In 1901, a small group of believers in God, Christ Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, met in the home of Jennie Thomas to pray and establish a church. The church was to be located in the community of East St. Louis, Illinois, in a section called “Rush City”. The Rev. Allen Aikens, a young pastor from East Carondelet, Illinois, was asked to help these believers start the church. That church was organized as Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church on April 4. 1901.
After much prayer and work, Mount Zion grew, and a larger facility was needed. Mother Thomas, along with Brother Charlie Green and Sister Belle Aikens, obtained a building for the new burgeoning church at 10th and Cook St. in Rush City. Mount Zion’s first pastor and officers were the Rev. Allen Aikens, pastor; Brothers Woodard, Sandy S. Sherrod and William Easterly, deacons; Brothers W. Jones and Prince, trustees; and W. Belle, secretary.
Following Rev. Aikens’ tenure, Reverends J. Jefferson and Bellamy served as church shepherds. Throughout its early years, each pastor and the members worked untiringly in the vineyard and the Lord rewarded their faith with more members. Consequently, a larger place of worship was necessary. Though members’ resources were limited, the congregation purchased ground for what would become the second home of Mount Zion, at 13th and Tudor; its initial structure, the basement, was where worship was held.
In 1919, the Rev. B. J. Smith was called to pastor and served until 1925. Construction on the upper level sanctuary was completed under his tenure. Also, a Senior Choir and Missionary Society were formed in 1924; and soon to follow were the Junior Choir and Senior Usher Board. During the 1920s, Mount Zion became an active member of New Salem Baptist District association.
From 1925 to 1931, the Reverends Walter Simmons and Lemon M. Johnson served as pastors and great preachers. By 1931, God sent a profound giant, the Rev. J.J. Olive of Cairo, Illinois, to serve as pastor. He urged the congregation to consider Christian Education as a vocation. Rev. Olive would often challenge the youth by asking biblical questions and giving the answers during his message. It was during his pastorage that a baptismal pool was added to the church and the Gospel Chorus was formed. The Rev. Olive was also elected president of the Baptist General State Convention of Illinois.
The Rev. B. Haney (Bernard) was called as shepherd following Rev. Olive. The Rev. Haney also was a promoter of Christian Education. He rendered faithful and excellent service from 1935 to 1947. During his tenure, Sunday School, Baptist Training Union, Nurses’ Unit, Junior Usher Board, and other youth activities expanded. Rev. Haney served as president of the New Salem Baptist District Sunday School Convention. The Reverends Ephraim Thomas, James Clayborne, and William Cowan were ordained as ministers during this period.
From 1947 to 1966, the Rev. Walter Buford Rouse of Nashville, Tennessee, became pastor. He was a preacher par excellence and shared his gifts of preaching and singing. Under his leadership, the membership grew immensely—many souls for Christ were saved! The church building was enlarged from 1951 to 1955: the sanctuary was expanded, classrooms added, an organ and other church furnishings were acquired, and a parsonage, at 919 Bond Ave., was purchased. The Boys Choir, M. Bosley Choral Ensemble, Sewing Circle, Youth Choir, and Youth Ushers were organized. The Rev. W.B. Rouse ordained Reverends Nelson, Tiller, John H. Rouse, and Roger Williams. The Rev. L.T. Dixon served as an associate minister.
In the 60’s, Mount Zion was faced with needing a new location. Why? The Illinois State Division of Highways needed the land at 13th and Tudor for entrance and exit ramps to the Poplar Street Bridge construction project. Therefore, land was purchased under Rev. W.B. Rouse for the next site of the church, at 24th & Bond Ave.
On March 10, 1966, the Rev. C. Cedric Claiborne of Shreveport, Louisiana, was received as the church’s next pastor. During the Poplar Street Bridge construction, Pastor Claiborne and Mount Zion members proceeded with plans to build a church on the newly purchased land. Under Rev. Claiborne’s guidance, construction of a $450,000 edifice was completed. The first worship service was held on Sun., Aug. 18, 1968 at 2235 Bond Ave. Although an explosion at the Alton and Southern Railroad damaged the east wall of the sanctuary, repairs were made and a cornerstone laying ceremony was held on June 3, 1974.
