By Nancy Green
The Star Herald
At Zama Baptist Church, some of those who worship every Sunday find themselves receiving spiritual lessons in the same setting they received their first formal education. The former Zama School now houses Zama Baptist Church.
Gerry Sanders, a resident of the Zama Community, was a student at Zama School and is among the weekly worshipers. He gave a recent tour of the building.
The church purchased the former Zama School building and following years of fund raising the process of converting the facility into a house of worship is in progress.
Inside the sanctuary, complete with its stained glass windows, there’s no indication that it was once a school. The pulpit, piano and choir area is the place where plays were given, speeches made, diplomas handed out, and other activities held.
“A work in progress” is Sanders’ description of the transformation that has been underway for about two and one-half years.
The effort is progressing with workers having completed renovation of a portion of the spacious school. Completion of the foyer, sanctuary, prayer room, Sunday School rooms, rest room, hallways and kitchen area has allowed the congregation to make the move.
First services, conducted by the pastor, Rev. John Ballard, were held in October.
Entry is made through double, leaded glass doors which open into a spacious foyer. A fountain and potted plants dominate this area leading to a second foyer from which entry is made into the prayer room on the right and the sanctuary on the left. To the right of the entry is a tastefully decorated room which was formerly used as office of the school principal.
One rest room has been completed which is located down the long hallway where school children once went to classes.
Many of the light fixtures are original to the building, constructed in the mid-1940s.
The kitchen and dining area are still in stages of completion.
The contribution of Floyd “Sonny” Sanders’ architectural expertise is evident throughout the completed areas. Sanders, a native of Zama and brother of Gerry, is a resident of Maryland and has been instrumental in the project.
The church building vacated by the congregation is within sight of the new house of worship just off Highway 19 in the Zama Community. Having once been school grounds is noted in the gymnasium and principal’s home which stand in states of dilapidation on the property.
According to a chapter in the “Kosciusko-Attala History,” Zama was a “boom town” for a number of years brought about with the timber business and the establishment of a saw mill. The town boasted a hotel, a depot, commissary, jail, bank, post office, YMCA building, school, and numerous other structures.
The two story school, building burned in 1949 and a modern facility was constructed on the same site. In 1965, the high school was closed and in 1968 the grammar school met the same fate and students were bused to other schools.
With a fighting spirit, Zama residents conducted a number of events to raise money to pay attorney fees in an effort to have the school reopened. The courts gave a favorable decision and the school reopened.
Children of the area continued their education through the eighth grade until closing in the early 1980s when enrollment declined to approximately 40 students.
School memories remain as the church offers weekly lessons in keeping the faith.
Open house is planned Dec. 8 and 10, beginning at 5 p.m. with a time of refreshments and fellowship.
Gerry Sanders is also holding open house on the same dates at his home located one mile from the church.