John William McGarvey Jr.

For a short while John William McGarvey Jr. served as State Evangelist under the auspices of the Tennessee Christian Missionary Cooperation. He began this work early in 1911 but died unexpectedly in April; his father J. W. McGarvey died later the same year in October.

Jr. preached a few times at Woodland Street Christian Church. This scan is from the April 22, 1911 issue of Christian Standard.


A Fisk Postcard and Grandma Johnson

This postcard caught my eye several years ago.  The subject matter is interesting and I bought it because this card illustrates the campus of Fisk University at a time when some folks among the Nashville Churches of Christ attended Fisk. But the additional story of the sender caught me by surprise.

In 1906 (the year this card was mailed), very near Fisk University are Jackson Street, Jefferson Street, Scovel Street and Jo Johnston Avenue Churches of Christ. Jackson Street (est. 1896) and Jefferson Street (now Schrader Lane, est. 1918) are African-American and the others are white. By 1915 Scovel Street (later Westwood) sell their buildings (twice) to African Methodist Episcopal and Christian Methodist Episcopal, respectively, congregations. Jo Johnston sells to a black primitive Baptist congregation before World War 2 ends and disbands. Just what all of this means I cannot yet say, but I can say now I think that this is the first instance of white-flight that I have seen among Nashville Churches of Christ.  But I bought card because it shows Fisk buildings and Fisk history intersects with local Restoration history.  It intersects with the neighborhood congregations; it intersects in that some very important names in local Churches of Christ history attended Fisk: G. P. Bowser, Georgia Gordon Taylor, Minnie Womack, and Annie Tuggle, for example.

However, what also struck me when I first saw the card was the name ‘Lena Haralson.’ It nagged me because it seemed familiar. I put the card aside and not until I first drafted this post (back in late August 2010) did I dig further. A Google search reveals a couple of interesting things, one on the postcard side of things [and one more about the Jolly Joker Club] and one on Nashville Church of Christ history.  Yep, I’d seen Lena before…Lena Haralson is Helena Haralson Johnson…Grandma Johnson*

Miss Haralson, Jolly Joker #5 and likely co-founder of the club, funded Andrew Mizell Burton’s insurance venture and helped build the Lipscomb campus during and after the Great Depression.  She was a fixture in Nashville business circles and a fixture on the campus of David Lipscomb College; to this very night young women sleep in a dorm bearing her name. She was also a charter member at Central Church of Christ, downtown Nashville, on Sunday 5 October 1925.

I knew of her, and had kept an eye out for her activities with a view to writing up a nice biographical sketch.  Her story is fascinating, I think, and one that needs to be told.  But I didn’t expect to find Lena Haralson on a penny postcard.

*-from 1994-1998 I was one of several (maybe about a dozen each year?)  Johnson Scholarship recipients at David Lipscomb University.

Cordelia May Ice

She was born on Sunday, the 28th of May, 1854 in Doddridge Co., [West] Virginia.  She died on a Tuesday 17 November, 1863 at the age of nine years.  Cordelia is buried directly in front of the front door of Center Point Christian Church.  The straightforward white frame church is typical of the time and region but is not the building she knew…not the same one in which her father was ordained an elder and her brother served as a leader and in which her nephew learned to preach… but it sits atop the site of the one she knew.  The church Cordelia knew was of hewn logs; this one has cheap siding over wooden clapboards.  Inside this plastic-clad church is a bronze plaque with her father’s name on it.  Other names include the other founding families.  Outside, with Cordelia, lie their mortal remains.

Her father, Isaac, and brother Andrew, were in November 1863, I believe, at Harper’s Ferry.  They were musicians in the 6th West Virginia Infantry (Union).   Who knows if word reached them of her illness?  For that matter who even knows whether she was ill?Were they able to obtain leave to bury their daughter and sister?  Good questions; no answers.

In 1896 Cordelia’s mother Elizabeth was buried beside her. Elizabeth has a stately tall marker. She was buried between her two children who preceded her in death: Cordelia on the left and Andrew on the right.   In 1882 the mortal remains of Cordelia’s older brother, Andrew Jackson Ice were placed in a grave in front of Center Point Christian Church.  A. J. succumbed to appendicitis, leaving six sons under the age of twelve.  The fourth son, Kromer, is my great-grandfather.  Isaac Ice is buried on the other side of Andrew.   He died 11 June 1905.  Daughter, mother, son, father.  Such is Ice Row.