Mount Zion stood tall in the community—and not just because it was the largest Black National Baptist Convention church south of Chicago! Under the leadership of Rev. Claiborne, Mount Zion proved to be a blessing to the church and community: emphasized becoming a tithing church; employed the first full-time church secretary in the area, Sister Augusta Hazzard; two young men were ordained as deacons—Larry Farmer and Richard Bonner; and Reverends Willie Goff and David Turner were ordained. The Rev. Kelsie Bell was one of the associate ministers that served during this period. Rev. Claiborne also took a leadership role as president of New Salem Baptist District Congress of Christian Education.
The Youth Department was organized with Sister Mamie Bolden as director. The Youth Second Sunday Service was established and youth forums were held. A Rhythm Band was organized by Sister Birdie Mae Jackson and the Youth Choir was started with Sisters Deloise Hill, supervisor and Phyllis Harvey, director. There was also a Drama Club with Sister Josephine Davis as its first director.
Other notable highlights during Pastor Claiborne’s tenure: City-wide annual Baccalaureate Graduate Sunday worship services; Scholarship Fund to help college-bound students; Altar Flower Guild; Deaconess Board; Usher Board #2 (Grace Walker served as president for 17 years); Male Chorus; Rhythm Band for children; Girl and Boy Scouts; Sacred Heart Fund; and Sunday evening live broadcast on radio station WESL to reach the sick and shut-in throughout the bi-state region. Rev. Claiborne labored at Mount Zion until September 1974.
During the period of pulpit vacancies, the faithful Official Board (Deacons and Trustees) remained steadfast, prayerful, and provided church leadership: Deacon Marcus Yerger, chairman in 1966 and Deacon Richard Bolden, Sr., chairman in 1974; the Rev. Ephraim Thomas, associate minister, served as Interim Pastor in 1966 and 1974-1975. The Mount Zion Mass Choir recorded the album, “The Ol’ Ship of Zion” in 1974. And as a continued effort to provide Christian Education that was available community-wide, the Sunday School department sponsored the Annual January Bible Study Institute, beginning in 1975.
After a period of Official Board leadership under Deacon Richard Bolden Sr., the Rev. John H. Rouse of Henderson, Kentucky (son of W.B. Rouse), in March 1975 accepted the pastorage and was installed in May 1975. The membership grew substantially during Rev. John Rouse’s tenure. He was an ardent ambassador and a man of action in religious and civic matters. Pastor Rouse urged a continuous awareness and an active role in reaching out to meet the needs of the community. He also served in many denominational offices: lecturer, National Baptist Congress of Christian Education; president, New Salem Baptist District Congress of Christian Education; moderator, New Salem Baptist District Association; president, Baptist General State Congress of Illinois; chairman, Sunday School Publishing Board of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.; and member, American Baptist Theological Seminary Board. Some of the many achievements under the leadership of Pastor J.H. Rouse:
Emphasized stewardship of time, talent, and treasure; established that 10% of church income be directed to mission outreach.
Also, under Rev. John Rouse, 17 ministers were ordained, beginning in 1977 through 2010: Reverends Earnest L. Calhoun, Joseph Davis, Randy Eldridge, Marvin Fields (deceased), Ranadore Foggs, Marco Greer, Morris Hunt, Johnny Jenkins, Cecil Johnson, Marcus Lee, Zachary L. Lee, Dr. Delancey Moore (deceased), Dr. Walter G. Robinson, Jr. (deceased), Dr. Edward Williamson, Steve Wooten, Dr. Gerald Young, and Ronald A. Young. Eight ministers were added to the fellowship—Reverends Conrad Crook, Damon Jackson, Thomas London, Mumin Muhammad, Dr. Eric Rogers, Willie Seals, Rory Stewart, and Abraham Westley.
In October 1986, Mount Zion Mission East Baptist Church, located at 425 North 88th St., in East St. Louis, was established as a training facility for the church ministers. Rev. Rouse assigned the Rev. Marvin Fields as the mission’s first pastor. The Mission East congregation included some 20 “seed” members from the mother church.
