Mt. Zion AME Church

On Saturday, February 16, Buddy and I were traveling to Kimball on route 52.  As always, we were both searching for a church that we had not visited.  As we crossed the bridge at Eckman, I said, “Hey, that looks like a church over there.  I’ve never noticed it before.”  Buddy insisted that he had told me it was there.  If he had, I didn’t remember.

After our visit to Kimball, we traveled to Vivian.  While at Vivian, I took some shots of the old Vivian Grade School.  We had been down there last summer with Elaine McMillion, who was filming for “Hollow”.  Everything was so grown up at that time, however, that we could not see the school very well.  Buddy and I found a side entrance that was easy to get to, but we did not go in.  Not because he didn’t want to, but because I am a chicken when it comes to old buildings.  I know they have been standing there for years, but today might be the day they fall.

After taking a few shots of the grade school, I took a few more shots of the Peerless Coal & Coke Company Store.  My Granddad, Eltrue Gordon, had worked for them at some time.  That fact alone makes that old, burnt, falling down building a part of my family history.

We then drove to Eckman.  As we always do, we “discussed” how to get to the church.  I always say, “Let’s go this way”.  Buddy always says, “Let’s go that way.”  Of course, since I am driving, I always choose my way first.  (I don’t like it when I have to turn around and go the way he said, but it does happen more often than I like to admit.)  On this day……I was right.

© Renee Bolden

Mt. Zion AME, Eckman, WV Window

We pulled up to the church and the first thing we noticed was all the trash beside of it.  Looking at the church, we noticed how bad a shape it really is.  The roof on the left side is partially gone.  From viewing it on the outside, we were unsure if we would be able to go in.  I walked up to the window and said, “At least I can peak in and get some shots.”  As he always does, while I am repeating words of warning, Buddy ignored me and walked in the wide open door.

He came back out and said, “It’s ok, you can come in.”  I said, “Are you sure?”  He always gets aggravated at this time.  The time when my OCD kicks in and I require complete reassurance….once, twice and sometimes three times.  He calmly says, “Yeah, I’m sure.  Come on.”  I slowly and cautiously walked into a vestibule.  The first thing I did was look up for a bell.  I could see nothing but a wooden ceiling.  At least I would hear the bell before it crashed onto my head.

© Renee Bolden

Mt. Zion AME Church, Eckman, WV, Vestibule

I walked into the church  more cautiously than I did the vestibule.  The whole time, I was gripping my camera in front of me.  This way, if a human or animal lunges at me, I have a defense.  The defense of shooting them first. Essentially, taking their picture BEFORE they harm me.  Laugh if you must….go ahead.  I know that you are.  I can hear your laughter before you read this.  However, this is truly how I enter these falling down churches or buildings.

The first thing I noticed in the floor was a piece of gold Christmas garland.  You know the kind.  The kind that we have all used in Christmas plays when we dress the kids up as angels.  My first thought was this:  “Was their last service a Christmas service?”  I started looking at the roof and the ceiling.  I noticed a ceiling fan whose blades are completely drooped down, as if it is in complete despair.  There are a few wooden pews over to the right.  Two of them are upright while one has a leg missing and the other is laying on it’s back.  To the left is another pew against the wall and an old cabinet that has hymnals and papers strewn all over the floor in front of it.

© Renee Bolden

Mt. Zion AME, Eckman, WV, Sanctuary

Buddy was up to the front looking around.  There is a book laying on the altar that was a hymnal.  There is another book that is laying on the banister.  It has been purposefully laid there as if someone is coming back to take it home.   When he saw that book, Buddy said what he always says when he finds something unbelievable.  “You’re not going to believe this.”  “What is it?”, I said.   “You got to get a picture of it.  It’s a Bible with ice on the cover.”  He opened the cover to search out a name.  There is none.  Completely soaked through with ice on the cover, it is completely ruined.  It’s laying under a part of the roof that is halfway gone.  I took a few pictures.

