Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) recently celebrated its 140th anniversary as the oldest African-American-owned church in Delaware County.

The church, at 1008 Center St. in Darby Borough, was founded in October 1877 when the plot of land on which it sits was purchased by a group of Christians, said current Pastor Gregory Nelson.

The church’s official celebration service last month was attended by a variety of local and state political personalities including Gov. Tom Wolf, state Sen. Anthony Williams (D-8), newly-elected Rep. Joanne McClinton (D-191) and borough Mayor Helen Thomas.

The church was awarded a plaque that has not been displayed yet, because Nelson wants to find a proper place for it. The plaque reads “Mt. Zion AME Delaware County’s Oldest Church 140 Years 1872-2015.” 

Mt. Zion AME stands among the oldest of African-American congregations in Delaware County.

Mt. Zion AME stands among the oldest of African-American congregations in Delaware County.

Mt. Zion has ties to abolitionist Quakers Joseph and Margaret Powell who aided African-American slaves through the Underground Railroad.

This church also houses artifacts from the past ranging from architecture to human remains.

The first official pastor of the church, Rev. Richard Barney, was buried on the property in the front yard, Nelson said. A gravestone marks where he was laid to rest.

Some of the architecture inside the sanctuary was crafted by a blind architect, Nelson said. The stained glass windows are only slightly younger than the church at 100 years-old. They were installed in 1916.

An old Bible is displayed in the sanctuary, but Nelson could not find a date for how old the book is. It shows signs of age, such as yellowed, fragile pages.

There is also a hymn board in the sanctuary that is as old as the church. The board is used to identify the names of the psalms or hymns that will be used during a service.

The church has been led by 46 pastors over the course of its history and has served the community in many ways. The church was rebuilt and enlarged in 1881.

Since 1994, Mt. Zion has installed a handicapped-accessible chair lift, purchased a passenger van to transport members, and organized the Silver Stars Senior Club to bring crafts, information and Christian fellowship to senior citizens.

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