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150 Years and counting: Mt. Zion AME Church celebrates with rebuilding plan for next 150 years

Church’s CDC creating commemorative historic guide

By Don Coble don@claytodayonline.com
Posted 2/2/23

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Rev. James Pernell stood in the parking lot of the Mt. Zion AME Church shortly after last Sunday’s sermon and his mind wandered in several directions.

Behind him was the …

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150 Years and counting: Mt. Zion AME Church celebrates with rebuilding plan for next 150 years

Church’s CDC creating commemorative historic guide


Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Rev. James Pernell stood in the parking lot of the Mt. Zion AME Church shortly after last Sunday’s sermon and his mind wandered in several directions.

Behind him was the shell of the old parsonage’s house. In front was the church that was in a constant flux of repair, patches and promise.

Nobody remembers the last time the church bell rang. It certainly was long before Pernell took the pulpit five years ago.

“That bell will ring again,” he said with conviction.

Pernell also shares the same optimism as his parishioners: Mt. Zion someday will again be the beacon of the community.

“I was happy God assigned me here,” Pernell said.

The Mt. Zion Community Development Corporation of Green Cove Springs is working to help the church celebrate its 150th birthday on March 26, and in the process raise money to continue many of the rebuilding projects.

So much has been done; so much still needs attention.

Clay Today has joined the CDC’s fundraising mechanism called “Green Cove Springs and Clay County: Forward, Bonding Together.” The guide will tell the story of the church’s past and the city’s historic roots, particularly in the Black community.

“The target includes locals and others with the idea of attracting them to see and hopefully engage in some manner in the community,” said CDC Director of Special Initiatives and Programs Dr. Cheryl Gonzalez.

The group will print 1,000 guides. The keepsake is looking for sponsors. In return, money earned will be used to transform the iconic church into a hub that serves all residents.

“We plan to turn the parsonage into a community hall where we can have after-school programs, receptions and activities,” Pernell said.

The walls of what soon will be called the Family Life Center/Fellowhip Hall have been stripped to the frames. There are plans to remove some of the walls to create two open spaces.

“It needs a lot of tender, loving care,” Pernell said. “But this will be something that benefits the entire community. That’s why it’s so important to help this project.”

The church has scheduled repairs as they collect money. So far, new restrooms have been built, most holes in the roof have been patched, old paneling has been replaced with drywall and fresh paint and the church now has three working air conditioners.

“Some of the office space in the back used to have plywood floors,” Pernell said. “When the roof leaked, the floor got so bad sometimes when women walked back there, their heals poked through.”

The University of Phoenix and Baptist Health in Jacksonville have donated office furniture. The sanctuary now has monitors so everyone can see and hear Pernell’s sermons, including those who watch on the church’s website.

“The church is available to all,” Pernell said. “Whites and Blacks started this church. I know we’re an African Methodist Episcopal Church, but everyone is welcome.

“If whites and Blacks can worship together, we can build this church … and we can build this community.”

At the same time, Gonzalez said it’s important to preserve the church’s rich history and culture.

Clay Today has joined the Mt. Zion CDC to help them find sponsors to celebrate the church’s legacy of service and faith. To be part of the guide to acknowledge the last 150 years – and the next 150 – contact Clay Today at (904) 264-3200.