June 12, 2019 will serve as the 107th Church Anniversary of Zion Baptist Church. In 104 years, only four Pastors have served as the Senior Pastor of Zion. In February of 1912, The Lord birthed a vision to Reverend Henry Estis to organize a church in the west end of Chillicothe, Ohio to give people of color a place to worship in the community. Despite many doubters, Reverend Estis clung to the voice of God and fulfilled the vision God bestowed upon him. In June of 1912, on the southwest corner or Mill and Locust Street, in a two-room building owned by Mrs. Emeline Johnson, Zion secured the site for its first worship service.
While Reverend Estis combated many doubters in the spirit, that many more rallied behind him in support of the vision. In order to ready the building for service, Mrs. Elizabeth Dixon and Mrs. Madie Lewis brought wood and coal to heat the building; Mrs. Clayton (Minnie) Raney donated a lamp to light the building and many others in the community brought tools and materials to build seats for the church. With the help of many faithful servants and the vision of Reverend Estis, Zion held its first service which took place in the evening with 12 persons present; of the twelve included Mrs. Patsy Beckley, Clayton Raney, Mrs. Lizzie Dixon, Mrs. Minnie Raney, and Reverend Henry Estis. Zion quickly became known as the “greatest revival to sweep Chillicothe.” Following the initial service, 24 more candidates dedicated their lives to Christ under the Pastoral leadership of Rev. Estis.
Reverend Estis consulted with Reverend C.A. Jones, Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church on Anderson Station Rd. to obtain proper protocol in the establishment of a Baptist Church. Following the advice of Rev. Jones, the candidates were baptized through Ebenezer Baptist Church. In June 1912, the newly baptized congregation called a council together and organized Zion Baptist Church under Reverend Henry Estis. A year later Reverend Estis resigned his pastorate. In 1913, Zion appointed Rev. C.A. Jones as their Pastor. Under Rev. Jones’ leadership, the small building on Mill and Locust Street was remodeled in 1915 and again in 1920 which included the addition of a recreation hall. The Loyal Club, Esther Missionary Society and the Senior Choir were organized. While the congregation was composed of very little members, Rev. Jones preached the word of God Sunday after Sunday and dedicated his life to winning souls for the Kingdom of God. Through his ministry at Zion Baptist Church, he faced many trials and tribulations but he pressed forward humbly and faithfully until his death on July 30, 1948.
Reverend Harold M. Wingo, son-in-law of the late Reverend Jones, accepted the call of the congregation and became Zion’s third Pastor in October of 1948. Reverend Wingo immediately set up a building fund, which started with a ten dollar bill, because there was a great need for a new church building. In 1952, the old building at Mill and Locust Street was torn down to prepare for new construction. During the construction, the congregation met in a local garage at 224 Locust Street for worship services. The basement of the church became the worship site of Zion upon its completion in 1953 as the congregation continued to wait for the completion of the new sanctuary. On June 14, 1953 the new sanctuary was completed and dedicated. The building renovation was one of many of Zion’s changes and improvements inspired under Rev. Wingo’s leadership. The choir membership increased, real-estate was purchased as well as parsonage. Rev. Wingo was dedicated to the work of Zion. He never became complacent in his works but rather relied on The Lord to birth the vision and see it through. Pastor Wingo believed whole heartedly that without a vision the people would perish. He knew he might not be the one to get Zion to the new vision, but he and the membership laid the foundation through trusting and believing in God and His word. Pastor Wingo was a true prophet from God. He lived what he preached and served not only God but Zion faithfully until God called him home. He didn’t let anyone stop him from doing the will of God even during his later years when he suffered from severe health issues. In fact, Rev. Wingo preached his eulogy the Sunday before he passed. Pastor Wingo went on to be with the Lord the following Saturday in March of 1992.
Reverend J. Troy Gray acknowledged his call to the ministry in 1988 and preached his trial sermon on April 24, 1990. He was then ordained and called to Assistant Pastor in May of 1990. Pastor J. Troy Gray served faithfully under the leadership of his grandfather, Rev. H.M. Wingo, until his death in 1992. In fact, Pastor Gray had to preach the Sunday following his grandfather’s death which he notes as one of the most difficult times in his career. The congregation called the Reverend J. Troy Gray, grandson of Reverend Dr. H.M. Wingo and great grandson of Reverend C.A. Jones, as the Pastor on May 1, 1992.
