Members of First Zion Missionary Baptist Church gathered June 16 to break ground for a new Life Center building near its current sanctuary on Robertson Street in Old Town Bluffton. COURTESY FIRST ZION CHURCH

Bluffton’s second oldest African American church will soon start construction on a new Life Center building adjacent to its present sanctuary.

First Zion Missionary Baptist Church of Bluffton has been a vital part of the Bluffton Community since its founding more than 157 years ago. The church has remained at the same location in historic Bluffton at 10 Robertson St., off Wharf Street and one block north of the Bluffton Oyster Factory.

The congregation broke ground June 16 for its new Life Center.

First Zion Missionary Baptist Church Life Center is being built so that it can better serve the needs of the congregation and the community. The new facility will provide teaching and community outreach as well as a place the congregation can meet and fellowship.

The facility will live out the church’s mission statement: “We are the voice and the hands that encourage people to change their lives through faith, love, hope, comfort, joy and peace.”

“The Life Center and the programs that will come from our outreach will engage the current congregation, our youth and the community with various events and activities for all ages,” said Rev. Bennie L. Jenkins Jr., senior pastor of the church. “Our goal is to continue to draw youth and families to our church to fellowship with us, giving them the opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ, many of whom may be unsaved or in search of a church home.”

First Zion was founded in 1862 and recorded in the history books as the church organized by Abraham Murchison, an escaped slave who became the first preacher to serve the community of Mitchellville on Hilton Head Island. Rev. Murchison is also credited with recruiting former slaves into the First South Carolina Volunteer Regiment – the first all-black unit in the Civil War.

First Zion is also noted for having the first African American mayor of the Town of Bluffton as a member. Other members have included the first African American to serve on the Beaufort County school board, who provided land to build a school for black children (Michael C. Riley High School); first African American female to serve on Bluffton Town Council, who also was the first African American and female to serve as mayor pro temp of the Town; first African American female to serve on the school board, who also served as the first African American female to hold the office as chairwoman of the board.

The church also served the Bluffton community by providing a child care program for working mothers and classroom space when a portion of the local school for black children burned down. It also played a major role in the purchase of land and the building of the Bluffton Community Center on Goethe Road.

The church family through its pledges, tithes, offerings and various fundraising projects has achieved the core goal of its Capital Campaign, and have raised enough money to begin construction of the Life Center.

Funds are still needed to complete the Life Center project, but members are stepping out on faith, believing that they will be successful in raising the additional funds needed. They are moving forward, with the goal to construct a building debt free.

Services are held each Sunday beginning with Sunday school at 9 a.m., followed by worship service at 10 a.m. Mid-day prayer is held each Wednesday at noon and Bible Study is held each Wednesday at 6 p.m.

Several ministries and mission projects serve the congregation and the community. Among them are: Food Pantry Ministry, which is open to the public on Thursdays; its annual outreach to homeless families in Savannah and Bluffton; and is community Thanksgiving Dinner.

All services and programs are open to the public.

For more information, call 843-757-3129 or 843-757-3130, visit, email, or find the church on Facebook at firstzionmissionary baptistchurchbluffton,sc.