In April 2010 I visited Center Point.  One reason for the visit was to locate her grave.  The morning was still and quiet.  Clear weather, cool steady breeze under blue skies.  The morning air was damp. There was enough winter left in the air to remind you that you weren’t quite into spring yet.  The spring growth was some ways behind Middle Tennessee: much of the vegetation was brown, crunchy, dormant.  And there was enough of spring in the air and green shoots here and there to let you know that life was around the corner.  A perfect metaphor for a day in the cemetery.

I spent a good deal of my morning in the oldest part of the cemetery among the field-stone-marked graves.  Only a couple had initials scratched deeply upon them; none bore CMI.  Their identities are now completely lost if ever they had initials.  Like the corpses absorbed by the earth beneath them, time’s long years eroded both name and memory. Whoever they are they were the early white settlers in this area, or at least the first to die and receive proper burial.  Their lives intersected in some way with the lives of my distant family; whoever they are they were involved in the life of the community and for all I know they planted and watered a congregation in which my family later served and worshiped and ministered.  They are important to me whoever they are.  I’ll never know.  And that was a strange feeling to face since I came all this way for answers.

I walked up high, to the top of the hill–Allen’s Hill– right up to the tree line and sat down in the crunchy grass to snap a few photos.  Many graves were early 20th century, some were recent, and one was fresh, but where is Cordelia?  The records I had at hand clearly stated she is buried in the Center Point cemetery, and the record provided birth and death dates.  Is she among those whose identities have been lost to time?  I fixed my attention on the fresh, maybe-only-a-couple-weeks old, grave in the middle distance.  If I were digging a grave in 1863 where would it be?

I tried to imagine the scene in 1863 from my vantage point up on the side of Allen’s hill.  It makes best sense that the family rests together.  This is Appalachian culture and for all the fierce independence shot through this time and place and people, there is also a mighty fierce interdependence.  Most families in this cemetery are buried together or as close as seems practical.  Where they seem separated in a few cases can be explained by intermarriage or feuds or both or neither.

In 1863 there were far, far fewer graves and the likelihood that the Ice’s are together moves me back down the hill.  I examine each of the identified graves, the old ones, the 19th century ones.  I find the Ice’s easily enough, the ones I saw on my 1998 trip.  No Cordelia.  A second time, each stone, front, back all sides…headstones and footstones.  No Cordelia. A third time…nope.  Frustrated, I walk down to the small covered bridge.  Walk over it, over the creek, an take a right up that hollow a mile or two or three, and you’ll get to the old Ice land.  I didn’t know that then.  I guess I’ll have to go back someday.

Back to the cemetery, I sit down again, this time in front of Isaac’s tall monument.  He was an elder at Center Point Christian Church, a patriarch in one of the founding families.  He was an elder at the time of her death, or so the record seems.  There is no good reason why she is not here!  

On my hands and knees with a screwdriver from the small tool kit I kept in the trunk, I probe the grass for flat headstones. And there she was.

Next to Elizabeth, covered in grass and dirt, was a small stone.  Looks to me like it fell backward years ago.  I cleared the earth and grass so visitors will know she is there.   My hands a sandy brown, I cleared and scraped and pulled weeds and thought of my three girls in Middle Tennessee.  In 2010 the girls were eight, five and two.  Zach was nowhere in our consciousness, and neither was Texas.  I didn’t set the stone upright, but I cleaned and cleared and at least made it visible again.

Maybe Isaac and AJ heard about Cordelia’s illness and were granted brief leave to rush home for a few days.  There wasn’t much for a musician to do at Harper’s Ferry anyhow.  It appears they spent most of the time watching and waiting for action that never happened.  Perhaps she died suddenly, unexpectedly, quickly.  Perhaps they learned of her death some days or even weeks after the fact.  Perhaps they made it in time to bury her.  Or they, like, me, walked up the hill and looked for her, not knowing where they might find her.  There is no doubt Isaac stood where I stood, looking down at the grave of his daughter, his only daughter.

At least now anyone who walks along Ice row will see Cordelia’s stone.  Center Point is a tiny village, the sort of place you get lost trying to find, or get lost trying to find your way from.  I bet in the last two years the only person to have seen her grave is the fellow who cuts the grass.  I hope he notices her, for every little girl who dies at the age of nine deserves at least a legible headstone, in a visible place, in hopes that someone will see, and pause a moment, be it ever so brief.  I hope he sees her stone and goes home to his family a happy and thankful man and I hope he counts every blessing he has.

God rest you, Cordelia.  We will meet in the resurrection!

Ice row: L-R, Cordelia, Elizabeth, Andrew, Isaac.  Nearby, in front of the church, is George Washington Ice and William Waitman Ice.  George is Isaac’s brother and William is Isaac’s other son.