Prior to his Pastoral installment in May of 1992, Rev. Dr. Gray served as the Executive Assistant of External Affairs for the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Chillicothe, Ohio as well as the EEO Director for the City of Chillicothe. In addition to his work as an Executive and Director, he was also employed in various directorial positions within the Chillicothe Correctional Institution System where he impacted the lives of many young, incarcerated men. To this day, many of those that he mentored through his positions recognize him as a paternal figure in their lives.
At the set time, Dr. Gray increased his faith and made the decision to leave his job at the VA to begin a full time ministry at Zion. Though he was faithful he still endured a season of exasperation and struggles but it was in that season he learned to trust God in the midst of very turbulent times. He often notes those were the worst-best times of his life and ministry.
Dr. Gray is a visionary who has birthed several ministries under his leadership as Senior Pastor. He notably increased the foundation of Zion Baptist Church by developing a multi-million dollar facility sitting on 23 acres of land where Zion stands today. Though the building transition did not come easily, Dr. Gray remained faithful and stood boldly on the promises of the Lord even when the county threatened to regain a large portion of the land, due to eminent domain, to build a new highway and when several banks denied Zion for financing. On June 27, 2004, the first service at the new building on Clinton Rd. was held and the shift that was happening at Zion was very evident. Not only were members able to worship in a newly built facility but the dynamic and demographics shifted to make Zion a diverse place of worship. What started as a church for people of color had now expanded to people of all backgrounds including race and socioeconomic status.
In addition, Dr. Rev. J. Troy Gray also launched a youth summer day camp to provide children and families in the community an opportunity to spend quality time in a positive atmosphere at an affordable cost. In its first year of operation, the camp was fully staffed with volunteers and Pastor Gray ensured that no child was turned away regardless of the parents’ financial ability. The day camp began to bear fruit and families, who qualified, were able to receive assistance through Job and Family Services. The children were offered an extensive academic and biblical curriculum and were taken on weekly field trips. Pastor Gray’s desire of the program was for children to learn about the love of Christ, expose them to positive role models, and provide them with a safe place to simply be a child. After three years of successful operation, the day camp ended due to changes in the State of Ohio rules and regulations; however, it is Pastor Gray’s goal to open a full-service school in the near future.
The Zion Christmas Giveaway, first launched under Pastor Gray’s ministry, has made a powerful impact in the Ross County area. What started as a small event has now become an annual event which hosts more than a thousand people each year providing them with a store-like setting to Christmas shop. In addition, Pastor Gray opened an on-site barbershop called “Anointed Cuts” in 2007 operated by two, licensed professional barbers.
Dr. Gray is very committed to being a light for the sick and the broken. In January of 2011, Zion opened the “Faith House,” which provides housing for the homeless or offenders who have been released to complete a strict Christian model program as they transition back into society. In 2013 the “Faith House” transitioned into Another Chance Ministries, a transitional program for men struggling with adjusting back to society after drug addictions or incarcerations. This program is dedicated to providing men with another chance at life thus the name, Another Chance Ministries. Dr. Gray has plans to extend this program to women and develop a full residential rehabilitation facility.
Reverend Gray, through his immense faith, has truly expanded the foundation of Zion handed to him by his late grandfather. His vision, bestowed upon him by The Lord, continues to increase. His ultimate vision for the building and 23 acres of land is to build a Family Life Complex that will house a full size gymnasium, classroom to host a full-service school, and an assortment of other things to increase positive productivity and minister to the people of the community.
What started as a church of twelve participants in a two-room building has faithfully grown into a multi-functional worship facility with 500+ members. Fasting, praying, and remaining faithful to God and the vision, God continues to fulfill all of his promises just as He promised in His word. We know, as a church that, “We’ve come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord and trusting in His holy word…He has never failed us yet.”