A Project for Students and Citizens

Living Democracy in Marion: Week Three

In Marion on June 27, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Tabor 1Historic Marion Church Stands on Foundation of Love

By Catherine Tabor

A church isn’t just four walls and a steeple. It’s the people inside, and worshippers at Zion United Methodist Church in Marion stand on a strong history and a foundation of love. Zion played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights movement. On the night of February 18, 1965, nearly 500 people left Zion United Methodist Church in Marion and attempted a peaceful march to the Perry County Jail about a half a block away. This jail was where young Civil Rights worker James Orange was imprisoned. The participants of the march had planned to sing hymns and return to the church, but the short march was not as peaceful as some might have hoped. The marchers were met by the Marion police, sheriff’s deputies, and even Alabama state troopers. There was a standoff, and violence soon erupted. Jimmie Lee Jackson became a casualty of what began as a peaceful protest march. This event inspired the famous Selma to Montgomery march, which occurred a few days later, a significant event in the Civil Rights movement.

Looking at it now, it’s hard for people to imagine such an historic moment being associated with the brick structure at 310 Pickens St. Located adjacent to theTabor 3 town square, Zion is an easy church to get to. I was able to attend a service on Father’s Day, June 16. When the church doors opened at 11 a.m., church members come flooding in to take their seats for the service. Everyone exchanges friendly greetings, happy to be alive and able to praise God. All of the youth in attendance file to the front and take their place on stage as the choir, where they soon join together in beautiful, soulful songs of worship. Fairest Cureton is the pastor at Zion, and Velma England is the assistant pastor. Both did an impeccable job with this Father’s Day service.

Zion is, as I previously stated, a Methodist church. I have only been to a few Methodist church services.  I was raised as a Protestant without a particular denomination, but my family mostly frequented Southern Baptist churches. However, the denomination was not the only striking difference between Zion and other churches I have been to. The congregation of Zion United Methodist Church consists of mostly, if not all, African-Americans. Most of the churches I’ve been to had Caucasian majorities.  I was approaching a culture of faith different from my own. So with the differences in mind, I was a little nervous about walking into the church, but I was truly blown away by how open and friendly everyone was. The service in and of itself was exceptionally different from anything I had previously experienced. Usually, church services I attend last approximately one hour, and they generally lag after the first 30 minutes. The service at Zion not only lasted two hours, but I was captivated for the full two hours.

Since it was Father’s Day, the sermon was obviously about fathers. The main scripture was Luke 15:11-32, which is the story of the prodigal son. Many know this story, but assistant pastor Velma England at Zion told it in a different way than I have always heard it. Instead of focusing on the prodigal son and his wrongdoing and straying from the path of righteousness only to return home to beg forgiveness, she focused on the perspective of the father. She discussed how hard it must be for God to watch His children stray from the path and fall to the absolute bottom. She spoke of how much God loves us and wants us only to do our best and how happy He is when we succeed or, if we act like the prodigal son, how ecstatic He is when we return back to Him.

catherine pic 5I thought that was a really neat way to approach the story. Even though that youngest son got into all sorts of trouble, his father accepted him and welcomed him back home with open arms because that’s how powerful love is. And that’s really what I am most impressed by in Marion. Despite being one of the poorest areas in Alabama, its citizens love it so much that they accept its history, good and bad. They accept its flaws and embrace its assets. The residents of Marion love their small town, and it shows in all of the good restaurants and small businesses. It shows in the smiles and waves of citizens passing each other on the street. Marion is a town that has survived on love.

The thought of the week of Father’s Day was: “Sometimes, God has to break us to make us. It’s just a bend; it’s not the end. We’re all like glow sticks; no matter how much we’re bent and broken, our light still shines.” Marion is a lot like the prodigal son. It’s been beaten and broken in the past, but it has also been healed by love and caring citizens. The members of Zion United Methodist Church believe God is blessing Marion today. And they are truly a part of that blessing.

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