A HISTORY OF ZION HILL BAPTIST CHURCH
Zion Hill Baptist Church was conceived by a group of Christians who believed in the inerrant word of God as translated in the King James Version of the Holy Bible. Alarmed by the Southern Baptist Convention's promotion of modern revised versions and by its everincreasing practice of using them in their Sunday School literature, some of the more perceptive men proposed that the church discontinue using the literature.The proposal was rejected and, as a result, an adult Bible class of about 25 members with Corbett Baker as teacher, formed, meeting each Sunday in the church basement. After a short space of time the class was banned on the premise that the church would be better off if every one used the Convention literature.
The Bible class was composed of independent people who, like their forefathers, believed in freedom of worship and that this worship should not be controlled by any other religious group or organization; that it should not be under the dictatorship of any one person. The local church, adhering as closely as possible to the doctrines and teachings of the Holy Bible, should be an autonomous body. Based on these convictions and after much prayer, the Bible class withdrew their membership from the church and launched out on its own. For some, the move was quite difficult. Friendships were ruptured and some were leaving the only church they had ever known. Others were leaving behind members of their own family.
The group met primarily in the home of either John Barrett or of Corbett Baker. There was not a minister in the group, but someone would conduct a prayer and Bible service.Evelyn Barrett had mastered the piano, and always the sweet old hymns and Psalms were a part of the service. These songs and Bible teachings and prayers, accompanied by the presence of the Holy Spirit, were a source of great encouragement and comfort to the group, and conversions to salvation occurred. Later Rev. James Ransom from Gainesville, GA was asked to come and preach to the group until a church could be established and a building erected.
After the Bible class started congregating in homes, a major imperative need was recognized:where to rent or where to erect a building in which to meet for worship.Different ideas were tossed about and different places discussed. But quite soon, Miss Bertha Turner donated the parcel of ground on which the church now stands. The land was part of her inheritance from the estate of her parents, Henry and Lula Sears Turner. The deed, written March 14, 1968 stipulates:“Said property is conveyed in honor of Henry Turner and Mrs. Lula Turner and for use for church purposes only. Should the same cease to be used for church purposes, title shall revert to Bertha Turner, if living, and if not to her heirs.”
With the question of a place to build now answered, the work moved forward. Most of the men were regularly employed and could help only after work hours and on Saturdays. Slowly but surely the land was cleared, the foundation was laid and the framework began to rise. Some of the men were skilled carpenters and their expertise was a great boon. Due to the lack of finances and to the urgency of a place to meet, only the sanctuary proper was built at the time. Soon an addition across the back would house Sunday School rooms and bathroom facilities.The sanctuary was completed and the furniture and fixtures were installed.John Barrett, an excellent craftsman, made the pulpit, the altar bench and a lectern.The choir seats, having originally been used in a local movie theater, were donated to the group and, after willing hands had painted them white, they were put in place. Evelyn Barrett selected a piano which Bertha Turner purchased and gave to the church.Before the first Communion was observed, Corbett Baker gave to the church a communion service set, and in 1968, at the death of his mother, Myrtle Baker, he purchased an organ to be used at her funeral service and then presented it to the church in her memory.In 1971 Larry Baker, a grandson and a nephew of the Baker family, was lost at sea.His wife, Patsy Baker, donated a sum of money which was used to purchase a church steeple in his memory.The steeple was made in Dalton, Georgia. Walt Ingram, accompanied by Donald Hunt and Corbett Baker, drove his truck to Dalton and picked up the steeple.The steeple was then hoisted to its place atop the church by HEMC. This service by HEMC was rendered free of charge to the church. Throughout all the years of its existence, Zion Hill has been the recipient of many generous gifts by its own members as well as by others.
October 8, 1967 was a memorable date for the small band of Christians who had stepped out by faith to demonstrate their rejection of any and all revised versions of the Holy Bible and to practice their conviction that the Church should be independent of any controlling group, person or organization.In less than a year they had constructed a building, drafted a constitution and written a church covenant.(See appended copies.)The group, along with many visitors, “...met at Cleveland, Georgia to establish an Independent Missionary Baptist Church.” A presbytery was formed with Rev. James Ransom as moderator and Rev. Howell Smallwood as clerk. Rev. Marvin Wheeler delivered the opening sermon and Rev. Dorsey Freeland charged the church. A prayer of dedication by Rev. Dewey Palmour was followed by Rev. Richard Horn presenting the body as a “constituted church”. People with a letter from another Baptist church, or any new converts, were received as charter members. The Church Covenant was read and approved, and the Constitution was read and adopted. The moderator then turned the church over to its members. Below is a list of the charter members:Corbett Baker (Deacon)
John Barrett (Deacon)
Fannie Mae Baker
Floyd Pruitt (Deacon)
Lester Baker (Deacon)
Carrie Lou Barrett
Roy Warwick (Deacon)
Their convictions and their shared experiences of the past year, along with their thankfulness for the infant church, created a deep bond of fellowship among the members. Five of the men were ordained deacons with the experience needed to conduct church business. Soon a pastor had been elected and church officers were appointed.Regular services were held and the ordinances of Communion and Baptism were observed. Communion was observed frequently and baptisms were performed in the Chattahoochee River. Though not an ordinance of the Baptist church, provisions were made for those interested in participating in the rite of foot washing. These provisions were discontinued when interest in the rite waned and died. Before the addition across the back was built Sunday School rooms were simply curtained-off spaces in thesanctuary.
