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Along came Jones: First the father, now the son leads New Zion Baptist

SALISBURY — The Rev. Paul Jones Sr. likes to say that without a shepherd, people take to wandering.
For the past 35 years, Jones served as the shepherd for New Zion Baptist Church on Dunn’s Mountain Road.
When it came time to retire as New Zion’s pastor, Jones and the rest of the congregation already had a man groomed and waiting — Jones’ middle son, Patrick.
On the first Sunday in August, a seamless transition occurred as Patrick took over as pastor and his father became pastor emeritus.
“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” Paul Jones says.
The congregation will celebrate his long service to the church at a special banquet tonight at the Salisbury Civic Center.
“He’s a faithful and dedicated man,” says Mitchell Gibson, president of Sunday School at New Zion. “A true church leader, that’s all there is to it.”
The Rev. Patrick Jones knows he’s like the fellow who had to replace Iron Man Cal Ripken after he retired as a baseball player.
He recognizes his father’s pastoral duties touched hundreds of lives and feels fortunate his dad served as a mentor, giving him a template to follow.
“It means a lot,” Patrick says. “… When you have an actual, living model, you’re able to learn more.”
Patrick thinks both he and his father have a lot of fire and brimstone in them, but they naturally display differences in their approaches to teaching and preaching.
Paul Jones says despite their differences in age they both carry the same passion and zeal for God.
Paul is 83, though he hardly looks that old. Patrick is 44, and when he’s not serving in his ministerial role at New Zion, he holds down a full-time job at Imperial Brown.
He already realizes that meeting his pastoral duties requires organization, so he’s able to visit the sick, hold Wednesday night Bible study, tutor a class, lead Sunday services and counsel parishioners.
“I can see how it will make for a strict, disciplined schedule,” Patrick says.
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Paul Jones remembers distinctly the day he was driving north on Interstate 85, headed to his job at the Owens-Illnois box plant in Spencer.
“It seemed like the Spirit got into the car,” he says, and it was telling him to preach.
Jones recalls walking into the plant cafeteria on his arrival and announcing to everyone, “The Lord has called me to preach.”
It was though Jones had dropped a stink bomb, the way people scattered to avoid him. Later on the assembly line, he kept telling his co-workers what the Spirit had told him. Again, silence.
“All you could hear was the machines running,” he says.
Jones needed a witness, confirmation of this calling. From the plant, he called his wife, Alma, and she said, “Praise the Lord,” the words he needed to hear.
“I felt the call and accepted the call,” Jones says.
He preached for the first time in February 1974 before his home congregation at Macedonia Baptist Church on U.S. 70 and was ordained and licensed by the Rev. Leroy Smith at Shady Grove Baptist Church in East Spencer in August 1974.
Jones says his first sermon in 1974 dealt with Genesis, and because he had three sons — Paul Jr., Patrick and Christopher — he focused on Noah and his three sons.
For further education, Jones would use his weekends over two years to attend Hood Theological Seminary at Livingstone College.
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Jones considered his ministerial work “evangelistic” at first, until New Faith Baptist in Lexington recruited him to be its pastor in August 1976.
Two years later, Jones began dividing his ministry between New Faith and New Zion, preaching two Sundays a month at each church.
This dual arrangement lasted for six years before Jones decided to be New Zion’s pastor only.
“I prayed about it and talked to the Lord,” Jones says. “It wasn’t easy, I’ll tell you that.”
Members of the New Faith congregation broke down and cried, he says.
But Jones didn’t think he was accomplishing anything at either church by splitting up his ministry while also working full-time at Owens-Illnois.
“It was go-go-go,” he says.
Jones guided the New Zion congregation toward the installation of central air-conditioning at its granite-block church.
A baptismal pool also was installed.
The major construction project came in 2004 when New Zion built a spacious new church closer to Dunn’s Mountain Road, despite facing serious trouble with the initial contractor and having to start over completely.
“God has never started anything he didn’t finish,” Jones told his congregation.
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Jones grew up in Wyatt, Mo., as the seventh oldest of nine children. His parents were farmers, and the children were expected to help out.
“If you could walk, you could carry something,” Jones said.
The kids did their share of slopping hogs, milking cows and carrying wood. The family attended a Baptist Church, and Sunday dinners always were a big deal, especially when the pastor was eating with them.
Growing up, Jones never thought about being a pastor some day. He said he spared himself whippings meted out more regularly to his siblings by doing what he was told.
Jones quit high school in the 10th grade and at first farmed with his father, before sharecropping cotton with a friend.
He tired of that back-breaking work and took off for Cincinnati, Ohio, where an older brother was living.
In Ohio, Jones worked for a steel mill and New York Central Railroad. Rather than be drafted, Jones returned to Missouri and enlisted, ending up in the Marines.
He did his basic training at Camp Pendleton Calif., where the men were known as the “Hollywood Marines.”
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His first trip overseas landed Jones in the Korean Conflict in 1952. Jones ended up being attached to motor transport with the 11th Marines Artillery.
On his first day in Korea, Jones found himself in the middle of smoke, rounds of ammunition going off and the whistle of incoming artillery fire.
“I said this is a real mess,” Jones remembers.
As a corporal, Jones was placed in charge of the motor pool. His stay in Korea lasted 14 months.
Jones returned to Camp Pendleton and within seven months he was reassigned to the East Coast, winding up with an air wing outfit at Cherry Point.
Jones’ next overseas duty came as part of an occupying force in Japan for 18 months. Otherwise, he spent the remainder of his seven-year stay in the Marines in the States and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
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Jones met Alma on Labor Day 1957. He said it was peculiar how they would be introduced.
He was standing in the mess line one day at the Marines base in Cherry Point when he began talking to a guy from Louisville. He told Jones he had an aunt living in Salisbury that he might want to meet.
Jones said he was familiar with Salisbury, having driven through the city in his 1952 Ford on his way from Missouri to Cherry Point.
“The next time we get a long weekend, we’ll go on up there,” the nephew said.
Jones was smitten with Alma the first time he saw her photograph in the nephew’s wallet. “I’ll never forget it,” he says.
Even later, as the nephew was shipped overseas, “I kept coming back,” Jones says.
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The couple married in 1958, the same year Jones left the Marines. They first lived in Brookview Apartments, and Alma was working for a local furniture store.
Meanwhile, Paul joined three or four other veterans and enrolled at J.C. Price High School in Salisbury for two years to earn his high school diploma.
He’s a 1962 graduate of Price. His first job in Salisbury was with Rusher’s Tire on South Main Street. George Rusher hired him for 99 cents an hour — a far cry from the $2.69 an hour he was making in an Ohio steel mill — but Jones notes how getting by was less expensive then.
Their apartment rent, for example, was only $18 a month.
Jobs at Isenhour Brick, Coca-Cola Bottling and Owens-Illinois would follow.
Busy with his ministry at New Zion, Jones took early retirement from Owen-Illinois when he was 55.
Now in his retirement, Jones hopes to do more fishing and more gardening at his home on Legion Club Road.
He and Alma have now been married 55 years, and he’s still smitten.
“Most people who know me, know my wife,” he says.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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