Deaconess Lillian Lancaster: Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church Oral History Interview

Deaconess Lillian Lancaster: Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church Oral History Interview

Created: October 27, 2014

The earliest memory would be the day that we came to Orlando in July 1972 because Deacon Lancaster had a job interview. And I was thrilled to see Orlando. It was just about the time that Disney had started their work and Orlando had a kind of small town feel, lots of beautiful palm trees... His mother said, "You know I saw something in the paper about engineers needed in Orlando... And he called and they said, "We'd like to interview you...." And that company was the Montgomery Ward Company. They had expanded into the area and they asked him to come and work at their office building because they were doing some designing at some of the new stores. And so that's what happened. And that's how we got here and so I was impressed with what I saw in the city.

LISTEN Part I (14:53)   (Text excerpts from audio recording.)

First Visit to Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church

It was probably after we had been here about six weeks or so because we lived in the Tangelo Park area of the city where we still live. We went to church every Sunday somewhere. And as people met us they would say, "Well, come to my church. Come to Tangelo, Mt. Pleasant..." and all the churches around so we would go and visit. And what happened was nobody had mentioned Mt. Zion. But we were out one afternoon  looking at houses in different parts of the city and we had our maps out and we had looked somewhere in the Washington Shores area, but we weren't sure where the house was... A gentleman came by driving a big Cadillac. He stopped and said, "I notice your out of state license tag. How are you folks?" And we told him, "We're fine. We're looking for an address." And so he said, "I'll show you. Just follow me." And then he said, "Well, where do you folks go to church?" "Well, we've been looking." And he said, "Well, you come on to Mt. Zion." And so that Sunday when we came it was just the right place. I'm not sure that we united that Sunday when we came. It may have been the next one after we talked about it. So that's how we ended up here my husband and I 40 years ago....  

Deacons and the Deacon's Corner

Deacons in the Baptist Church usually if they've been a deacon somewhere else, or have a deacon's training, show themselves to be serious in their faith. You know Godly men who are always ready to help the church family and ready to show themselves to be proved workmen unto God. Usually they are selected out by their pastor and other officers to go through a time period of training. And once that takes place, we have three deacons who are going through training now, and, I think they are taking their classes, you know, for some months. But when the time comes when everything has been studied and they have shown themselves active in the church and Sunday School and prayer meeting and visiting the sick and, you know, just serving in the community, then at some point they get ordained as deacons. And in a traditional Baptist church deacons sit in the corner, that's where we walked in, that's where the deacons sit. And they're always very supportive of the church, ready to pray, sing hymns, ready to go out into the community and visit the sick, and whatever else might be needed. Has your husband [Deacon Lancaster] been a deacon for some time? A number of years, probably about 15.

Deaconess Lillian Lancaster in the sanctuary of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church, August 16, 2012.

Serving as Church Clerk

Yes, I'm the church clerk and the church clerk has a number of duties and I have carried out those duties for almost 30 years. I keep the records of all of our business meetings... A church should have records going back to whenever it was started. But many churches probably don't, through the years something happens. But I keep records of membership, who joined, members who are no longer with us. Each Sunday as new members join- we're getting ready to have a baptism a week from Sunday. I have a record of everybody, children and young people, grown ups, whoever came forward for baptism. And whether they have finished their orientation classes and so forth. I work with the secretary who you met. For example, when it was time to send out the letters last week to those who are to be baptized... I work with her.

Deaconess Duties

Then on the day of their baptism I work with them because I'm a deaconess also. We gather up those to be baptized and take them to the pastor's office. He has a little chat with them and prayer. I take them up to the third floor where our baptistery is, get them dressed in their white robes... And then I write the Baptismal Certificates that are to be presented to them at the end of service. So just kind of keeping track of all the proceedings of the church is part of my role. It's important because you need accurate records and you need to know who the ministers were through the years, which deacons were ordained and all the changes that have taken place.... The deaconesses visited another historic church in this area earlier this year and I noticed they listed every deacon they ever had going back to the early 1900's. Every deaconess that they ever had. And so it's important to keep that kind of record in the church.

Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church Presentation to the Historic Preservation Board, City of Orlando, on June 6, 2007 and updated for the 130th Church Anniversary by Lillian Lancaster, Church Clerk. VIEW document.

What was a typical Sunday like for you growing up?

It started with family. I grew up in the family of a Baptist pastor and my mother was a church musician. And so I don't remember a time when church was not part of our lives. You know from earliest childhood we were, of course, taught matters of faith: there was God, we knew Jesus Christ, we were baptized early. So a typical Sunday, and this would be an historic note, typical for us, because this is a few years back with our parents we lived a few miles away from our small town Haskell. We lived right on Highway 64 which is a national road, US Highway, and in the days when we were quite young and dad did not have a car, we rode the bus to church. The Greyhound bus came along that route. And we didn't think anything of it as young children, but there was my mother, my dad, me, the eldest, my brother was next to me. There was at least about four of us then. Eventually there were nine of us. But there were about four of us then and the Greyhound bus would stop when they saw the family grouping, very politely. And then we would all get on the bus and we would go all the way to the long seat in the back. As children we did not know about black and white. We learned that later. But that was why. There may have been other seats, but we went all the way to the back. And we sat there and then a few minutes later we got off and went to our church. Now I don't remember the coming back I think someone always brought us back, you know, a family friend.

But I always remember that. And the life of the church for us was quite active then. Of course, now people have so many other things that they do. I remember actually being excited because we were going back to church on maybe a Wednesday night because there was a film. They were showing the life of the Apostle Paul. And every Wednesday we would go and see a part of it and that was very exciting to us. And then at Christmas time there'd be a big Christmas tree in the church and when we went back for the Christmas Eve program and all the kids would receive a nice bag and it would have a big apple, a big orange, nuts, those kinds of things. And those were just good memories for me.

Awaiting the blessings of Christmas at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church, December 2012.

LISTEN Part II (15:00) 

Later on I realized that is so important. So here at Mount Zion we have an active program for the youth and they do participate... Our grandson was here for the summer and loves Mt. Zion. He's 11 now. In fact, two years ago when he got baptized when we were driving away there in the back parking lot, he looked up because, you know, the baptistry's on the third floor and he said, "Mom," because he calls me mom. He said, "I may not go up there again until my son is baptized." And, I thought, oh, you dear. But the chilldren are given opportunities on the third Sunday of each month. They are responsible for the order of worship. And there's Carl doing what the minister does because it was third Sunday. So our children are given responsibilities to learn everything from the prayer meeting to the reading of scripture, presiding in the worship service, ushering, those opportunities they are given. And so as they grow up in their teens and they get into adult life of course many of them go away to college and are busy all the time and may not always be in a church setting. And they come back here and then they're in their professions, they marry, they're children are in this church, the generations. There was a family up until last year when they lost their grandma, there were five generations of them right here in this church. So it's that kind of church that nurtures the young as well as ministers to people of all ages.

Serving in the Church

I mentioned that one of the things that I do, and it's been an opportunity for continued spiritual growth, is teach a Sunday School class twice a month. There's another instructor and she was doing it all four Sundays and then she asked me several years ago if I would join her and if I would do the teaching. And so that, of course, allows for, because of the extended study, you know, additional spiritual growth. And I have taught other classes. I've designed a couple of classes and taught them. And that's why I have a key [to the church]...

The Board of Christian Education

The Board of Christian Education is the overall umbrella of educational programs of this church. And my friend, who is the Chairperson of the Board of Christian Education, her name is Alice Grant, she's away visiting her children in the Washington, DC area and she called me. I told her what I was getting read to do and we talked briefly about the program coming up on Sunday because she's the chairperson of everything that's done in education. You know whether it's Sunday School for the children, Orientation Programs, Sunday School for the Adults, the education program like Eat Smart, the Back to School Program that we're getting ready to do, the African American History Program, the Scholarship Program that we just did. All of those programs that are under the umbrella of education and they have elements of education in them; and those have to be scheduled and chairpersons gotten for them and you now all the details taken care of.

