New Zion Missionary Baptist Church is the second oldest and largest Black Missionary Baptist Church on Amelia Island. The church had its beginning on May 15, 1870, under the leadership of Rev. Lewis Cook, a pioneer of the gospel, with 69 followers who came out of the First Baptist Church to extend kingdom building. Their first meeting was held in a stable on First Street, followed by meetings in various homes, while still seeking a permanent place of worship. The first conference after organizing was held in the home of Sister Elsie Knabb. Rev. Potter, Moderator of the First Bethlehem Baptist Association, presided over the meeting. Testing their strengths and efforts, Rev. Potter gave the parishioners six months to build.
Those 69 parishioners ably supported by Father Cook (as he was called) purchased the land for the church on Tenth Street and Atlantic Avenue on April 1, 1878. Within six months, the original wooden church was erected on the present site known as Lot 1 – Block 53.
How happy the devout Christians were saying “What shall we name this place of worship?” Sister Dinah Brown said, “call her New Zion and she will never grow old.” Many souls were added to the church during the pastorate of Reverend Cook, founder, and builder. After ten years of service as a pastor, God called Father Cook from labor to reward on October 1, 1880. Six pastors served from 1870 to 1902.
On January 6, 1904, Rev. P.A. Callaham, BD (Bachelor of Divinity) of South Carolina was called. Unfortunately, the original church building was destroyed by fire on February 11, 1907. The task of rebuilding the walls of the church became a challenge. Rev. Callaham immediately formed a Building Committee composed of himself, Deacons William Flowers, Harper Cook, John Horn, and others. By a vote of the conference, a brick church was ordered and erected. The task of building a new church became a challenge under the skillful guidance of Mr. William “Billy” Rivers, a local well-known black contractor.
The present beautiful brick structure, built on the same site as the original church, was erected by November 1907. In the erection of the new church, Rev. Callaham can be easily styled as the Master Builder with oneness and unity among his followers. The cornerstone was laid in 1907. The members continued to work under various pastors. Within six years (in 1912), under the leadership of Rev. J.N. Stokes, the mortgage on the church, pews, etc., was burned with one of the 69 parishioners, Sister Margaret Popena, holding the mortgage as it burned.