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Volunteers constructing new church for Zion Hill

FIRST WEEK’S WORK – Volunteers arrived last Wednesday and accomplished this much as of Tuesday morning. The Athens, Alabama, group will leave on Thursday morning, turning work over to another church group to carry on. More volunteers will assist after that, and Zion Hill members will complete the project.

Zion Hill Baptist Church will soon have a new sanctuary, thanks to groups of volunteers who are spending their summer vacations in Wesson to help with the project.

Volunteers with Carpenters for Christ have been hard at work this week framing up the new structure. Another group of volunteers will be here next week to continue the work, with another to follow after that, and another after that.

The congregation hopes to be in the new building sometime this fall, said Zion Hill member Mary Hamilton. The 125th anniversary of the church’s founding will be celebrated in October, so church members hope to be in the new building in time for that event. But there will be plenty of work left for members to do after the volunteers have gone home.

The previous Zion Hill building got a bit knocked around by Hurricane Katrina, and it also had some foundation problems. Plus the growing congregation needed more space. After much prayer they decided to build a new one, reports Jimmy Wooten, chairman of deacons.

Carpenters for Christ chooses a different project every year, explains Jim Ernest. Three churches travel with this particular group:  Lindsay Lane Baptist Church and Clements Baptist Church of Athens, AL, and First Baptist Church of Decatur, AL. The Alabama group chose Zion Hill as their summer project this year.

Groups needing construction help and ministries looking for projects communicate with each other through a Southern Baptist website. Projects must meet certain qualifications before being chosen.

This is the Alabama group’s ninth year of this ministry, and Zion Hill is their tenth project. They have completed projects in Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama in past years.

About 70 volunteer carpenters are working on the Zion Hill project right now, from all walks of life. “Some are professionals in the trades, and some – like me – sit at a desk most of the time,” explained Ernest.

The ministry is a family affair for some, with fathers and mothers working alongside their children. Ernest’s grandson has been traveling with the group since he was three years old.

The team is mostly self-sufficient, bringing their own kitchen crew and paying their own traveling expenses. Those who can’t afford it but want to participate can get scholarships, explained Ernest. “We don’t turn anyone away who wants to help,” he said.

Some of the crew brought campers, while others are sleeping on air mattresses in the classrooms. Zion Hill’s fellowship hall building, which includes a full kitchen and classrooms, is unaffected by the construction project.

“It’s an awesome thing to watch them come out and pitch in, from all parts of Alabama,” said Rev. Tom McCormick, pastor of Zion Hill.  “It’s an awesome thing to watch people come together to see the kingdom of God advance.”

The team has seen some reached for Christ during past projects, according to Ernest, and some of those who have been helped have gone on to become volunteer carpenters on future building projects with the group. Some of the volunteers at Zion Hill this week are members of churches that received help from Carpenters for Christ in the past.

“This is a way we can give back,” said Ernest. Two of the group’s own church buildings have been built by Carpenters for Christ.  

The planning process has been going on since last September with several meetings held between Carpenters for Christ and the Zion Hill folks.

After the Alabama Carpenters for Christ leave, other church groups from Alabama, Georgia, and Florida are coming to continue the work. Members of Zion Hill will complete the project themselves.

Chairman of deacons Jimmy Wooten invites everyone to come by and see how cooperation between groups can make things happen. People are willing to help when others need it, he points out, and it can be seen going on at Zion Hill right now.

Zion Hill Baptist Church is located on Martinsville Road, several miles from Wesson and Hazlehurst. The church was organized in 1883, and has remained at the same location ever since. The adjacent cemetery was added to the church property in 1910. The congregation will celebrate their 125th anniversary the last Sunday in October.

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