© Renee Bolden

Mt. Zion AME, Eckman, WV, Bible

Buddy started toward the back of the church and I followed.  There is some more garland laying on a step that leads to the back.  There is a wall that partitions the front of the church to make a little hallway to the side.  Towards the back, we could see a restroom that had a shower.  To the left before the restroom is another room.  This room has a piano.

The piano, like the Bible, sits in that room like it is waiting on someone to return to get it.  It is turned towards the door, as if it could watch for someone to come pick it up to take it home.  The light from the window behind shone on the top and back of it.  I took a few pictures of it, and went back to the sanctuary.

© Renee Bolden

Mt. Zion AME, Eckman, WV, Piano

I took a few more shots of the Bible laying on the banister with debris all around, the pews that were left, and the falling in roof.  While alone in the room, I cried and said aloud, “Why, Lord?  I just don’t understand.”

I keep telling myself that population decline is one reason our churches are empty, am I lying to myself?  There are 22,000 people in McDowell County, enough to fill the open AND the closed churches.

As were leaving through the front door, we noticed it was starting to snow.  After taking a few shots outside, I went back in to attempt a few shots of the snow falling.  I said, “Can you make them a little bigger, Lord?”  And wouldn’t you know it, they got a little bigger.  I couldn’t hold my camera well enough, though, to take a good shot.  Before we left, I asked Buddy if we should take the Bible with us.  It didn’t seem right to leave it there, but then, it didn’t seem right to take it, either.  It is still there.

“And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.”  Exodus 25:8 KJV

I wish I could show you the snow falling through that church roof.

© Renee Bolden

Mt. Zion AME, Eckman, WV

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About Renee Bolden

I thank the Lord for saving my soul and giving me His unspeakable gift -- the gift of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift." 2 Corinthians 9:15. I thank Him also for the ability to take photographs and the means to complete each photographic task. Without His guidance, I could not accomplish anything. I pray that my work will reflect Him. "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." I Corinthians 10:31. I am married to a wonderful, supportive, and loving man. He has encouraged me to begin taking photographs and has faith in me that I will succeed. I have a nine year old little girl who is my life. A hug or smile from her thrills my soul. She is such a special person to everyone she meets. My family and friends are a huge encouragement to me. They have all allowed me to take photographs of them and their families and assisted me in gaining a lot of experience. I love taking photographs. I love the reaction of my subjects when they see my photographs. Not only have I given them something to remember and cherish, but they have given me the same. View all posts by Renee Bolden

9 responses to “Mt. Zion AME Church

  • Teresa Burks

    Very moving…..Loved this story!

  • Elizabeth Hicks

    very touching!

  • Jeffrey H Jordan

    How sad. This was the first church I pastored. The building was owned by a coal company. They let the community use the building with an agreement that the church would always be owned by them. If the local church ceased to gather, the building remained the property of the coal company. I imagine that is why the AME church had no choice but to let the building go.

    I left WV in 1994

    Rev Marsha Phillips was pastoring there when I left.

    Thank you for sharing

    • Renee Bolden

      Jeffrey, thank you for your comment. Someone else had commented before on another post that this was the case with many of the churches. I just hate that so many have had to leave, for whatever reason. I know it would be difficult on a very small congregation to keep a church alive. If you have any history on the church, I would appreciate it if you could send it to me. Thanks, again!

  • Renae Hughes

    I love your pictures and comments. They are beautiful. It’s a sad state in our country when churches look like this. I wish someone would even move in and make it their home….

    • Renee Bolden

      Renae, I agree with you. There have been people in other places that have done that. I would love to see them used as community buildings or places for kids and adults to gather instead of being stuck at home alone. The elderly people would love having a place to socialize with others and they would not be so lonely.

  • douglas clark

    Warm blessing to all, I need info on this church n pastor’s in early 1970. Im looking into my roots thank you –t

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