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Mt. Zion Baptist Church — the largest black congregation in Madison with 500 members — celebrates 108 years this month. Its longstanding legacy is preserved by the young yet astute leadership of the Rev. Marcus Allen, 36, who has been preaching since age 13. He is the church’s leader, a social justice advocate, a listener, an entrepreneur and a community organizer. Since his arrival in October 2016, the south side church has added more community-service programs, like sending printed sermons to people in prison. The stack of envelopes is so high the church is having trouble keeping up with postage. Allen also initiated a faith-based mentorship program with Dane County Human Services for children aging out of foster care. Here is an edited Q&A with Allen.
Mt. Zion Baptist Church is known for its focus on social justice. What exactly does that look like?
In the black community, the church has historically been the hub of hope and the headquarters for civil rights. For the longest time in Madison, it was only St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church and Mt. Zion, which always had to be the voice of the people, because we were the only black representation in the entire city. The leaders in the church I think must be the prophets for the people. The church needs to be a place where we are not afraid to speak to the injustices that happen to our congregation and also within our community. I was just in a meeting with Dane County Department of Human Services talking about an injustice. I went to a meeting and a lady opened up the meeting saying, “We want to end homelessness in Madison and Dane County.” The largest population of homelessness in Madison
is African American people. Accepted referrals of homeless people getting into a place or shelter: 66 percent are Caucasian and 27 percent are African American. That is a true injustice.
What is it like being the pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church?
It is the greatest position to ever be. One of my leaders told me if they ever call you to be the president of United States of America, turn it down because the pastor always has the last word. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Although rewarding, it is also one of the most challenging. The church is made up of so many different people — we don’t service just one group. Boys & Girls Club serves youth. YWCA serves women. Shelters serve homeless people. But here at the church we are responsible for serving all demographics of people — youth, young adult, seniors, middle age, single, married, extremely
impoverished, those who have a lot of wealth and people challenged with different mental health issues. We are responsible to meet the needs of all those individuals who come through our doors. And all our resources come from our members. They are giving of their generosity, their time, their talent and their money.
Tell us more about the church’s planned family center.
When the church was building an addition in 2004, church leaders had a vision to build a life center for the community. I’ve been here for about two years and a half years and I see the need for that. We are trying to come up with ways now to make sure it will not be just a space with a fence where members of Mt. Zion are the only people to use this space — we want it to be open to the community. We want to have different social services and programing so when someone comes to my office and they are talking to me about mental health issues, I don’t have to say, “Hey, call this number,” but rather, “Let me take you by the hand and walk you to somewhere you can get resources.” That is the goal.
Can you talk about a sermon that resonated with you recently?
This year we want to focus on families. One Sunday we talked about love. There is a whole chapter in the Bible dedicated to what love really is. It says love is patient, love is kind, love does not act rude and love keeps no record of wrongdoing. That is challenging. If you really love someone, you will not hold against them what they did to you yesterday and have it affect you today. Love is really a challenging thing. It is not just said with a four-letter word, but lived out in action. I stated to my church that love is not a lazy word. Love is active.
Anything else you’d like Madison Magazine readers to know about you or Mt. Zion Baptist Church?
Anyone can come to our worship service — every Sunday. We are here. I serve the greatest church in the world. We are just very engaging, very loving people and we are committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is what we are trying to do in this little corner of heaven. Amen.
Mackenzie Krumme is an editorial intern at Madison Magazine.
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