 2019. Under his pastorate, the sanctuary received new carpeting, pews were upholstered and a new sound system was installed. The fellowship hall received new tables and chairs.
Church activities have included a Christian education leadership workshop, home study Bible course and summer camp ministry.
Today, Mt. Zion has 250-300 members.
The historical marker is the second coming to Lake County this year. A third marker will be installed in the county this fall to commemorate City Church in Gary.