Cordelia’s marker reads:




MAY 28, 1854


NOV. 17, 1863


Our darling one

hath gone before

To greet us on that

blissful shore.

Tolbert and Charlotte Fanning’s portrait of Alexander Campbell

Tolbert and Charlotte Fanning’s portrait of Alexander Campbell made in Nashville ca. 1827-1835. Ira Collins, a photographer who was also a Disciple, made this cabinet-card sized photo widely available in the early 1890s. Thanks to him we have a likeness of Campbell from his early prime. It is a very nice artifact of the Fanning’s which was witness to the very beginnings of the Campbell movement in Nashville and Tennessee. And squirreled away in a garret while the troops ravished Franklin College! 

When Jim Taulman asked for illustrations for last year’s issue of Tennessee Baptist History Journal, I sent him this one since it shows Campbell at the time of the fierce debates among Middle Tennessee Baptists. Jim published it to illustrate my article on Alexander Campbell’s engagement with Garner McConnico.  

Jim died a few days ago. I am grateful for his kind friendship and our collaboration on our shared Nashville history. Thinking of him led me again to this cabinet card. I know Jim would wonder, as do I: “Who knows, maybe someone in town has this portrait over their mantle and doesn’t know the story?”


Singing our way into the vision of the Beatitudes: Robert Foster’s ‘Hymn XI’

In 1818 at Portsmouth, New Hampshire Robert Foster (1789?-1835) used the presses at the Gazette office to print a pamphlet of twenty-two pages containing one dozen hymns.  Nearing 30 years of age, Foster was a young preacher among the ‘Christian’ movement.  The decade ahead would hold for him several opportunities to preach and especially publish.  Before his death in 1835 he served as secretary to the General Christian Conference, edited a major periodical among the movement, (Herald of Gospel Liberty, later The Christian Herald) and issued a major hymnal in 1824, (Hymns, Original and Selected for the Use of Christians, revised and reissued in 1828).  His singular contribution to the literature of the Christian movement is as a publisher and editor.

Though he may have been involved in publishing as early as 1812, it appears the 1818 book was the first he compiled:

[Robert Foster, compiler] Hymns, and Spiritual Songs. Original and Selected. Portsmouth, N.H.: printed at the Gazette Office, 1818. [1] 22 pages.

It appears that the first half or so (remember, only a dozen texts) are ‘original’, presumably original to Foster.  They appear in many subsequent Christian Connection hymnals for forty years hence, in a few books even after the Civil War.

Hymn XI, though, is an Isaac Watts text:

1 Blest are the humble souls that see
Their emptiness and poverty;
Treasures of grace to them are given,
And crowns of joy laid up in heaven.

2 Bless’d are the men of broken heart,
Who mourn for sin with inward smart;
The blood of Christ divinely flows,
A healing balm for all their woes.

3 Bless’d are the meek, who stand afar
From rage and passion, noise and war;
God will secure their happy state,
And plead their cause against the great.

4 Bless’d are the souls that thirst for grace,
Hunger and long for righteousness!
They shall be well supplied, and fed
With living streams and living bread.

5 Blest are the men whose bowels move
And melt with sympathy and love;
From Christ the Lord shall they obtain
Like sympathy and love again.

6 Bless’d are the pure, whose hearts are clean
From the defiling pow’rs of sin;
With endless pleasure they shall see
A God of spotless purity.

7 Blest are the men of peaceful life,
Who quench the coals of growing strife;
They shall be called the heirs of bliss,
The sons of God, the God of peace.

8 Bless’d are the suff’rers who partake
Of pain and shame for Jesus’ sake;
Their souls shall triumph in the Lord,
Glory and joy are their reward.

The Watts text was most commonly used in the 18th century, still rather widely used before the Civil War, but trails off sharply by 1900.  It is little wonder, then that it will likely be completely new to most readers of this blog.  The song has been out of fashion for several generations.

In a simple and straightforward manner Watts sings his way through the Beatitudes. Befitting the genre of ‘spiritual song’, when the church gathers and sings this song, they sing to each other that they might live into the reality envisioned by the Sermon on the Mount.

In each case the first couplet affirms the blessing of God and the final couplet declares the promises of God.  The singing assembly that voices this text reaffirms the blessing of God and the promises of God though it is plainly apparent to them that humility, broken heartedness, meekness, hunger, mercy, purity, peacemaking, and suffering for righteousness are not at all valued in the larger culture.  They know they stand in opposition to such powers and principalities; further, they know in this resistance they stand blessed by God.  Christian conviction deeply values humility, broken heartedness, meekness, hunger, mercy, purity, peacemaking, and suffering for righteousness.  Christians who resist in this way should consider themselves fortunate because God honors his word and keeps his promises.

