Charted on November 6, 1895 as Zion Primitive Baptist Church, we remained as such until 1938, when the name was changed to the Greater Zion Missionary Baptist Church. The word Missionary was incorporated with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on January 1, 1994. Through our doorways have passed many generations of devoted worshipers. Our history consists of struggles, pain and yet many joys and victories.
Our success is due in part to the leadership of Godly ministers, each unique in his own way, and the many dedicated laborers and faithful members. We, who are current members of this church, are beneficiaries of their enduring good works.
Although our early history is sparse, we have gleaned that each pastor played an integral part in moving us to where we are today. Our current sanctuary represents only the third building the church has occupied. Renovations, remodeling, upgrading and the purchasing of additional items have been ongoing has “times” and resources permitted.
The Early Years
The humble beginnings of the few, who initiated the Charter, to major increases in membership at various intervals, required the development of numerous ministries to meet the spiritual needs of our growing church family.
Rev. Pullium was the first pastor. He served for a brief time in 1895. It is believed that his primary role was to organize the church, which was then located in the 1300 block of Marion Street.
Rev. W. Tolliver came to Harrisburg from Virginia. He served as Zion’s second pastor for 27 years from 1895 to 1922. Rev. Alexander A. Robinson became the third pastor. He served from 1922 to 1935. During that time, the church grew rapidly. As a result of that growth, Zion was able to purchase the Otterbein United Brethren Church located at 343 Reily Street. This building, with many renovations, remained the church site until April 1994.
Rev. Lowell P. Mitchell served as the fourth pastor of Zion from 1935 to 1938. The first baptistery was built during this period. Prior to that time, converts were baptized in the Susquehanna River. It was during this period that the name of the church was changed.
Reverends Stanmore and Smallwood served Zion for short periods of time; Stanmore from 1938 to 1939 and Smallwood from 1939 to 1941. The documentation during this period is vague, but we are sure that the church continued to grow because of the Holy Spirit’s presence.
The Middle Years
Rev. J.H. Marshall of Philadelphia served as the seventh pastor from 1942 to 1955. During this period, the mortgage was burned. The church grew in all areas. Many of our current senior members joined under the leadership of Rev. Marshall.
Rev. Clarence L. Henderson, Sr., also from Philadelphia, served as Greater Zion’s eighth pastor. Under his leadership, the membership doubled. New organizations and choirs flourished. There were extensive renovations and remodeling made inside and outside of the church. He served with diligence, patience and loving understanding of his flock until God called him home on April 19, 1977.
Rev. Paul S. Munford, of Philadelphia, our ninth pastor, served form 1978 to 1987. Tremendous spiritual growth occurred under his leadership. A new parsonage with furniture was purchased. Extensive renovations were made to the Fellowship Hall. Various auxiliaries were formed. Unique among them was The Bible Institute and Tape Ministry, and a Van Ministry. During this period, the church purchased its first van. Pastor Munford continues to be an energetic, progressive man of God.
Rev. Wilford McKinley and Rev. Irving Kittrell served as interim pastors (McKinley from 1987 to 1989; Kittrell from February 1989 to December 1989), during the church search for the tenth pastor. They were successful in keeping the church growing and intact during the search. (It is significant to note that with the exception of Rev. Kittrell, all pastors who served during the middle years were from Philadelphia).
The Meile Years
Rev. Charles R. Meile, Jr. was called to be our tenth pastor. He began his service on December 1, 1989. Under his leadership, the church has grown tremendously. During his first pastoral year, 136 people gave their lives to Christ, re-dedicated themselves or joined under their Christian experience. That same year marked the end of “fund raising” and the beginning of Biblical giving of tithes and offerings as the sole means of supporting God’s ministry.
Consequently, in the year 2000, for the first time in the history of the church, the annual giving nearly topped seven figures. Also during this first year, New Members Orientation Classes were established and the Deacon Family Ministry Plan (DFMP) was instituted to assist new converts with the transition to Christendom and mature living. As a result of consistent monitoring of the DFMP, the Deacons created a (first-ever) systematic and formal process for maintaining the accuracy of the roll.
