It’s not every Sunday that church ceremonies involve burning paperwork.
But then it’s not every Sunday that one of the city’s oldest Black parishes gets to celebrate the retirement of a mortgage.
Marcus Allen, senior pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church on the South Side, said retirement of the mortgage, taken in 2004 to finance a major renovation, has been an important goal since he arrived in 2016.
“We want to own our own building,” he said in an interview Sunday evening. “The biggest building on the block, owned by a predominantly Black church.”
Allen said the church had already planned a major fundraising push to get the debt on the building paid off this year, but then the pandemic hit, and the church focused on providing financial support for people affected by the resulting economic downturn.
But on July 1, Allen led a renewed push to raise money to retire the remaining $150,000 on the mortgage. Members of the church were able to donate $75,000, and an anonymous donor pledged another $150,000 — $75,000 to finish of the mortgage and another $75,000 toward the church’s next project: a new Community Life Center to be built right next door that will house many of Mt. Zion’s community programs, such as their food pantry, academic success programs, and a new partnership with Anesis Family Therapy to provide free mental health services every Tuesday, beginning October 6.
While those programs are all underway, or will be soon, the Community Life Center will give them a home.
“Our goal is to raise enough funds so when we go into the building, we’ll be debt free again,” Allen said. “But that’ll be raising at least three to four million (dollars). And that’s my hope, that we can raise that much money, especially the amount of work that we’ve been doing in the community. That we have some generous donors to see the work that we’re doing and be willing to help us put that building there. And preferably we can make it pandemic proof, some form or way, that we’ll be able to continue services in the midst of a pandemic.”
Allen said even though it’s Madison’s second-oldest Black church, Mt. Zion is always looking forward.
“We’re a very progressive church and we understand the times,” he said. “We understand what’s going on right now. And the church (has been) around 109 years, but in each period of time, they’ve made adjustments to what was going on, and (looked) ahead to be prepared for what’s to come. And so I think that’s what it has really positioned us not only to be a place of worship and hope and a place of peace, but it has also helped us become a community-based church where we can focus on the needs of the community and help those that surround our congregation, because I understand we can’t have a healthy church in a dying community.”