SCOUTING AROUND: Wise women lead by the Golden Rule
There are two women everyone admires at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Andrews. Helen Jones and Shirley Ann Burgess Allen are considered the mothers of the African-American Baptist church, and they bring generations of wisdom.
They share messages of love to all, bringing their words eventually to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Jones is the 80 year-old aunt of Allen, who is 70. Both grew up in Andrews. They have dedicated their lives to helping others and serving the church, God and Jesus Christ.
Both attribute their lifestyle to the women who raised them. Jones said her mother, Janie Jones, raised her in the church and always went out of her way to help others.
“She had a lot of love and respect to everyone, and she taught that to me,” Jones said.
Whenever there was someone who was sick or needed help, Jones was taught to bring water and food to them.
Allen’s mother and Jones’ sister, Virginia Jones Burgess, died when Allen was only 4 years old. Allen was primarily raised by her other grandmother, Christy McKinney.
“My grandmother always took in strange people, and it didn’t matter what color they were,” Allen said. “That influenced me to try to help other people.”
Allen said they were blessed and even had more than their white neighbors, who they would share food with. She thinks the love her grandmother showed helped put love in others’ hearts. To this day, people tell her they will never forget what her grandmother did for them.
Jones, on the other hand, has had white people apologize to her for what they did to her when they were young. She lived in the Tannery houses (her father, John Jones, worked at the Tannery, according to the book When All God’s Children Get Together by Ann Miller Woodford)
and had to walk a mile home on dirt roads from the one-room school in Happy Top. Those white people, when they were kids, would throw rocks at her and her siblings as they walked home.
“I just went on home,” Jones said. “I don’t remember getting hit.”
When she told her granddaughter about this, her granddaughter cried because she couldn’t believe someone could treat her like that. Today, Jones is a proud great-grandmother, who lives in a house next to the church and across the street from where the former school stood.
“Times were hard back then, but they are much better now,” Jones said. “It makes you feel wonderful that they didn’t have to go through what I did.”
She said her experiences have made her a stronger and more caring person. Both Jones and Allen continue to volunteer their time, helping with church projects, the annual toy drive and visiting nursing homes.
“They are wonderful women,” said the Rev. Charlsie Sweat, the church’s pastor. “They’re the backbone of our church.”
They are the kitchen managers and perform other roles during the service. Both ladies are busy before and after the service, welcoming and catching up with the congregation.
“She will do anything for you,” Kim Allen said of her mother.
Still, the elder Allen said her greatest accomplishment is her seven grandchildren, calling them her heart. One grandson, Isaiah Allen, plays drums during the church’s service.
Kim described her mother as shy, loving, compassionate and strong-willed. Kim is the church’s secretary – a role her grandmother and great aunt both served – and her father and Allen’s husband, Johnny, is a deacon. Johnny and Shirley have been married for 50 years, and she convinced the Murphy native to join her church.
The church, which Johnny Allen calls “little Mount Zion” so it is not confused with the one in Texana, is nestled behind weaving backroads leading to the Happy Top area. When he started going to the church in the 1970s, there were only five members. Today, there are about 30.
“I like a small church like this,” he said as he gazed at the rows of pews. “I have a vision this church will be filled up.”
As was instilled in Jones and Allen, the church welcomes everyone through the doors, and once you walk through the doors of the church, you are family.
Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church was established in 1898, and the original church building was constructed in 1912. The church building today was built in 1958.
Samantha Sinclair is the Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email, firstname.lastname@example.org; fax, 837-5832; or by leaving a message in the office at 837-5122.