The Board of Christian Education, that's a local board? Yes, that's here in this church. Most churches would have something like educational ministries group or something. But the structure of ours is so it just covers all of these areas and their regular meetings as far as when it's time for the leadership workshop, for example. This is the board or ministry that arranges that when it is time for our members to go to a local or district or a state or even national meeting. There's one called American Baptist Churches of the South.Then the planning of that and the planning of who will go to it and all the details that's handled initially by that board....

Eat Smart Program

About a year ago represenatives from this church and other churches and groups were invited over to the Callahan Center for a presentation. The presentation was done by Blue Cross Blue Shield, several other entities. And they explained that there were funds for churches to develop programs that would address some health needs of congregations especially in the area of diet. And I'll never forget they did a powerpoint for us and one of the things that really impressed me was they talked about targeting families with children; that we can teach children that as far as their diet they had something like 5-4-3-2-1. Five vegetables per day - you need to know that. Two stood for two hours of screen time per day. Find some way with your churches to let everyone know that they've got to get healthy.  So represenatives from our church were there. I was there along with Miss Grant. Our dietician who grew up in this church nationally known, Fabiola Gaines. She's written several books especially for diabetics, but that our good for everybody. Her corporation is Hebni Nutrition and she has, I know, at least two other dieticians who work with her. I don't know if they're still on television. They used to be on a local ten minute segment on diet. Hebni Nutrition is located next to the St. John Baptist Church on Tampa & Central or Tampa & Church. Anyway she grew up in Mt. Zion and is now just very active in the community as a dietician. She used to put on a big program at the Expo Center and then she had it on International Drive where just hundreds and hundreds of women would turn out to hear her speak.... anyway she did the writing of the grant. And the grant is given out for two six week programs and she designed it to take place at this church to reach families in the areas of health, proper diet. And the first of those programs took place in the spring of this year on Tuesdays at 5:30 with 40 participants, members of our community some of them with children... set goals, getting weighed, introduction by a dietician... She explained what we were doing and the rationale for it.

LISTEN Part III (14:46)

First Lady Michelle Obama

Something that was a real celebration for us is that First Lady Michelle Obama was coming to the area ... invitations were extended to churches and organizations who had some type of [nutrition] program... What happened with us is we were among those who received tickets for their members to attend an event in Longwood.... Many of us, probably about 30 members of this church did go to the program which consisted of a number of features that focused on health and wellness... The wife of Dr. Joyner was there to do activities with people.... The First Lady came out all fit as she is and beautiful. She came out, walked across the stage and then started talking with every one about how important it is these days to make sure that you and your children are eating in a healthy way and that there's exercise. So this is part of her overall program that we've been hearing about since she's been in the White House. Let's Move. Let's Move is the name of the program... And she has impacted everybody from the corporate people on down. I read about her meeting with the Darden Company and they agreed to work on their children's menus. And to not automatically give them French fries, but to offer them a fruit cup....

So on that day I think everybody was on the same page because they were all you know from churches mainly or maybe community groups that had already bought into Let's Move and be healthy.... There were enough tickets for the second part of her presentation which took place at Disney World for some of our young families to go. We saw that on television that she was leading them in a creative dance called "The Platypus" and they were walking and moving and then she played tennis with some of them...

