Seattle’s Mount Zion Baptist Church Searches For its Place in a Growing Metropolis

Interim Pastor, the Rev. James Stallings, is pictured at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Seattle on Sunday, May 27, 2018. (Photo by Jason Redmond for Crosscut.)
Interim Pastor, the Rev. James Stallings, is pictured at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Seattle on Sunday, May 27, 2018. (Photo by Jason Redmond for Crosscut.)

The parking spot out in front reserved for the late Rev. Dr. Samuel B. McKinney might give visitors of Mount Zion Baptist Church the impression that it’s living in the past.

So might the vintage purple rug inside the historic church, which is located in Seattle’s Central District. Or the wood paneling. Also on display: stained-glass windows of not only Jesus but historically significant African American figures, such as the abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

But as the Rev. James Stallings, Mount Zion’s interim pastor for the next two years, put it in one recent sermon to the congregation of Seattle’s most influential African American-led church during the Civil Rights years and beyond:

“Where God is, things change. You cannot come into the presence of God and remain the same.”

Stallings also believes “God isn’t far away somewhere” — indeed, “God is right here at Mount Zion.”

There are also clues within the sanctuary of Mount Zion which, not insignificantly, is styled like an African hut, that changes are afloat: The modern screens facing the congregation flash the different ways in which members can give monetarily to the church, which includes an option to donate via text. And Stallings himself represents a chance to look ahead for new directions.

At a recent service, when Stallings was out of town, another pastor at the church, the Rev. Dr. Patricia Hunter, delivered the sermon instead, referring to Stallings as “a breath of fresh air.” Some of those sitting in the pews shouted “Amen” in response.

Stallings, 73, became Mount Zion’s interim pastor in January after being approached by leaders of American Baptist Churches USA, the fifth largest Christian denomination in the country, made up of approximately 5,000 local congregations and 1.3 million members. Stallings was living in New York City at the time and had happily retired from American Baptist Churches of Metropolitan New York, a regional affiliate of American Baptist Churches USA, in 2015.

But then the Rev. Dr. Marcia J. Patton, formerly the executive minister of the Pacific Northwest affiliate of American Baptist Churches USA, asked Stallings to move to Seattle to help Mount Zion “get a vision for its future and make sure that vision is owned by members.”

“I tried not to come here,” Stallings said, expressing reluctance about taking on his new role at this late stage in his life. But after a visit to Seattle in November, Stallings felt that providence had nudged him. “I needed to come here and do what I could.”

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SOURCE: Lilly Fowler
Crosscut