The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church professes the historical faith in God, who by Himself – outpouring,was manifest incarnate in Jesus Christ for our salvation. By God’s grace and the power of His Holy Spirit all believers become the new humanity. The incarnation having reached its completion in Jesus, who is the Christ, is continuing in the Church and is overcoming the calamity of the human predicament. We strive in the hope that the Church will grow from sinful existence through purification to oneness with God.
Zion Methodism grew out of the merciless enslavement of our African forefathers. They were kidnapped from their native land, chained, shackled, and shipped as beasts in deplorable conditions to a strange and distant land, having no family, no culture and no language. Yet, our fathers and mothers were comforted by the Lord God, through Jesus Christ, in the cotton fields and every place of their humiliation and degradation revealing to them that He would always be with them as He had been with them in the past. When Jesus, upon whom the Spirit of the Lord had descended, was preached at John Street Methodist Church, they united with that fellowship. However,bigotry and oppressively cruel barriers confronted them. The Spirit of the Lord led them in the establishment of Zion Chapel (which later became The Mother Church of Zion Methodism) where the gospel of His redeeming grace could be experienced. Taking with them the doctrines, discipline, and polity of The Methodist Church, they proceeded in the establishment of Zion Methodism. They believed that God had called them out of their bondage and had chosen them to be His people and a channel of His redeeming love for all people.
The mission of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church is to increase our love for God and to help meet the needs of humankind by “Loving God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with our entire mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” Implicit in this statement is the belief that the church should have a positive relationship to humankind horizontally. We also share in the mission of His Son Jesus Christ, in “healing the sick, helping the blind to receive sight, the lame to walk, the leper to be cleansed, the deaf to hear, the dead to be raised, and the poor to have the Good News preached to them.” – Luke 4:18.
Pilgrim Rest A.M.E. Zion Church History
From the inception of Pilgrim Rest African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Whistler, Alabama, in the late 1800’s, to the present – many families and friends worked untiringly to create an edifice that we all could be proud to call home. Just two decades or so, before the acquisition of the land upon which Pilgrim Rest was constructed, many of our ancestors were slaves. Also, they were amid one of the most difficult time periods in America’s history, a Civil War. As slaves, our African brothers and sisters were faced with the enormous task of surviving through the perils of hatred and bigotry, situations that they had encountered many times before. Only this time, however, they were faced with the pressures that their masters’ brought to bear because of the problems brought on by the war, and the threat, without slaves, of losing their livelihoods. There is no way to explain the courage and fortitude that our African brothers and sisters had through those times, except to say that it was faith in God who heard their prayers and, as with the children in Israel, promised them deliverance. It was faith that made them cling to hope as they stood on the auction blocks, and faith that led them to believe that troubles don’t last always.
In January 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted. This proclamation stated that all slaves in confederate lands would be forever free. Alabama was one of those confederate lands. Consequently, during that time period, many of our ancestors were granted their freedom. For the enlightenment of some of our readers, especially our young adults and children, it is important to note that if the slaves had not been emancipated, they would not have been permitted, legally, to own land, and/or construct churches. Therefore, twenty-one years later, in 1884, the creation of our church would only have been a dream, and not a reality. Thank God, for His deliverance of our people from the darkest days of slavery to the sweet joys of freedom.
After many long difficult years, God lifted our people to the land upon where we are today, in 2010. In a place called Rushingville on the Simpson Estates, our brothers and sisters gathered under a brush arbor to worship God and to fellowship with members and friends. These gatherings led to the establishment of what is now known as Pilgrim Rest African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. They worshipped under this brush arbor until property was purchased nearer the center of the town of Whistler. According to deeds recorded in the county courthouse, the property was purchased from the Mobile and Ohio Railroad Company on July 22, 1884. The names of the trustees that appear on the deeds are: James Hendricks, Robert Holmes, Sandy Payton, Dave Penson and Willis Simpson. Our first church was erected on the property where our educational complex and parking lot now stands, and it faced the Mobile and Ohio Railroad tracks. Sadly, our beautiful historic church was destroyed by a storm in 1914. Our edifice,however, was quickly rebuilt in 1916 in the same location, but facing in a different direction. Many years later, because of the need to improve and maintain the facility for their use as well as for future generations, several male members decided to red brick veneer the edifice.
It is believed that the motivation that brought about the establishment of Pilgrim Rest began during the A.M.E. Zion Church conference held at the State Street Church in Mobile. It is further believed that several ministers and missionaries were sent out into various communities spreading the gospel and organizing churches after that conference, and the mission travels most likely reached Whistler.
For the last 127 years, all ages of worshippers have attended Pilgrim Rest A.M.E. Zion Church. The sixth generation, along with some of the third, fourth and fifth generations are still active and praising God for His many blessings. Throughout the many years of Pilgrim Rest’s existence, the members have always been determined people, who with God’s help, worked not only to improve our church, but also to cultivate their love for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as well as for one another. In cultivating this love, many of the members learned to respect and to appreciate the ideals and advice handed down by many of those Saints that had gone on before; Saints with expert knowledge of the Bible; those who were powerful prayer warriors; those with lifted voices echoing our great African American Hymns and Negro Spirituals; and those who were not only excited about participating in many years of fellowshipping, but also put in many hours preparing for them.
On October 10, 1956, the membership purchased the Gordon property, which was located next door. It is where the new church now stands. The idea of a new church began during the 1973-1974 conference year when the building fund was officially organized. Reverend J.B. Kelly was the pastor.
During the 1974-1975 conference year Reverend Paul Whiteurs was assigned to Pilgrim Rest. Under his leadership the idea of a new church became a reality. Reverend Whiteurs was appointed the architect and superintendent of this venture with several others made significant contributions to the construction of the new church. On September 12, 1979, before the completion of the new church, Hurricane Frederick severely damaged the old one. After surveying the old church, Reverend Whiteurs advised the congregation that it would be best to use the new church, which was under construction at the time, while the old church was being repaired. Although the old church was later repaired, it was never used for regular services again. Through the cooperative efforts of the pastor and members, the new church was erected without a mortgage.
In the fall of 1980, prior to the completion of the new church, Reverend Malone Smith, Jr. was assigned to Pilgrim Rest. During this time period, the new church had been in use for several years before it was dedicated on July 24, 1983. Also, under the leadership of Reverend Malone Smith, Jr. and the efforts of the trustees and members, a mortgage was secured for the construction of a new educational complex. The old church was then demolished and the area was used to erect the new educational complex, and for additional parking. The new complex was completed in time for use during the 1994 West Alabama Conference, hosted by Pilgrim Rest. A few months later, on March 26, 1995, the educational complex was dedicated. Much later, in October 1998, Pilgrim Rest again hosted the West Alabama Conference.
During the 2005-2006 conference year, Pilgrim Rest welcomed its next pastor, Reverend Dr. E. Eugene Parker. Under Reverend Parker’s leadership and untiring efforts, many of Pilgrim Rest’s needs as well as desires have been realized. Reverend Parker has also been involved in many civic matters.