BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – Over the weekend, a capital area church known as downtown Baton Rouge’s first place of worship for Black people celebrated its 165th anniversary.

Over the years, many have come to know Mount Zion First Baptist Church as a safe haven.

This was reflected in the words of praise Chester Baldwin sang while performing as Mount Zion’s guest musical artist during Sunday’s service.

“Everybody, let’s go to the old church house,” Baldwin sang.

The lyrics rang true. For well over a century, a number of capital area residents have been attending Mount Zion, where they’ve found assistance from the church’s community outreach programs and religious services.

Deacon Willie Nelson touched on this while speaking with BRProud. Nelson said, “When we went through the flood, we were able to provide food and clothing for people that had lost everything.”

Nelson has been serving with Mount Zion for 73 years. He says the congregation has faced multiple obstacles, some so heavy they should have closed the church’s doors.

For example, the COVID-19 pandemic posed a significant setback, as did ensuing dwindling attendance numbers.

Nelson said these obstacles have motivated church leaders to make certain changes. For one, they’re now making even more of an effort to go out into the community to offer assistance.

Despite changing circumstances, Mount Zion continues to open its doors every Sunday.

“The mountains we had to climb, it’s an occasion to celebrate on this mountain. And this is a mountain today,” said Pastor W. Franklin Richardson, keynote speaker.

Baldwin agreed, “This church has been a beacon in this community of Baton Rouge, but also has been a beacon of light to the state of Louisiana. And its pastoral history has been a beacon even to the nation. But it has always been undergirded by great music that has always sustained and supported great preaching ministry.”

The church plans to keep its doors open for years to come.

Click here to donate towards its efforts.