Pastor Meile’s vision of a new church for the expanding congregation was realized after only five short years. The Greater Zion Missionary Baptist Church moved on April 27, 1994 from 343 Reily Street to its third home at 212 North Progress Avenue, Harrisburg, PA. Our first offical service was held on May 1, 1994. The new sanctuary accommodates 750 worshippers. We provide off-street parking for over 150 vehicles. There are a dozen classrooms, a nursery, industrial culinary kitchen, centrally-located baptistery visible from the sanctuary, separate changing rooms for men and women, men and women choir rooms and a 250-person seating capacity in the Fellowship Hall.
Historical firsts resulting from the relocation include office space for the First Lady, administrative staff, associate ministers, Schools of Christian education superintendent, boards of deacons, trustees, day care director, church custodian, pre-marriage counselor and minister of music. Pastor Meile established full-time paid positions with medical coverage for an office manager, business/human resource administrator, church custodian, day care director and staff, and administrative assistant to the Senior Pastor. Paid part-time custodial and day care staff, and a director of ministries were also established. Currently we staff over 20 (full-time/part-time) employees.
As the membership continues to grow, Pastor Meile recognized the need to minister to our world-torn bodies. His sensitivity to hurting people and families have resulted in the formation of over 70 ministries of help, many of them non-traditional, to meet the challenges of this millennium. Some that are notable for their uniqueness to the traditional church experience are the Addiction Ministry, Apprenticeship Ministry, Bereavement Support Ministry, Culinary Care Ministry, Golden Years (senior citizen) Ministry, Grant Proposal Writing Ministry, Health Ministry, Homeless Ministry, Library Ministry, Mental Health Ministry, Food & Clothing Ministry, Parents in Prayer Ministry, Printing Ministry, Prison Ministry and Spiritual Movements (aerobics) Ministry.
Several ministries were established to address the needs of our youth, including a Child Care Ministry, Cub Scout Ministry, Homework & Computer Ministry, Rapping with the Rev & His Wife Ministry, Recreation Ministry, Youth Enlightenment (Christian education) Ministry, Youth Bible Study Ministry, Praise Dancers Ministry, Silent Communicators (mime) Ministry, Stilt Dancers Ministry, Cheer for Christ (drill team) Ministry and Puppet Ministry.
Under Pastor Meile, the music department was reorganized and the position of Minister of Music was established. A teen choir, Heavenly Voices, was formed, as well as the Mass Choir. An enhancement to the music ministry is the Praise Team, relieving the Deacons of the traditional responsibility of “kindling the fire” prior to the start of the worship services. A state-of-the-art sound system was installed and a baby grand piano, Hammond B-3 organ, and a full drum set was purchased under Pastor Meile.
Pastor Meile’s passion for education and continuous learning led to the revamping of the Christian Education department into the Schools of Christian Education Ministry. Aside from the traditional classes offered, a Youth Enlightenment Ministry was formed to nurture young children and ultimately bring them to a decision for Christ. A related ministry is the New Members Orientation consisting of 12 distinct yet complimentary courses to equip, enrich and educate new or transplanted converts.
In 1999, Pastor Meile shared and launched a new initiative, “The Pastor’s Millennial Vision Ministry.” His vision consists of an expanded edifice to include a new day care center, youth church and gymnasium, educational building and additional parking. Additional components include paid administrative and pastoral staff and expanded ministries to the community, such as a drug counseling center offering life-skills, child care and transportation to work.
At present, because of continued church growth, we have begun two Sunday worship services (8 & 10:45AM, 1st Sunday 6PM). We are also remodeling and restructuring several areas within the church to accommodate church staffing and ministry needs.
It is exciting to see God continue to move in such a mighty way. Pastor Meile states that he is, “encouraged and motivated to keep pressing on. It is no secret what God can do, and I just believe that as we allow God to lead and His Spirit control, we will move to new heights never before imagined.”