Back to School Program

The Back to School Program is mainly for the families in our church and we have talked a couple of times about expanding it... So what we do every year before school starts we have kind of a pep talk. We call it a back to school celebration and conversation.... The object is just to remind them that as a church family we support them, that we love them, that we want them to do well in school. That we want them to remember the teaching that they have had as young Christians in this church. For example, just not going along with the crowd that kind of thing. So our guest last time was Lucas Boyce, the young man from the Magic.... And for Sunday our dietician is going to talk about eating smart for the school year for a few minutes. And then our guest speaker's last name is Modeste and he's a local published poet and a school volunteer and I've seen him work with young people. His message and his poetry are so strong and positive. And again they are aimed at showing that you don't need to be a part of the crowd to be successful. So he's going to work with them.... And then my all time favorite... is school board member Kat Gorden who comes in and hands out school calendars and talks to them about the work of the school board. Talks with parents about the importance of involvement.... To say that, you know, we want to set you up for success. We know you're going to be successful. And that you've got all these people caring about you.... Reverend Doctor Robert M. Spooney our pastor will always say a special prayer. Two Sundays ago as one of our young men was getting ready to go away to the campus at Bethune Cookman University, he came up for a special prayer. And when we have our Back to School Event even before the church service ends the pastor will have a prayer for the school year and a grace also because then they're going to rush downstairs and the main thing that will be on their mind will be eating. Our dietician will usually have a chicken dinner for them with a light desert or something else.

LISTEN Part IV (9:03)

Children

Yes, children are such an important part of the church community and it is thrilling to see them. To watch them as they grow and as they develop and as their talents are being developed.... And so that's what happens with our young people that we allow them to, we help them find their gifts. There's spiritual gifts, you know, there's singing, speaking. Our young people participated in oratorical contests here in June and he [my grandson] was one of the participants. The persons who work with the youth, they lovingly work with them every week for six weeks or so helping them when the children bring in their speech on a topic that has been given locally because other churches are involved in this competition. And they lovingly work with them, "Oh, you need more scriptures here or you need to do this." They practice them.

Oratorical Contests

And then the fourth Sunday in June they have the oratorical contests here with five youngsters and, of course they have their speeches which they have written themselves, memorized. They go up in the pulpit and just speak for three to five minutes. And it was just exciting to see that and everybody in the church is just kind of pulling for them. And at the end of that time they all receive a nice trophy. And then four of them went on to the next level which is held in another church at night with about 40 kids of different age groups participating. And all four of our youngsters received a trophy. One was first place, one was second, and two were third place. And the church members went out to see them at the other church. And the kind of encouragement they gave them was first being there for them and on that occasion maybe telling them how well they did.... 

  VIEW

L. Claudia Allen

L. Claudia Allen was a long time educator in the Orlando area. She wasn't just an educator who became a principal and then a district level person in a supervising role. She was also the person who originated Boy Scouts in the African American community and Girl Scouts in the African American community and a daycare for handicapped children. She did many, many things. And she was the Director of the Board of Christian Education going back in the forties, fifties, sixties like that. So there's a scholarship that this church gives in her honor. And guidelines for the scholarship have to do with, you know, individuals who focus on their academics and have done well academically. And so each year our church gives, 1, 2, 3 however many young people we have who have applied get a scholarship just as their getting ready to go off to school.  And, right now the scholarship is up to a $1,000.00 a piece. So two young people received a thousand dollars to help them get started.  And so, again that shows the value that this church places on education.

College Care Packages

Something that one of our ministries did for a while, right now somehow they may not be as active, when young people are away at college there was a young women's mission group in this church that periodically would send care packages. And it was just to say, "We're with you." I know our son when he was away at college he would periodically receive a bag with goodies in it. You know it was just a nice thing to do. So that, you know, just to help them grow up. Keep focused and know that we're behind you. And that's very important to me and it's kind of what I experienced growing up in just being kind of cherished by the church members and family friends who would say, "Well, you did great!" You know, "Keep doing this." "You're smart." You know all those kinds of things we have to plant into young people. And when you do that then for the most part, you know the scriptures say, "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he's old he'll not depart from it." And that basically is what we hope we're doing....   

New Generations of Leadership

There are some who do come back and that's a pleasure to see, too. Because they come back to their church, they start their families. Then those young people grow up. Then they get to be officers in training as deacons, as trustees. We have several right now who are there. They're the young people who have gotten to be about 40 by now, but they are beginning in leadership roles. And I remember one of the officers last year saying, "You know the things that we experienced growing up that you all did for us. Now we want to do it for the kids." And so one of the things that the young adult group did last year and I think they're going to do it again this year. They took the young people on a field trip to Bethune Cookman when it was homecoming. So they arranged a whole day for them to have the trip and get a campus tour, you know a college tour, and then you know, the whole experience of being at a game at a college. So that's the kind of thing that they say well we want them to have experiences like we did. So this is what we want to do.

