Church in Ocala, Florida Celebrates 155 Years and Looks to the Future

The Missionary Baptist Church of Mount Moriah celebrated its 155th anniversary on May 15 with liturgy, song, historical stories and fellowship.

May McCants Stafford, born in 1937, said her parents attended Mount Moriah and she was “born in the church”.

“Mount Moriah means everything to me,” Stafford said. She was one of 28 people named in the program as “50+” members.

Stafford said she treasured what she learned from Mr Moriah, such as “the golden rule and basic things like taking nothing for granted and live and let live”.

Stafford served in the church’s health ministry from approximately 2010 to 2020. She oversaw a diabetes support group and worked with a University of Florida nutritionist to provide programs for church members. .

The future:Ocala City Council agrees location of next downtown parking garage

The past:remember the church

A party venue:A rally in January 2008

An aerial view of Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in downtown Ocala.

A history dating back to 1867

The Church in Downtown Ocala was established following the 1867 Emancipation Proclamation by former slaves seeking a place where they could “praise, pray and worship with the fullness of their spirit, without racial restriction,” according to a special anniversary program.

The Reverend Jerry Alexander Jr., left, pastor of Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, poses with church members May McCants Stafford and Michael Adams and his grandson, Kaicen Adams, 6, after the service of the afternoon of the 155th anniversary of the church on May 15.

The Rev. Dr. Jerry B. Alexander Jr., of St. Petersburg, has served as pastor at Mt. Moriah MBC since 2019. He said the church has a “loving atmosphere.”

Alexander is married to the First Lady of the Church, Sabrenia Alexander, and the couple have two adult children.

Gospel messages were delivered at three separate services on May 15 by Rev. Alexander and guest ministers Gaston E. Smith Sr., senior pastor/teacher of Miami Friendship Missionary Church, and Rev. Keith E Blunt, pastor of New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church in Ocala.

A proclamation from Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn was displayed inside the program. It states, in part, that Mt. Moriah MBC has a “well-known history of excellent pastors, leaders, and congregants who have been at the forefront of spiritual, academic, cultural, social, service, civil rights advancements and policies of our community.

The original site of the church was on South Pine Avenue, where the Firestone store is now located

A church history in the program indicates that the former slaves withdrew from the local White Baptist church and, led by pastor Reverend Samuel Small, founded Mt. Moriah MBC in a 30-foot by 50-foot building on South Pine Ave. The location is near the current Firestone Tire Co. site, the program says.

A local businessman offered the congregation land on Fort King Street in the Pond and Lime Streets area in exchange for ownership of South Pine, according to the program.

The program says congregants from across the county who traveled to Mount Moriah “saw the need to establish” churches in their own communities. From 1874 to 1906, Shady Grove Baptist Church, Calvary Baptist Church, Covenant Church, and Hopewell Baptist Church were opened.

Mt. Moriah established its current site, 55 SW Third Ave., in 1911, according to the program.

‘We were together’

Reverend Frank George Pinkston Sr.

Reverend Frank George Pinkston Sr. served as Mt. Moriah MBC pastor from 1964-1967 and was known as the “Black Liberator of Marion County” for his “leadership in our civil rights program”. He also organized the first Head Start program here for preschoolers, according to the program.

A letter copied from the program by Rev. Dr. Jerone Gamble, moderator of the Second Bethlehem Baptist Association, states that Mt. Moriah MBC has been a “source of spiritual leadership and Christian education” and has made “outstanding contributions” to the “musical, theatrical and cultural development of this community.

Darren Gaddis, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Ocala, wrote in a letter published in the program that the two churches shared a “common history” in the group, which separated to establish a “sweet fellowship” – Mt. Moriah MBC.

He wished church members “the richest blessings of Christ”.

The program also contains copies of congratulatory letters from Bishop James D. Stockton III, who serves as president of the local NAACP chapter, and State Representative Yvonne Hinson.

This 2018 file photo shows the Reverend Lorenzo Edwards applauding as the Girls of the Girls Dance Ministry perform during his grand pastoral 50th anniversary worship service at Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Ocala.

Reverend Lorenzo S. Edwards served as pastor of Mt. Moriah from 1968 to 2018, years that included the tumult of the civil rights movement.

“Mount Moriah held on. (The church) gave us direction and we held our heads up. We were together,” Edwards said in a phone interview.

Edwards said serving at Mount Moriah MBC was “part of a journey that turned out to be the best journey I could have had. I found myself at Mount Moriah and I’m grateful for that.”

The program says several parcels adjacent to the church building were acquired under Edwards’ direction, and the renovated building on two properties now serves as offices, Sunday School classrooms, the community center of the Mount Moriah and the Mount Moriah Department of Health.

A walking path has also been laid out on the property, says the 155th anniversary program.

To look forward

The cornerstone of the present Mount Moriah Church, which was rebuilt in 1966.

Church clerk Vickie Turner said the church has had a very impressive impact on the community and its influence will continue to grow, especially as the church prepares to relocate.

As Star-Banner reported, the City of Ocala has purchased the downtown campus on Mt. Moriah and plans to build a parking lot there. No start date has been set for construction and no move date has been set for the congregation.

Mt. Moriah will relocate to church-owned land in Ocala, southwest of Fifth Street, east of southwest 27th Avenue. The congregation can remain at its current site for a year after the sale of the property, which is expected to take place in June, closes.

“Friendliest Church”

Among the members of the congregation who attended the afternoon service on May 15 were Jacqueline Gray and Regis Boatwright, who both served on the 155th anniversary committee, and 9-year-old Zhenn Stuman, who is the grand- son of Boatwight.

Boatwright and John Livingston were co-chairs of the anniversary steering committee.

Brandon Rhodes and Lee Butler were among the musicians for the afternoon service.

Michael Adams, whose wife, Shiyann, worked on a birthday party, and his grandson, Kaicen Adams, 6, and Royal Colbert and sons Jayden, 12, and Jonathan, 16, were also there .

New church member Michelle McGirth attended the afternoon service with her 12-year-old daughter Milashia. They joined Lily West Milton, a church member of 20 years, for after-service refreshments in the church annex.

Deacon Patrick Warfield, who also visited the church annex after the service, has been a member for about a year.

Deacon Don Peyton moved to Ocala in 2013 and joined Mt.ount Moriah MBC in 2014.

“(It’s) the friendliest church,” Peyton said. He said the members had welcomed him “ever since I first opened the door.”

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