An Historic Church
In 1864, a small group of members of Shiloh Baptist Church of Cleveland set out to begin a new and different ministry in this city. On June 8, 1864, five persons met in the home of Edward Woodliffe to discuss the founding of a new church; they continued to meet for prayer services and occasionally for worship services. Having grown to nineteen men and women, and having decided after considerable study and debate, that the Congregational Order would best satisfy their needs, they took upon themselves the solemn covenant of the Church. Thus at Plymouth Congregational Church, and with other Congregational fellowships represented, Mt. Zion was formally organized in September 1864.
Shortly after, the Rev. J. H. Muse, the first pastor, led the members into their first church home on East 9th Street. In time, because of the burdensome debt, the building was sold for $8,000.00. This enabled the congregation to erect another building free of debt on East 31st Street. Later, dissension among the members and the lack of knowledge, by some, about Congregationalism threatened the very existence of the Church. It survived. After some years, Rev. Muse left. Several interim ministers served the church and in September 1873, the Rev. C. E. Ruddick was called as pastor. He served for several years. Mt. Zion's existence remained precarious until the Rev. Sterling N. Brown, an Oberlin graduate with great talent for organization, was called. During his pastorate, the church membership increased. The church received its first manual and the church building was enlarged and re-dedicated. Additionally, the church dedicated the gift of an organ from the Andrew Carnegie Fund.
Between 1889 and 1921, several ministers served Mt. Zion including the Rev. George V. Clark and the Rev. Irving K. Merchant. In 1921, the Rev. Harold M. Kingsley became pastor. Unfortunately in 1923, the Church building was destroyed by fire. Temporary quarters were used until 1924 when the Temple Tifereth Israel, on East 55th Street and Central Avenue, was purchased. Before the purchase became a reality the Rev. Mr. Kingsley responded to a call to another church in 1923. The Rev. Russell Brown became the new pastor. Meanwhile, the large building with its constant need for repairs, the dwindling congregation, the onset of the Depression and with reduced income, Mt. Zion lost its pastor. The Rev. Horace White became the next pastor. During this pastorate, the membership dwindled to about 100. Often heat and other bills were paid for by certain members of the congregation.
In 1934, Rev. White left and supply ministers served until 1938 when the Rev. Grant Reynolds became pastor. During this ministry the fellowship faced up to the fact they could not maintain the old temple. A former Children's home at 9014 Cedar Avenue was purchased for $10,000.00. Some of the members of the Church remodeled this building into a sanctuary, offices, a gymnasium and basement dining room. There was a resurgence of purpose and enthusiasm among the members. In 1941, Mr. Reynolds left Mt. Zion to enter the military. With Mr. Reynolds' departure, the Church called a young seminary graduate, the Rev. John Charles Mickle. During his ministry from 1941 to 1946, the Church's membership grew to over 300, the Church mortgage was burned and new groups and programs flourished.
The Rev. Joseph Evans succeeded Rev. Mickle as pastor in 1947. In a short time, two important decisions were made by the members - the purchase of a parsonage and the securing of a more adequate church home. In 1950 the Cedar Avenue property was sold and the search for a new church began. Because the sale preceded the purchase of another edifice, worship services were held at the YMCA on Cedar Ave. The church office and evening meetings were held in the office of a member, Dr. Marvin Fisk. Even then, new groups were organized. Under Rev. Evans' leadership, Mt. Zion adopted its first constitution. At this point in 1953; Rev. Evans was called to another church. It was in this setting that the Rev. Richard T. Andrews, Jr. began his ministry in 1953. His wife Marjory, with her strong religious commitment and musical talent added a new dimension to the ministries of Mt. Zion. Membership and enthusiasm for a new church home increased.
Reappraising its goals after much activity, Mt. Zion decided to purchase a property at 10723 Magnolia Drive. Because of racial prejudice the property was bombed in 1954. However, this only seemed to increase the determination of the congregation to erect an edifice on this site. Ground breaking ceremonies took place in September 1955 and the dedication of its new sanctuary and social hall on September 30, 1956. In 1957, with the merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches, Mt. Zion became a part of the United Church of Christ. The congregation's spiritual life and social consciousness were rejuvenated. Youth participation, an excellent music ministry, outreach activities and increased participation by the pastor and members in the Western Reserve Association, the Ohio Conference, National Boards, and General Synod of the United Church of Christ characterized this period. Sacrificial giving by the members enabled the mortgage debt to be paid early. Later an adjoining property was purchased. In this building were housed the Heritage Room, the Katharine P. Williamson Chapel, ceramic classrooms and for many years office space was provided to Friendly Town. The Andrews' pastorate, the longest in Mt. Zion's history, ended with his death in 1974.
Dr. Elam Wiest, interim pastor, served the congregation well from 1974 to October 1975 when Dr. Vernie L. Bolden was called as pastor and teacher. During his ministry, several new groups were organized. At this time, the congregation also began to give serious consideration to buying and installing a pipe organ. Dr. Bolden left Mt. Zion in 1981. Dr. John Blackwell served as interim minister until 1982 when Dr. F. Allison Phillips accepted the call to become the pastor. A major achievement of Dr. Phillips' pastorate was the purchase, installation and dedication of the Hemry Pipe Organ in 1988. During his twelve years of leadership, many new church groups were organized, including Renaissance, Biblical Reflections, and Reclaiming Our Spirituality. Women were included in the Usher Board, the Inspirational Choir was established, and the sanctuary and Rozel F. Threat Social Hall were air conditioned. The size of the church staff was increased. The Rev. Rodney Franklin was called as Associate Pastor. In 1994, Dr. Phillips accepted a call to become General Secretary for the American Missionary Association of the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries. Mt. Zion was then served by the Rev. Dr. Robert D. Sherard as Interim Pastor and, after his death, the Rev. Leslie Carole Taylor served as Interim Pastor.
In June 1996, Mt. Zion called its first female pastor, the Rev. Dr. Bertrice Y. Wood. Dr. Wood came to the pastorate of Mt. Zion after serving in leadership roles in several denominational and interdenominational bodies. Dr. Wood’s ministry was characterized by participation in denominational and interfaith works in the city. In 2001, Dr. Wood left Mt. Zion to return to denominational work. In 2002, the Rev. Paul Hobson Sadler, Sr. was called as Designated Pastor of Mt. Zion. In December of that year, a call was extended to Rev. Sadler to be permanent Pastor. During his tenure, the church has experienced a new vitality in its worship and ministries and has embraced a new vision for the future. We stand now on the threshold of a new era in the life of Mt. Zion. Relying on God, we forge forward in faithfulness to the bright future that God has placed before us.