Other ministers who have served at Mission East: Reverends Zachary L. Lee, 1987-1990, Dr. Walter G. Robinson, Jr., 1990-1992; Marcus Lee, 1992-1994; Ranadore Foggs, 1994-1996; Dr. Walter G. Robinson, Jr., 1996-1998; Dr. Eric Rogers, 1998-1999; Conrad Crook, 1999-2005; Damon Jackson, 2005-2008; Ronald A. Young, 2008-2011; Cecil Johnson, 2011-2013; Morris Hunt, 2013 to 2016.
On March 11, 2011, the beloved Rev. John H. Rouse was called home to be with God after 36 years of faithful service. Not only was his loss felt locally, but also in the state, national, and international faith communities. Rev. Rouse always reminded the church that “nothing is impossible with God,” if one would “walk by faith.”
During the period of pulpit vacancy, the Deacons and Trustees ministries remained steadfast, prayerful, and provided church leadership (Deacon Ross Fields, chairman) as members remained faithful. The Rev. Ronald A. Young, associate minister, served in the capacity of Interim Pastor from March 2011 to October 2012. In 2013, the congregation celebrated the homegoing of two longtime members: Supercentenarian Mayetta Epps-Miller, age 111—an active member for 88 years; and Lucy Swift, 99, who had been an active choir member for 82 years. In 2014 the church family lost Olga M. Wayne, 104, a member for 84 years who served as a choir director for 80+ years.
In September 2013, the church body was blessed to receive its 12th spiritual leader, the Rev. Curtis E. Levingston of Kansas City, Missouri. During his FIRST year at Mount Zion, Pastor Levingston successfully established some “new” ministries to continue to keep Mount Zion active in service to God and man. Here is a summary of some of these ministries:
Re-activation of the Mt. Zion Male Chorus – “Men Lifting up Christ in song.” This excited and enthusiastic group of men serves as an integral part of the Music Ministry and worship services.
Newly formed AWANA Youth Clubs as a part of Mission Young People Department. AWANA (which means Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed) trains young people (ages 2-18) in our local congregations and community to know, love and serve Jesus Christ. This ministry emphasizes fun, games, activities, scripture memorization and age-appropriate Bible stories to help develop spiritually strong children and youth who faithfully follow Jesus Christ.
Formation of the Rev. Dr. John H. Rouse Memorial Scholarship Committee which held its first Scholarship Banquet in August 2014. This event was extraordinarily successful with record attendance and was held to honor the legacy of the late Pastor John H. Rouse.
Launching of the Mt. Zion Technology Ministry (Website and Social Media) that gives Mt. Zion new presence in cyberspace. We now have a website, which was designed and developed by First Lady Michele Levingston, www.mtzionesl.org and a presence on social media on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mtzionesl. Mt. Zion is sharing its ourtreach as a part of the World Wibe Web!
In 2014, Pastor Levingston had the honor of being elected as Assistant General Secretary for the Baptist General State Convention of Illinois and the 4th Vice-Moderator for the New Salem Baptist District Association. Pastor Levingston is committed to furthering Christian education in the Baptist denomination.
May 22, 2015, Pastor Levingston received his Doctor of Ministry from United Theological Seminary, Dayton, OH. Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church is honored and proud to have its 12th spiritual leader, the Rev. Dr. Curtis E. Levingston as God’s ambassador to make a difference in the city of East St. Louis, IL and surrounding community.
May 2016, Pastor Levingston assigned Rev. Dr. Avery Duff to serve as pastor of Mt. Zion Mission East Baptist Church (2nd location at 425 N. 88th St., ESL, IL).
June 2016, the Layman Ministry was established to encourage laymen to cultivate the Christian life of laymen through study, worship, fellowship and service.
November 2016, Dr. Levingston was granted the esteem privilege to serve as Chaplain to the Fairview Heights and East St. Louis Police Departments.
As Pastor Levingston says, “MOUNT ZION, MOUNT ZION, MOUNT ZION,” you can see, we’re “Looking Back from Whence we Came” and now we’re “Pressing Forward for the Prize,” continually MOVING in God’s will to be “A Church that HONORS GOD AND LIFTS UP JESUS!”
Updated November, 2016