 

Deaconess Lillian Lancaster beholds a photo of L. Claudia Allen in the sanctuary of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church in downtown Orlando, August 16, 2012.

LISTEN Part V (3:41)

Leadership Roles for Women in the Church

The leadership roles for women, for example, we have right now one woman who is a minister who is on the pulpit. And so for me, that's something that I love to see, that I'm excited about because I know that maybe not in other denominations, but in Baptist churches they have not always been real friendly to female ministers. And some of the old, longtime ago ones such as my father was from going way, way back that's a role that women are not supposed to have. But in our church we've had a couple of female ministers and they're on the pulpit and fully in leadership just as the men. And with the role of the Deaconess according to the scripture, the Deaconess is not listed there, but when Deacons are referred to then women who have leadership roles in the Bible are referred to. And so, with the Deaconess I mention that were responsible for what happens with baptism helping with that. And we just did. We have an educational arm, too. We just held what was called the Deaconess conference. And we invited, mainly they were our members, but we had some guests there also. And the speakers were all women.

We had sessions not only for the mature women, we had a young adults session and with a young adult guest speaker. We had a session for teens, and a session for the children. And so there were women who came in and worked with those groups. We had names you would know. We had Monica Bay, radio personality come in and work with a group of youngsters. So that was something, very excellent, excellent day that was developed by the Deaconess Ministry. And then the usual things the Deacons do, you know, visiting the sick, going out to visit someone who's lost family. We have a member that one of our group cooks a meal for the family every Friday because of the health situation. So there are all kinds of things that Deaconesses do. It's a ministry to those in the church as well as out.

LISTEN  Part VI  (10:24)

Community Outreach

Speaking of Mt. Zion in the community and continuing with that, there are several community involvement. I think we've always been involved with the community as far back as I can remember being very impressed by something shared with me by an elderly Deaconess and that was that the Mt. Zion, some of the missionaries and some of the Deaconesses formed a volunteer group or they were part of a volunteer group that went to the local Christian Service Center.... They served hot meals every day to the homeless. And the work involved was that somebody had to be there dipping up the hot meals and doing the work related to it. And so Mt. Zion always had a team whenever we came that went to spend the week there participating in that effort. ...       

Fresh Start

Fresh Start I believe is also part of the Christian Service Center. And at Fresh Start on Central Avenue there are 10 to 20 men who live there at night, but they work in the daytime and all of their meals are provided by churches. I understand there are 30 or 31 churches that have a date. Mt Zion has the 12th of every month. And what our ministries do is prepare a nice dinner for them. Prepare a nice bag lunch for them to take to work the next day. And also provide, I believe juice or eggs or something like that for the morning. So that is something that we do throughout the year on our date.

Clothing Ministry

Now something that we do locally in our church, we have a food ministry. And what that consists of is every second Saturday, all of the members of that team set up their tables and clothes racks and they put out the clothing that has been donated by our church members and others. Others have been so generous. The chair of the committee  tells me that sometimes they'll just be out there doing their work, the car will drive up and unload brand new clothing or slightly used clothing. They are never at a loss for clothing. They always ask, make sure you bring men's clothing because they have a number of men who are looking for work clothing. The Sunday after the giveaway our minister always announces the success of the ministry and he'll usually say something like, "Yesterday we served 92 people. 92 people came by and got clothing and shoes."  People provide new underclothing and socks, shoes, suits and we have most of the clothing we have outside on the lawn would be work clothing. But we also have dress up clothing and that's kept inside the church so if someone comes and it has happened on a Sunday and they don't have clothing to wear to church then the head of the ministry will take them upstairs and find something appropriate in their size. So that's an excellent ministry that is ongoing.

