Pope Chapel matriarch, now ‘running on streets of gold’ 5/31/13

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 31, 2013

Pope Chapel matriarch, now ‘running on streets of gold’

By Emily Darby Williams

Pope Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, “The Rock Church,” held farewell services for the oldest member of the church,  the mother, grandmother and heart of the historical church on Sunday, May 26.

Mrs. Cora Metcalf Gleeton (aka “Big Mama”) was born April 12, 1905, to the late George Metcalf and Rosie Wynn Metcalf.

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She attended Pope Chapel her whole life.

She could recall the Great Depression and the Social Security Act of 1935. She remembered when the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, allowing women the right to vote.

“Big Mama was full of history that some of us can only read about in books,” her granddaughter Barbara Deloach said.

“Big Mama often talked about when women got their right to vote. She was so pleased about that and as soon as she could vote, she did.  We were taught to always have a voice by voting.  She was a woman who hated racism.  She felt it was all ‘ignorance’ and people’s refusal to grow and accept change.  

“She said she never thought she would live to witness a black president in this country.  She talked about how proud she was to cast her vote twice for President Obama.” Deloach said after the services.

I remember in my early twenties having a passion for taking pictures of old churches. I drove by the  old sandstone church in southern Panola County as the sun set one day and I could not resist taking photos.

I did not know the history of the church or if they had services until I started driving by the structure located beside Pope-Crowder Road within Pope town limits. I would drive by slowly and roll my windows down. I heard angelic voices of praise and singing.

I eventually started parking across from the Pope Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church and just listening to the choir. I had no idea how God’s plan would lead me to meeting their oldest member, Mrs. Cora M. Gleeton.

  It wasn’t until I decided to write a story for our 2009 Batesville Magazine about the historical church that was founded in 1885 by Charles Shaw, that I would finally walk inside the beautiful church and meet Mrs. Gleeton.

The first pastor to serve this church was a former slave, Rev. A.T. Turner.

The church was rebuilt twice after being burned, the second time in 1931, and the members built it  with something that would not burn – stone.

I will never forget meeting Mrs. Gleeton after the powerful church services. She was only 104 the day I took her photo and spoke with her in 2009. It seemed the bond I had with her family got closer as every year her granddaughter, Barbara Deloach, would call or e-mail about the big celebration they were having for “Big Mama’s” birthday.

Every April I looked forward to talking to family members and seeing pictures of Mrs. Gleeton as she started to amaze us with her age.

 She never complained about walking up the steep steps of the church where she was an active member for over a century.

I got the news Sunday, May 19 that Mrs. Gleeton passed away at the age of 108. She had her last birthday celebration with all of her grandchildren a month prior. She died of natural causes at her home.

I didn’t know how attached I would become to the family/members of the church. When I heard of Big Mama’s passing, I knew I needed to attend this amazing lady’s going home services.
As I walked up the steep steps of the Rock Church I held onto the rails and caught my breath; then I remembered watching Mrs. Gleeton at the age of 104 walking up the steps with little help at all.

“Mrs. Gleeton never had an excuse to miss Sunday services,” Rev. Nehemiah Martin said during her funeral services.

Her granddaughter spoke about how Mrs. Gleeton played baseball on the grounds of the church and how she could outrun her grandchildren racing at the age of 50.

I was nervous when I walked into the old church but was greeted by a kind usher. I held her hand wondering where she may lead me considering the congregation was full as expected.
I didn’t want to take up a family member’s seat. I later found out I was sitting in the “Amen Corner.”

After several in-depth conversations via e-mail with Mrs. Deloach, she asked if I had attended the services. The church was so full it would have been hard to see everyone.

I explained I was wearing blue and probably the only blonde haired, blue eyed girl in the church.
“My daughter saw you.  You were sitting in the seat my Daddy always sat in.  She said in the ‘Amen Corner.’

“That’s what its called and what a perfect place to sit.  She thought you were part of our family because we have all colors in the family,” Deloach laughed.

As Sister Denise Pope said a prayer, Rev. Kevin Coakley preached from the Old Testament, Job 19:25-27, and Rev. Coya Blackburn read the scripture, II Corinthians 5:1-6, the church was full of joy and tears knowing “that when her feet struck Zion, when she hit that golden city, she was shouting and running, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

Her granddaughter said Mrs. Gleeton, after she was too old to run, could still shout from her seat “Holy! Holy! Holy!”

The grandchildren — not greats nor great-greats — were asked to stand and it seemed almost the entire church stood.

She served the church as a class leader, stewardess, president of the Usher Board, deaconess, a member of Women’s Home Overseas Missionary Society and Victory Star No. 121.

She was the mother of Melzani Killebrew, Myrtle Simmons, Freddie Hill, Geraldine Gleeton and Burnice Gleeton, James Gleeton and Elbert Gleeton.

She leaves 40 grandchildren, 81 great-grandchildren, 74 great-great-grandchildren and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and many friends along with her Pope Chapel A.M.E. Zion church family.

She was the first bride married in the church when she wed E.Q. Gleeton in 1925. To this union nine children were born and three sons, Prentiss, Arzell and Eugene preceded her in death.

She credited her long life as a gift from God and in her own words to her children, “Stay prayed up, don’t wait for troubles to come. Pray for a good time, for those times ahead when you may be too hurt to pray. Pray up for your children, pray up for your grandchildren. Pray up for good health and prosperity, pray up to the Lord when everyone else walks out.”