A solid rock: Mount Zion observes 100th anniversary of sanctuary

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 16, 2019

By Susan Shinn Turner

For the Salisbury Post

CHINA GROVE — For generations, Mount Zion United Church of Christ has stood sentinel at the southern end of China Grove, anchoring South Rowan and drawing families from this town, Landis, and beyond into its solid brick structure.

Next Sunday, the congregation will gather to observe the 100th anniversary of its “new” sanctuary — a building dedicated in June 1919 after a fire destroyed the fifth sanctuary on that site the year before.

Mount Zion traces its roots all the way back to 1755 as Savitz Church, a Reformed congregation, according to the Rev. Mark Burns, who’s served as senior pastor since January 2012, the same year the “new” building to serve an expanded preschool program was dedicated.

The church now hosts a vibrant preschool of more than 100 students ages 2-4, directed by Emily Bancroft, a lifetime member. It also boasts men’s and women’s fellowship ministries, Burns says, as well as mission and outreach opportunities.

“We’re not just in the community but of the community,” Burns says. “But we have a wonderful facility that’s only partially used during the week, so we’re exploring ways to be used by China Grove and North Landis.”

Mount Zion serves as a hub for the satellite programs of Meals on Wheels and Rufty-Holmes Senior Center’s South Rowan Lunch Club, the latter of which meets at The Hut. The full parking lot of those days — and the days the preschool is in session — reminds Burns of how active the congregation is.

Mount Zion has a membership of 380 with about 150 worshippers each Sunday, Burns says. Once a farming congregation like many of those in this community, Mount Zion has become more diverse over the years.

“We are now a destination church,” Burns notes. “People will drive by many good churches to come to Mount Zion.”

Mount Zion counts at least two daughter congregations in its history: First Reformed Church in Landis, which celebrates its 100th year in September, and Rodgers Park Reformed Church in Kannapolis.

With all the congregation’s mergers over the years, the welcoming spirit of new faces and new people is also part of the anniversary celebration — of reclaiming the reformed tradition, Burns says. “That not only confronts us but challenges us.”

In mining the church’s rich tradition, the history committee developed a monthly “history moment” beginning in September 2018. The moments were presented during church services and included in the bulletin.

Betty Ritchie, a member of that committee, wrote the succinct entries.

“I learned a lot from this research,” she says.

Although she is a lifelong member of Mount Zion, she’s a fairly new member of the history committee, which is chaired by Thelma Corriher and includes Fred Corriher, Keller Deal, Kay Kluttz, Carol McCombs and Myra Patterson. Former member Louise Deal helped Ritchie with research.

Ritchie drew from the church’s own extensive archives, as well as archives from the Salisbury Post and Rowan Public Library’s History Room.

“We had quite a lot of things written up in the newspaper over the years,” Ritchie says.

Two key articles from Post archives were the coverage of a fire in 1918 and the dedication of the building the next year.

“We did have some questions about dates,” she notes, “and those articles really helped me pinpoint them.”

Because the church’s five main stained-glass windows are a focal point of the June 23 celebration, Ritchie and the committee were hoping that member Kurt Corriher — who’s fluent in German — could unearth some information about them. Oral tradition says that the windows came from Germany, and while the characters depicted in the windows do indeed look Germanic, that’s about all the information they have.

However, the church does have information about the families who gave each of these five windows: the Good Shepherd, Jesus in the Temple, Christ Knocking at the Door, Christ’s Resurrection and Christ and the Woman at the Well (double window), and Jesus and the Children (also a double window).

Ask Burns what he likes about pastoring Mount Zion and his response is, “How many clean pages do you have?”

“There are so many blessings,” he says. “Mount Zion is a leader with the Third Time movement. The first place people spend their time is home, and then the second is work or school. For the majority of our members, the Third Time is church. I think it’s wonderful. In today’s society, there are a lot of alternatives for Third Time, but the Mount Zion congregation faithfully gathers each Sunday for worship.”

The faithful who gather next Sunday will be treated to a service which includes music by the chancel and handbell choirs. The church’s music team includes Jason Harwood, music director; Carole Brooke, pianist; and Laura Agner, organist.

The children will perform a skit based on David and Goliath, with David being the congregation overcoming the fire of Goliath and rebuilding the church.

A picnic-themed covered-dish will follow the service in the fellowship hall.

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