"For My House Shall Be Called A House Of Prayer For All The Peoples" Isaiah 56:7
In 1864, a small band of Christian believers decided to come together to secure a place where they could worship God according to the dictates of their conscience. The faithful believers established Zion Baptist Church as one of the first black congregations in Alexandria shortly after the Union Army troops occupation during the Civil War in 1861, near an area known as "Zion Hill," a longtime African-American neighborhood. The trend of the African-American population during that time greatly increased along the Potomac River, Wilkes Street, and as far as Mount Eagle Plantation near Hunting Creek in Alexandria, Virginia. However, the only sanctioned church close to this area was First Baptist Church of Alexandria, under the leadership of "Reverend Dr. C. C. Bitting as pastor."1
The United States Senate formally abolished slavery on April 8, 1864 and all slaves were freed under the 13th Amendment. This group of Christian believers, who had recently been released from slavery, rented a small building at the corner of Wolfe and Union Street, "located in the vicinity of the railroad tunnel,"2 under the guidance of a minister named Reverend Gladden. The first group of trustees chosen by members of the congregation to support the new church were: Sydney Dodson, Silas Dickerson, Robert Green, Joseph Conaway, McCaggie White, John Williams, Nathaniel Arnold, and Jarrett Green. The first group of deacons chosen by the congregation to support the newly established church were: McCaggie White, Reuben Payne, Thomas Reynolds, Silas Dickerson, John Williams, David Taylor, and James Craig. Among the founders of the church were several faithful women who prayed and helped to build the infrastructure of the congregation. The names of these inspirational woman were: Sally Beckman, Betsy Watkins, Sarah Daniels, Victoria White, Caroline Newman, Rebecca Dodson, Patsy Smith, and others. In the beginning, regular worship services on Sundays were conducted under the pastoral guidance of Reverend Gladden.
At end of the Civil War in April 9, 1865, "Zion Baptist"... was one of five "Baptist churches of colored people in [Alexandria]."3 Reverend Robert Woodson served as first pastor. Sometime later, Reverend Henderson was called to serve as pastor and he led the church until his death. The young church struggled along until Reverend Robert Holmes took charge as an efficient and stalwart pastor. During Reverend Holmes' administration the site on which the church currently stands, at 714 South Lee Street, was purchased in 1881. The cornerstone of the new church was laid with impressive ceremonies that were led by the Order of Odd Fellows of Alexandria, Virginia. Unfortunately, Reverend Holmes died before the construction of the new church was completed.
Later, Reverend Samuel M. Johnson was called to this field of labor as pastor in 1882, and he managed the completion of building the new church. Reverend Johnson served as distinguished pastor for forty-three years and was called to the "Great Beyond" in 1925. In appreciation of his great pastoral leadership, longevity, and love of the church, the membership established "S.M. Johnson's Day" as an annual observance on the Forth Sunday in January. After the death of Reverend Johnson, Zion persevered under the leadership of the Deacon Board for two years while the membership searched for a new shepherd to lead the church. After such time, Reverend R.D. Botts was called and was installed as the pastor in 1927. Reverend Botts was a great spiritual warrior and visionary leader of Zion Baptist Church. During his administration, many improvements to the facility were made at the church. It was through Reverend Botts' inspiration that he encouraged his son, the late Professor Joseph Botts, to organize a gospel choir at Zion. Professor Botts recruited and encouraged many of the young adults to unite with the church. Professor Botts organized and formed the "Chorale Ensemble," which became an outstanding and well know group of gospel singers in Northern Virginia.
One of most the notable personalities under Reverend Botts' pastoral leadership was the renowned Mr. Samuel Wilbert Tucker, "a Civil Rights Lawyer, who played the piano at church and resided with his family at 702 South Lee Street."4 Mr. Tucker's father also "served as superintendent of Sunday School and choir director."5 Reverend Botts faithfully served as pastor for thirty years until his death. After the death of Reverend Botts, the congregation called and installed Reverend William N. Thomas, a son of Zion, as pastor in November 1957. Reverend Thomas served as pastor for eleven years. During Reverend Thomas' tenure as pastor, Reverend June L. Jefferson served as a faithful associate pastor for many years and then relocated. Reverend Thomas was also instrumental in the renovation of the sanctuary and the lower level of the church, as the church continued to grow numerically but much more importantly, Zion grew spiritually.
In 1969, Reverend Robert C. Davis was called to provide pastoral leadership of Zion Baptist Church. Reverend Davis served faithfully for seventeen years as pastor until his untimely death in November 1985. During Reverend Davis' tenure, the membership continued to grow and the pastoral ministry increased as well. During Reverend Davis' tenure, he instituted a successful "Building Fund" campaign designed to assist in the upkeep of the facilities and provide financial support to help operate the church. During the period between November 1985 and 1987, Zion was again without a pastor and under the faithful leadership of the Deacon Board. In 1987, Reverend John Curtis McLean was called and installed as pastor of Zion Baptist Church on Sunday, July 26, 1987. Reverend McLean's pastoral leadership was guided by the inspiration of John 8:31; "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed."
During Reverend McLean's tenure as pastor, he organized and served as musician of the Mass Choir of Zion Baptist Church, which was presented in concert on March 19, 1989. Reverend McLean served as pastoral leader for seventeen years and resigned his position as pastor on January 1, 2004. As a result, Zion endured some hardships as many of the tenured members decided to leave the church and unite with other various churches in and around the local area. During the period between January 2004 and March 2004, Zion sought the pastoral services of Reverend Dr. John Harris to lead the congregation as interim pastor. Members of the congregation were elated with Reverend Harris' teaching, preaching, and leadership abilities. Subsequently, Reverend Harris was offered the opportunity to serve as pastor of Zion Baptist Church but amicably chose to pursue other ministry opportunities.
On January 2, 2007, Reverend Adam Hansford was called to provide stability at the church and serve a one-year term as visiting pastor. Reverend Hansford term expired on January 31, 2008. After Reverend Hansford's tenure, the Deacon Board assumed leadership of the church again until the congregation called and installed Reverend Alphonso Fuelling as pastor in December 25, 2009. Reverend Alphonso Fuelling served the church faithfully until all parties amicably agreed to part ways on November 5, 2013.
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