STRASBURG – Sunday marks the 150th anniversary of the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, and past and present members are looking back on the church’s history.

The building the church would operate out of was a log cabin located on Fisher’s Hill that was brought down to its present location at 339 W. Queen St. The church was established in 1869.

James Nickens, 80, of Winchester, remembers when he was a member of the church.

“Before the second World War, there were quite a few members here attending this church,” he said. “As a matter of fact, there were a lot of members attending African-American churches before the war. The second war came on and membership went down, and then it picked back up when they got out of the service.”

Nickens said the community helped make the church great.

“There were a lot of outreach programs that took care of the elderly,” he said. “It was more or less a community family.”

Nickens said the church had electricity when he was young, but the members had to use fans to cool off when the weather got hot. Mt. Zion underwent renovations in 2004 to lower the ceiling and change the carpet.

Liz Alsberry, 80, of Strasburg, who has been a member of the church since she was 12 and has served in many posts — including lay leader, Sunday school teacher, and treasurer — said that one of the biggest challenges for the church has been keeping ministers.

After Mt. Zion was added to the Virginia United Methodist Conference — a collection of the Methodist churches in the state of Virginia — in 1970, it became more difficult to keep their ministers because it was tougher for African-American churches to pay their ministers compared to white churches.

“The ministers couldn’t take care of their families, and they had to start having outside jobs,” she said. “Most of the jobs are in [Washington] D.C., and they had to drive back and forth every weekend. They couldn’t keep it up.”

Another challenge that Mt. Zion faces is attendance. According to Alsberry, the VUMC requires a certain number of attendees for the churches in the conference in order to stay operational.

“We’re lucky to have 18 to 20 people attend,” Alsberry said.

Nickens said churches, in general, are having difficulty with attendance.

“The church isn’t what young people are seeking, because their families aren’t doing it,” he said. “We’re losing generation after generation of our children on Sunday.”

Mt. Zion United Methodist Church will celebrate its 150th anniversary starting with a morning worship service at 9 a.m. Sunday, followed by a dinner at 1:30 p.m. at the Strasburg United Methodist Church, 114 W. Washington St.

The church will continue its celebration at 3 p.m with guest speaker, the Rev. Barbara Cousar of John Mann/Wesley United Methodist Church, Winchester, followed by musical performances by Arthur and Sandra Holloman and the Voices of Shiloh Baptist Church.

– Contact Donald Lambert at dlambert@nvdaily.com