Food Ministry

Another is the Food Ministry. Our church has I don't know how many stores. I know that Publix Corporation is one of our benefactors. What our officers do on Saturdays is go to the designated Publix stores and pick up food and it is always very good food. It may be day old food I don't know, vegetables, fruits, bread and other items. And when they come back they set up tables on the lawn of the church on the back parking lot. There's always people from the community waiting. And then they set up the tables. They raise the food. They have a prayer. They give them bags and they bag up and take the food away. And then we also have, I think it may be the third Saturday, one of our ministers conducts a service and a number of persons come from the Coalition for the Homeless and other community people - men attend that service. And often times they'll have some 70 or 80 men and they'll have a church service. And then another church, a guest church comes in and prepares and serves the meal for them. So we serve a network of churches....

Vacation Bible School

So we are involved in the community. When we were getting ready for Vacation Bible School we have what's called a Vacation Bible School Kickoff. And that means the Saturday before the vacation Bible School's to start we canvas the neighborhood. We organize it into teams, have fliers about Vacation Bible School.... We have a program - this group will go here, this group will go there - this group needs to ride in the van - you're going to Westmoreland and so forth. Knock on doors and say, "Hi" to people if they're home. Give them the information. Say you're invited to come to Mt. Zion and if you want to come today we have some snacks. So we get into the community that way. So usually we have a nice group of young people from the community for Vacation Bible School along with our children....

We are very active as a church. There is always something that is taking place to reach people. We have been always good friends to the Homeless Shelter that is right there. And we often have persons who come in who have a special need; sometimes they come and join and we try to keep track of them. Sometimes they'll join one Sunday and we won't see them because they've moved on. So that's kind of a special ministry. We try to keep track of them and let them know we're there for them....

LISTEN  Part VII (11:26)

The Future of Mount Zion

Our church came about five years after Orlando became a city. So yeah, Mt. Zion does go way, way back in the kinds of things I mentioned to you I know  they'll continue because it's part of the vision that we have and I'm sure it will be expanded in the future.... [You mentioned some of the young leaders today that are in classes that our taking leadership roles in the church.] And they have the same vision as before to, you know, reach out to the community. To you know, do, It's not just about coming to the church and really whatever you're gaining just feasting on that. It's much more than that. It's a life of service and that's what they're demonstrating. Because they've seen it: caring, compassion, reaching out all their lives. A kind of taking care of each other and then taking care of the community. So they've seen that.

What about living in Orlando and being a member of this church do you treasure the most?

Well, I treasure being a part of a family, a church family that continues to be strong in their Christian faith and tries to live the way that the Bible says: To love God, to love yourself and do the things that God would have you to do. The friendships found, they're strong, too.... And then something that I heard my son say on L. Claudia Day... they've had recipients now for 31 years. Young people that receive that scholarship I told you about. And he was one of the recipients and they asked the young people to come back on that day. Well, many of them are other places, but some of them did. And they announced those who have received the scholarship going back to starting in 1980. And so they were around in the congregation. Some of them were in the pulpit. So they stood. And then they asked who would like to speak. And so he went up and he said, "Mt. Zion I just want to say how much I appreciate you because all my life you have been here for me, nurturing me and encouraging me." And that's basically what the others would say and have said. So I think it's that too. That I see a strong church that nurtures and encourages.

100 Year Church Anniversary

That was just such a milestone to be present for. Persons from this community and others came and were a part of it. What I remember about that occasion was that our minister at that time Reverend Henry Marion Steele had been very active in civil rights and he knew persons across the country. And he invited the late Reverend Doctor Abernathy to be the speaker for the occasion. So they had national people here as well as across the state and community. So that was in 1980 and that was a very special time.... I look forward to our being here for many years to come a beacon of light for this community.       

Interview: Deaconess Lillian Lancaster
 
Interviewer: Jane Tracy
 
Date: August 16, 2012

Place: Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church

Author:
jtracy
Name:
Lillian Lancaster
Birthplace:
Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church

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