Open business sessions, in keeping with the prevailing custom and practice of local Baptist churches at the time, were held every month with each member, as stipulated by the church constitution, having equal voting rights and privileges. A pastor and other elective church officials were elected or re-elected annually at the September session.This practice was followed until 2008 when an amendment to the constitution “....provided for the calling of the pastor at Zion Baptist Hill Church indefinitely. ”Rev. Ernest Barden, the first pastor, guided the church the first three years of its existence. In 1970 Rev. Dewey Palmour was called to serve, serving six years. Rev. Corbett Baker, who would serve almost eighteen years, was elected in 1976. Before September of 1994 he resigned, and Rev. Telford Tanksley was called to complete the term. In the September 1994 business session, Rev.Tanksley was elected for the coming year. He resigned before September 1995, and Rev. M. A. Poole was called to complete the term. At the September business session he was elected pastor. He served in this capacity until he resigned in July 2001. Rev. Terry Poole, who was filling the position as assistant pastor, was appointed to complete the term and, at the 2001 September business session, he was elected pastor.
Mission work, both local and world-wide, being a top priority for the fledgling church, was immediately begun. This effort being constant throughout all the years is still a pervasive practice carried on by the church. Other outreaches include revivals and Bible conferences as well as a nursing home visitation program. With the exception of the years 1995 through 2001, Vacation Bible School has been conducted each summer. Beginning in the mid-1970's the church began sponsoring a radio ministry, and later began broadcasting a taped copy of the morning worship service. This proved to be a very effective ministry as indicated by the responses from listeners. This ministry of the church was discontinued in 1995. For many years, the church has sponsored a bus ministry for those who have no means of transportation. Youth Ministers of the church have conducted Bible studies and programs called Zion's Kids. Another endeavor of the church is a vigorous visitation program.The men meet each Saturday and go in pairs inviting the unchurched to Zion Hill.
Through the years Zion Hill’s members, as is common to all men, have experienced great personal losses and have suffered through terrible tragedies. The church itself has had itsown testing and upheavals.Its greatest visible tragedy, however, occurred on the night of July 4th, 1977 when arsonists set fire to the building. In the middle of the night a call from the sheriff’s office was made to the pastor informing him that his church was burning. He rushed to the church and, as reported in The Times, (Gainesville, Georgia) “…stood in the darkness outside the church as the firemen worked to stop the blaze, and smoke and fire pushed out the windows. Hours later he was still there, looking at the charred walls of the church sanctuary.” “It’s like a death,” he said slowly. Later he would say to The Times reporter, “It’s hard to imagine anyone burning a church.…But the building is not the church. Man built the building and he can destroy them, but man doesn’t make the Church and he cannot destroy it. ”After the conflagration had ceased and the firemen and the reporters and the spectators had all gone, a saddened group gathered around the ruins and sifted through the ashes, finding nothing salvageable but the steeple and lectern, some sheet music and a few charred and blistered hymn books. They were without a place to meet, but almost immediately they were offered the use of Ward’s Chapel by Ward’s Funeral Home in Cleveland for as long as the church needed it.
The arsonists were never apprehended, but within a week the resolute church members were hard at work carting away rubble and making preparations to erect a new building.In order to accommodate a basement for Sunday School rooms, as well as to enlarge the parking area, a different site on the church ground was selected. An outpouring of gifts from compassionate churches, as well as from individuals, enabled the church to build on a larger scale and to include such amenities as a nursery, carpeted floors, padded pews and a baptistery.(The pastor later selected and installed the baptistery painting.) Someone donated a small parlor organ which was used until a church organ could be purchased.The work was expedited by volunteer carpenters, some from as far away as Atlanta, who would bring their tools and help on Saturdays. Especially remembered was one volunteer whose name was Michael. After the church was finished he stopped by one Sunday for worship.The pastor, recognizing him from the pulpit, said, “And lo, Michael came to help us.”(Dan. 10:13).
In the late 1980’s a renovation of the front entrance of the church was made and an attractive cupola was added.A fellowship hall was erected in 1997, and soon thereafter the front of the church was extensively remodeled, resulting in a wide porch across the front and an enlarged interior vestibule. In 2000 the church bought a used baby grand piano, and in 2001 a new organ was purchased. Since 2002 the interior of the sanctuary has been repainted and the lighting arrangement has been changed to include chandeliers. A new heating and air system has been installed and the church basement, with bathroom facilities added, has been overhauled.
By the grace and mercy of God, Zion Hill, for 50 years, has stood as a beacon, lifting high the blood-stained banner of the Lord Jesus Christ. The same sweet old story of salvation by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ on Calvary is still proclaimed.Lost sinners are still saved and soul-weary Christians still find encouragement and comfort within its walls.Decimated by death to only ten members, four of which are still active in the church, the charter member’s defense of the King James Version of the
Holy Bible is still upheld.Missionaries are sent to many parts of the world and Zion Hill still stands as anindependent church, “…forever free of any alliance with any ecclesiastical body or organization… .
Sister Evelyn Baker posted the following note on Facebook, on 10-14-2017. We have included it in this History of Zion Hill because of its significance: "The first Sunday in October was our fiftieth homecoming at Zion Hill Baptist Church. Pictures were taken, and I got to have mine made with my sister-in-law, Fannie, who has been such a blessing to me down through the years. She and I are charter members. Only two other members have been with us since the church was established in 1967. So many of the charter members have already made the crossing. That best and greatest homecoming and the one I'm anticipating so much is yet to come!" Here is the picture taken that day.
We are overjoyed that 4 founding members are still attending church at ZHBC on the 50th anniversary, the two above, Evelyn Baker (on the left), and Fannie Mae Baker, and in addition the two pictured below, Velma Warwick (on the left), and Linda Warwick.