Mt. Zion Baptist Church offers deep roots, deeper faith

MINERAL WELLS – Five years before Parkersburg was chartered by the Virginia General Assembly in 1820 and 48 years before West Virginia became a state in 1863, Mt. Zion Baptist Church in present-day Mineral Wells was holding services as an organized house of worship.

The church was “organized May 15, 1815, in the home of Mrs. Elizabeth Kettle,” according to church history, with the “Rev. John Drake who came by way of the Hughes River on foot, carrying gun and Bible to serve as the first missionary in the new area now known as Butcher Bend.”

But it was the Rev. James McAboy, who organized the church with 10 members and from that beginning, according to church secretary Flora Gandee, “seven different churches have started from Mt. Zion, including First Baptist of Parkersburg down on Market Street.”

Gandee has been a member of the church since 1957 while Joe Morrison has been a member since October 1949.

“I was 12 or 13 when I became a member,” he said. “But I remember being 7 and sitting on some small, wooden pews that were very good at keeping you awake if you weren’t real careful about the way you sat.”

The pews are now padded, but the church sanctuary has remained the same size while the building has been added onto five times, Gandee said. The pastor is the Rev. Rufus Hoalcraft, the 44th in a long line of men behind the pulpit.

The Rev. Enoch Rector served the church for the most consecutive years, 29, and was pastor from 1838 to 1867.

Hoalcraft spent 17 years as pastor of Big Tygart Baptist before retiring.

“Then I returned as part of a pulpit supply after Ken Cutright, the pastor of the church, had a brain aneurysm,” he said. “My wife, Nancy, and myself, we thought this is where God wanted us to be afterward. So when they invited us to stay, we did.”

Gandee said the church averages 65-70 people on a Sunday morning and had more than 100 Easter morning.

“The sanctuary will hold 120 people and we can leave 12 people in the choir loft,” said Hoalcraft. “I’ve seen 125 people in the sanctuary a few times,” Morrison said. “I’ve never seen it completely full. I’d like to, but I never have.”

In front of the church, with a small bronze marker is a stone from the original church. Behind the church is the Mt. Zion Baptist Cemetery where there is a marker giving details about the graveyard and below it is a time capsule placed there in 1976.

“It was placed there during the country’s bicentennial,” Morrison said, “and it is supposed to be opened during our bicentennial.”

“Then they’ll open it up in another 50 years,” said Gandee. “Sooner if they get impatient. Or I guess whenever they want to.”

Hoalcraft said what hasn’t changed for the last 50 years or more “is this church has straight forward, pull no punches, right of the Word of God preaching.”

“The message of the church hasn’t changed,” Morrison said. “It’s still conservative, Bible-believing always,” he said. “We stick to that because that’s how we live our lives, how we treat each other.”

The area has been blessed, Hoalcraft said.

“There have been a lot of Christian people walk through these church doors to keep this church going for 200 years,” he said. “Hopefully, there’s a lot of years left for this church.”