FORT VALLEY -- If you talk to the Rev. Therial Brown, shell tell you how good Jesus is and how blessed she is.
Brown is pastor of Mount Zion Christian Methodist Episcopal Church on Pea Ridge Road just west of Fort Valley.
Its down almost two miles of dirt road off U.S. 96 if you take Beverly Road, which turns into Pea Ridge. Or its not quite one mile of dirt road off 96 if you take Aldridge Road, which dead-ends into Pea Ridge a little east of the church.
Brown has been at Mount Zion going on two years. Its her first pastorate.
Brown said Mount Zion is 146 years old, and though it was once the hub of a thriving community with families, a school and the nearby Mount Zion cemetery, it hasnt fared well in recent years.
They say once this church was packed -- filled every Sunday, she said. When I came it was condemned, officially condemned. When I saw the building I could almost hear the walls crying for someone to come love on it and the people who needed it to come back to life. Ive been giving it my best.
And Brown, who lives in Warner Robins with her husband, Jerry, has done a lot.
I was so exciting when the CME church put me on trial as a minister, ordained me and gave me my first church, all in the same year, she said. Its exciting to go through the ceremony where they lay hands on you and set you in ministry. Then I came out here, a city-slicker girl from Memphis, and was screaming and crying at all the disarray and spiders and lizards crawling around. There was no electricity on, no water, no working bathrooms and it was 100 degrees. God told me, Let the windows up and get to work. Well have church.
Brown and others got to work. She said if you seek first God and his kingdom, hell supply.
Help came. Someone said they were afraid the sagging ceiling and Sheetrock might fall on her while she was preaching and gave money to fix it. Others worked in other ways to get the building in reasonable shape.
But changes havent been solely physical.
Laughter and the joy of the Lord are back, Brown said. When we began, a couple of (older) members came back. Louise Clark, the mother of the church, is 78 and came and hugged me and wouldnt let go. By six months, eight (more older) members were back. By the end of the first year we had almost 20 members and this year weve added another. Bishop Kenneth Wayne Carter said they were closing the church, but he told me he wanted someone to get in here and see it live. Gods doing it.
Brown started new ministries, among them a Youth Back to Action ministry, a monthly meals ministry, community outreach ministry, outreach to Fort Valley State University and a radio ministry on 100.5-FM Sundays from 2:45 to 3 p.m. called the Mount Zion Powerpoint.
Weve come so far, thats why Im in tears, Brown said, weeping as she reviewed past months. I was the last person for them to send before they closed it. Bishop Carter said I changed this church from lemons to lemonade. It may be hard to believe, but Im so thankful they sent me here. I am so thankful God would choose a vessel like me. God is gracious.
The denomination has given Brown its Escalating Star Award for work at Mount Zion, and given her a second church to pastor along with Mount Zion, W.J. Johnson Memorial CME Church in Byron which was in similar shape.
I praised God for the award because when I first got here, I bowed my head and said I can do this, God you can do this through me, Brown said. Weve got such a long way to go, but so much has been done. We made sure the members were OK and started seeing new members come in. Its the Lords doing.
And about those dirt roads, Brown said they need paving. Even though Mount Zion sits at the edge of Crawford County, she said shell keep at the county commissioners until they do it. She said the church is praying.
Contact Michael W. Pannell at firstname.lastname@example.org.