Mt. Zion - Still Standing

Written by Teresa Cage Beasley.

Celebrating 147 years of ministry

Mount Zion Christian Methodist Episcopal Church celebrated 146 years of ministry in a special anniversary celebration on January 24, 2016. Founded on November 2, 1870, Mount Zion was built on the rock of faith, and the dedication of its members and pastor, the Rev. Desral Barriere.

In 1994, the little church on Live Oak Street, off the Square in Carthage, was recognized by the State of Texas with a Historical Marker. Founded by Methodist Bishop Enoch M. Marvin and five former enslaved persons, Mt. Zion CME has stood firm against the storms of time, tribulation and tragedy.

The anniversary event featured a presentation and sermon by Senior Bishop Lawrence L. Reddick, III, of Dallas, who is the Presiding Prelate of the Eighth Episcopal District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

The Rev. Barriere, and his wife, First Lady Sherry Barriere, have pastored Mount Zion for the past five years. “It has been a pleasant journey for us here at Mount Zion,” he said. “We love the people and they love us – we are a family. We especially want to thank our faithful members, Mother Dorothy Jones, Sister Paula Parker, Sister Cora Shaw, and Bro. T-Shirt Sims.”

What a challenge it must have been for Pastor Barriere when he realized he had been assigned to a church with only five members who attended services on a regular basis.

“We just rolled up our sleeves and went to work. The building was in disrepair, and we started holding fish fries and garage sales – anything to raise funds to repair and upgrade our sanctuary,” he said. Barriere, along with family, friends and church members did much of the work themselves.

While working on the church building, Rev. Barriere found a copy of the original handwritten deed for the property. “I keep that deed in my pastor’s study as a reminder of the history of this church,” he said.

In addition to serving as pastor of Mount Zion CME, the Rev. Barriere has a full-time job in Longview. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas, and is currently working on a master’s degree in psychology from LeTourneau University.  A Bible scholar, Barriere says his heart is with his ministry to God’s people.

“Mount Zion CME Church has seen its share of struggles over the years, but we are still standing,” he said.

“Still Standing” was the theme of the anniversary event, which included opening remarks by Dr. Shirley McKellar, who quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson, saying that a hero is no braver than anyone else; he is just braver for five minutes longer.

“Five slave people helped build this church. If five slaves could do it, can you imagine what we should be able to do if we would all just give back five minutes of our time?” she asked.

Today’s Mount Zion CME Church features a comfortably appointed sanctuary, choir loft, central heat and air conditioning, a sound system, Sunday School rooms and a fellowship hall. That’s a far cry from the gathering space that drew the first members together in 1870. The first church services were held in a brush arbor because no structure had been built yet. A brush arbor was a temporary shelter built from tree limbs and branches. People usually brought their own chairs or stools to sit on during their service. Times were hard in 1870, just five years after the end of the War Between the States. The economy of much of the South was in shambles. It was a difficult time to find the money to begin a new church.

Into this turbulent situation came Bishop Enoch M. Marvin, who had been elected in 1866. A man of great faith, Marvin spread the gospel as a circuit rider by traveling on horseback and wagon to preach at camp meetings. During the years of conflict, Marvin journeyed to New Orleans from Missouri to attend a Methodist meeting, and he remained in the South throughout the rest of the war. He ministered to the troops as an Army Chaplain, without benefit of an official title or paycheck.

After the war, he was appointed to a Methodist church in Marshall, and it is from that posting that he helped organize Mount Zion CME in Carthage. With the church established, the local members pooled their funds and bought land for the sanctuary, which was built in 1881. Over the years since then, the sanctuary has been enlarged and improved to meet the needs of the growing congregation. The Rev. Barriere and current members are responsible for the enhancements that have occurred over the past five years.

Visiting all the churches in his district is a goal of Senior Bishop Reddick, and his participation in the Mount Zion CME anniversary was one of many stops he will make this year. During his presentation, Bishop Reddick applauded the accomplishments of Mount Zion CME.

“It’s important to take seriously the ministry that we are given,” he said. “When you invest in the lives of people, especially young people, you don’t know where the seeds you have planted will sprout. We all have unfinished business, but we have to ask ‘whose business is this?’ It’s God’s business. We are members of the body of Christ, not individual denominations.”

The Mount Zion CME Church was filled to overflowing for the anniversary event, acknowledging with pride the commitment of those five formerly enslaved people who devoted themselves to creating a sanctuary for Christians to gather for worship. From the shade of the brush arbor, their faith built the sanctuary that is still standing, on Live Oak Street, just off the Square in the heart of Carthage, Texas.