Thursday, July 23, 2015

We Wept When We Remembered (Mt.) Zion

Interior of Mt. Zion Amish Mennonite Church
By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yes, we wept
When we remembered Zion.

We hung our harps
Upon the willows...

- Psalm 137:1-2a NKJV

This past Sunday some fifty of us attended the last worship service of the Mt. Zion Amish Mennonite Church, located along graveled Guthrie Road north of Stuarts Draft.

I, along with my family, had become a charter member of that congregation when it was established in 1955 as an offshoot of the Stuarts Draft (Old Order) Amish Church. The new congregation allowed the use of cars and telephones and aimed at being more open to evangelizing others in the community, though for many years it continued to conduct most of its services in German. I remember being excited about positive changes at Mt. Zion, and recall putting in many hours as a teen joining other in constructing the building that was closed Sunday. 

Exterior view of the Mt. Zion meeting house
In 2012 the ownership of the property was transferred to the trustees of the nearby Pilgrim Christian Fellowship, a somewhat more progressive Amish Mennonite ("Beachy Amish") Church for ongoing upkeep of the church building and the cemetery, where my parents, my older sister Lucy Schrock and niece Miriam Schrock are buried along with other close acquaintances and relatives. The stated reason for the transfer of the deed was Mt. Zion's "diminishing numbers and their aging membership".

Old Order Amish church and school
The same decline in membership had occurred thirty years earlier in the Old Order Amish Church along Tinkling Springs Road, which closed its doors in 1986 and remains vacant today. I was baptized there in 1954 and have fond memories of that church as well, which was less than a mile from our farm.

My brother-in-law Alvin Schrock, 87, was a faithful minister of the Mt. Zion Church for 58 of its sixty years. It was hard for him to speak his farewell on this last Sunday, having served under four bishops and three fellow ministers during the past five decades, and having seen the church go from a thriving congregation of around 50 families to now having only himself and his daughter Barbara Ann left as official members. Ironically, in its latter years, several families who were not of Amish background, but who were drawn to its counter-cultural faith and life, did become a part of the congregation for a time. But eventually members of the Mt. Zion family died, moved elsewhere or joined other churches, including the Pilgrim Christian Fellowship Church on White Hill Road.

At Sunday's service Schrock opened with the words, "We rejoice today even though we  are experiencing trials over things not going as we had desired." He then read from a passage in Paul's letter to the Philippians, "I thank God upon every remembrance of you... I long for you in the deep compassion of Christ... I am confident that the one who began a good work in you will complete it." 

Four other ministers added their own words of both lament and encouragement in the three hour service, urging all of us to remain faithful to the vision and faith of founders and leaders of Mt. Zion. 

One of them read the following words of the prophet Isaiah:

"...the Lord has anointed Me...
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

- from Isaiah 61 NKJV

View of boyhood farm from the Stuarts Draft Old Order Church site
 Here's a link to other posts on Amish faith and life
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