In 1818 Robert Foster thought it vital to include this text in his little songster.  Singing assemblies of the Christian movement who used this pamphlet knew this song, and employed it in their assemblies to reaffirm their faith and redouble their commitment to live into the good words of the Sermon on the Mount.

Might we sing it again?


E. W. Humphreys, Memoirs of Deceased Christian Ministers; Or, Brief Sketches with Lives and Labors of 975 Ministers Who Died Between 1793 and 1880. Christian Publishing Association: Dayton, 1880. s.v. Robert Foster, p. 133.

J. F. Burnett, “The Convention” Herald of Gospel Liberty, June 16, 1910, pp. 758-759.

Hymnals of the Stone-Campbell Movement Timeline at Lincoln Christian University.

Blessed are the humble souls that see‘ at

Robert Foster on Find-A-Grave


Claude Spencer pays tribute to Sarah Lou Bostick, ca. 1948

Sarah Lou Bostick

Sarah Lou Bostick

“No, there were not any rare imprints or beautiful bindings among the things Mrs. Bostick saved; a book dealer wouldn’t have given $1.50 for the lot. There were just the commonplace things, the stuff most of us destroy, but which is so necessary in writing the history of our people, our churches, and our brotherhood. Better history can be written because of Mrs. Bostick.”–Claude Spencer, “An Appreciation” in The Life Story of Sarah Lue Bostick, A Woman of the Negro Race, ca. 1948, p. 39.

Sarah Lue was the President of the Christian Woman’s Board of Missions Auxilary at Pea Ridge (AR) Christian Church. As such she acquired (and saved) a truck load (literally, a tractor-trailer load) of programs, letters, documents, periodicals, etc. documenting African-American Christian Churches. Spencer said “only once or twice in a lifetime does the curator of a historical society get so much unusual material as was collected and saved by Mrs. Bostick.”

My take-aways from Spencer’s remarks: 1) you never know what use can be made of a seemingly insignificant source, or what information can be gleaned from it; 2) you never know what might survive, or how much, or where, or by whom; 3) better history can be written because the availability of more/better/different/nuanced source material; 4) better history can *only* be written when these materials see the light of day and are available to history-writers.

Praying with our Ancestors: A Prayer for Truth

ACU Library hosts a weekly chapel for our students, student workers, faculty and staff. I was asked to pray in last week’s assembly. I chose to draw from the well of our history rather than bring a word of spontaneous prayer. I reflected on what we are trying to do in the library, not just the tasks we perform, but a core reason for our existence at the heart of the university’s life and mission. I reflected on what we are trying to accomplish in a weekly gathering of students and faculty. I reflected on why we collect and steward information resources in our spaces, why and how our community uses these resources, and to what ends. I then spent some time with J. H. Garrison.

As is the case with most of my friends, Garrison has been dead a good long while. But while he was among the living he contributed mightily to the devotional spirit of the Stone-Campbell movement. Arguably his Alone With God is the classic work on the inner devotional life.  He wasn’t the only one who tried to develop this sense among us, and you’ll have to gauge for yourself whether he even did it well, but every time I read him I’m better for it.

My reflections about the nature of our work in our space converged with Garrison’s prayer for truth.

Living as we do in a world charmed by lies, half-truths, near-truths, and spin, I think it wise to pause for a moment and pray for truth.  Living as we do in a context rife with passive-aggression, innuendo, rhetorical slight of hand, I think it wise to pause and pray and seek truth.  Living and working in a community of scholars, nearly every last thing we do is a search for truth: we research, we investigate, we experiment, we hypothesize, we inquire, we discover, we assess, we interpret.  It is good for us along this way to gather and pray for truth.

James Harvey Garrison’s ‘Prayer for Truth’* in Alone With God** (St. Louis: Christian Publishing Company, 1891), 151:

O God, the God of truth, mercifully grant that the Holy Spirit of Truth may rule our hearts, grafting therein love of truth, and making us in all our thoughts and words and works, to study, speak, and follow truth, that we may be sincere before all people, and blameless before Thee.  May no unworthy prejudice or sectarian pride prevent us from accepting whatever bears the divine impress of Thy truth.  May we love the truth, know the truth, and be made free by the truth; for His sake who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and in whom is no guile, even Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen!

*I adapted Garrison’s pronouns.  I changed them from singular to plural and where he prayed to be ‘blameless before men’, I prayed ‘blameless before all people.’

**Read the first edition here or purchase a new edition here.

This post is co-published at Charis, an online space for conversations of and about Churches of Christ.